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Listen Up: A week of likely and unlikely cover songs

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A lot of cover songs were released this week by various artists, but the one I wanted to hear the most I couldn’t listen to. Prince covered David Bowie’s “Heroes” at a concert on Friday, but the few fan-shot videos were quickly erased from the web, as the Purple One is wont to do. I guess I’ll have to settle for imagining.

But there are other cover songs out this week that we don’t have to imagine, and they are both as likely and unlikely as possible.

“Touch of Grey” by The War on Drugs

There is not a much better band for The War on Drugs to cover than the Grateful Dead, one of the many influencers of its classic rock sound.

The War on Drugs seems to take bits and pieces from old rock bands — reverb-y guitars, harmonicas and singer Adam Granduciel’s Bob Dylan-esque whine. None of those things are “in” among other indie bands, putting The War on Drugs in the strange position of being both totally unique and somewhat of a retread.

But the band still makes emotional and powerful music, much like the great San Francisco jam band.  

Members from the National brought together a heap of modern artists for an album of 59 Dead covers, “Day of the Dead.” Along with The War on Drugs, Courtney Barnett, Flaming Lips, Mumford & Sons and many others give their takes on songs like “New Speedway Boogie,” “Dark Star” and “Friend of the Devil.”

“Touch of Grey” is the Grateful Dead’s most famous song, one of the few that the band could condense enough for the radio.

The War on Drugs’ version of the song does not stray too far from the original, but it works so well that it begs the question of why this hadn’t happened sooner. It is soothing music perfect for staring off blankly into the distance.

“Changes” by Charles Bradley

Bradley is an old-school soul man, a one-time James Brown impersonator, who, in his late 60s, has become a hit on the festival circuit and released two albums. In other words, he is not exactly a likely candidate to cover a Black Sabbath song.

Still, it is one of the band’s most famous ballads, and Bradley’s worn voice only adds to the heartbroken emotion.

Rising and falling horns and guitars interplay on this slow burner, and it is a tearjerker from the start. Maybe a full album of metal covers should be in store. I, for one, would want to hear his take on “Holy Diver” by Dio.

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