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Book Review: Ray Padgett’s ‘Cover Me’ Is a Music-Snob’s Dream Come True

“Cover Me”
Ray Padgett
(Sterling)

On the face of it, a book detailing the stories behind some of pop music’s best-known cover versions might not seem like the most compelling or rewarding way to fill several hundred pages and several hours. But as with cover songs themselves, it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it — and Ray Padgett, a veteran publicist who’s also the founder and editor of the excellent, decade-old “Cover Me” blog, has the experience, the bona fides and the skill to make this one of the best multi-subject music books to come down the pike in years.

Padgett goes deep on each of the 19 songs covered in the book, which range from fairly obvious choices like “Twist and Shout” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” to less-obvious ones like “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Polkas on 45” and the Gourds’ early Napster hit “Gin and Juice.” He details the writers, the performers, the lyrics, chart history and more, and doesn’t hesitate to dig into the ramifications of certain covers, like the racism issues stemming from Elvis Presley’s version of “Hound Dog” (which, as we learn, first charted in a version by Big Mama Thornton — who subsequently claimed Presley never delivered on promises to help promote her career — although Elvis actually took his hit version’s arrangement from Freddie Bell, a white act he saw performing the song in Las Vegas), or the way Warner Bros. insisted that Mick Jagger sign off on Devo’s drastic 1978 reinterpretation of the Stones’ hit “Satisfaction” (possibly because songs deemed parodies are subject to different laws than straight covers, and Devo’s version arguably was radical enough to be considered a parody).

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