The folks at the BBC Radio love cover songs just as much as we do, except they have the power to command covers. Whether it's assembling artists to recreate Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, celebrating their 40 year history with 40 cover songs, or simply demanding their musical guests to perform covers. While I've long been aware of Jo Whiley's Live Lounge show on BBC Radio 1 as a source for unlikely covers, a reader told me last month that musical guests on BBC Radio 2's Dermot O'Leary show are usually asked to perform covers as well. Since I found out, I've been keeping an ear on the online broadcast and sure enough have caught some gems. In the past couple years the BBC has released two Live Lounge CD compilations and a Saturday Sessions CD from the Dermot O'Leary show. But they produce so many covers on a weekly basis, the CD compilations just don't cut it so we've also had to rely on plucky Brits to rip and share the radio streams. Luckily with online feeds and archives, this is also fairly simple for someone in, say, Vancouver to hear these songs without having the slight disadvantage of tuning in live during the wee hours of the morning. Of course with that many covers they're not all winners, but it's worth it just for the potential of a great one.
Here are some random Live Lounge, Dermot O'Leary, and other BBC session covers from over the years. But first we kick it off proper with some help from Fong Songs favourite Moxy Früvous:
They weren't exactly singing about BBC's penchant for cover songs (or even the radio for that matter), but it serves our purposes well. The song was written for the first Austin Powers movie and performed over the end credits by Ming Tea, a band featuring Mike Myers (Austin Powers himself), Matthew Sweet, Susanna Hoffs, Stuart Johnson, and Christopher Ward. Susanna Hoffs, formerly of the Bangles, also re-teamed with Matthew Sweet for the 2006 cover album Under the Covers, Vol. 1, but you knew that already. This Moxy Früvous cover is pinched from the Internet Live Archive, host to lots and lots of fabulous Frütlegs including an all-covers show. When you're feeling sad about the lack of new Moxy Früvous material (8 years and counting), it's comforting to wallow in the amazing efforts of some dedicated tapers from back in the day.
This is from The Saturday Sessions compilation of D. O'Leary's show. Lots of great stuff on that 2-disc set including last year's cover of Breathe by The Shins and a good KT Tunstall cover of I Want You Back.
From last week's Dermot O'Leary show, British artist Doug Walker performed this excellent version of the oft-covered Kids in America. He has an great BBC success story. Hanging outside Radio 1 HQ, he handed his single The Mystery to Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles, who proceeded to play it on his breakfast show. An outpouring of positive listener feedback led to the song being played several more times throughout the week and soon he was talking to record label people, eventually signing with Warner Brothers Records. His first single comes out next week as a digital download and his debut album is due in April!
From Zane Lowe's show on BBC Radio 1.
One of the all-time great Live Lounge covers.
From a Live Lounge session. I didn't realize until having to check the original credit, but this oft-covered standard is from the 1960's musical The Roar of the Greasepaint - The Smell of the Crowd. Wow, that's news to me!
Fortunately for me, the BBC radio DJs and their guests are fans of the White Stripes so we get our fair share of their covers. I think all three of these are from Jo Whiley's Live Lounge show.
Once I was alerted to the Dermot O'Leary show, I was excited to learn Supergrass would be an upcoming guest. They did not disappoint, unleashing a heavy fuzz-induced cover of Beat It. I Should Coco is so good it's a little ridiculous and next month we'll see their new album Diamond Hoo Ha released.
It'd be remiss to talk about BBC Radio without once mentioning influential DJ John Peel whose eclectic music tastes were served up on BBC Radio 1 from its inception in 1967 to his death in 2004. Known for championing artists before they hit it big, his legendary Peel Sessions featured in-studio performances specifically recorded for the BBC. He's cited as giving career boosts to the likes of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, T. Rex, The Sex Pistols, Billy Bragg, Pulp, The Smiths, Nirvana, Blur, Supergrass, The White Stripes... the list goes on and on, never losing relevance as the decades passed. By getting artists to record exclusive content, this got around a BBC restriction (i.e. needle time) regarding the amount of commercial recordings played on air. Though this blessing-in-disguise restriction was lifted in the late 80's, I imagine this paved the way for the various BBC in-studio live performances that continue to this day. Ironically, browsing the Peel archives I'm fairly convinced that this Supergrass cover is not from a Peel Session as originally thought or even from a BBC broadcast, but I love this cover and already wrote up the preceding paragraph.
Not a cover, but Jimi made up this goofy radio jingle for Radio 1, which appears on his compilation of BBC Sessions.
This Hendrix cover is wicked and has a legendary story to go along with it. Forgive me if I fudge the details here... the band was performing on BBC's Lulu Show (yeah, that Lulu) and was expected by the producers to play their hit Hey Joe. Barely half-way through the song, they stopped and Jimi said "We'd like to stop playing this rubbish," then dedicated the next song to Cream who had recently broken up. Jimi & Co. ripped through an impromptu instrumental cover of Sunshine of Your Love, but it wasn't long before they started to get the axe from pissed off producers. At the 0:45 second mark, you can hear Jimi say "We're being put off the air." and the BBC pulled the plug. This inspired Elvis Costello to pull a similar stunt on Saturday Night Live in 1977 when label reps pressured him to play Less Than Zero, which he unceremoniously cut off saying "Ladies and gentlemen, there's no reason to do this song here". The band then launched into Radio, Radio after which he was supposedly banned from the show for 12 years. In 1999 as SNL musical guests the Beastie Boys started playing Sabotage, Costello burst in with his guitar re-uttering his famous line and together they played Radio, Radio. Oddly enough, Weird Al Yankovic performs this at live shows occasionally when his band runs into technical difficulties (though these glitches are possibly deliberate), so it's actually one of the few legitimate covers he plays.
The Killers are also popular BBC cover subjects...
...as is David Bowie.
Expect a Killers/Bowie post soon.