The welcome return of Under the Covers, and not before time!
Bill Magill is a musician and artist living in the blissed-out heart of Aix-en-Provence in France, having spent his formative years in America, first experiencing the music scene whilst a member of power pop band Tina Peel, who also featured future member of The Fuzztones. After a handful of releases and a support slot with The Cramps, music took a backseat in Bill’s life, something which has been addressed in more recent times as he has reinvented himself as a Tom Waits-ian storyteller. His latest release, Last Night at the Ha-Ra bar, is a beautiful collection of vignettes as told by the imaginary patrons of a watering hole’s final evening. Here’s Bill with his fantasy covers album
You’re on your fourth album with a major label – they insist you do a covers album, whereby you interpret your favourite works in your own style. Please select the ten tracks you’d ideally like to cover, along with a brief explanation as to why that artist or track means something to you.
You’re allowed ONE guest artist on the album to contribute to one track
1 White Sandy Beach of Hawaii: IZ. I visited Hawaii regularly when living in San Francisco and really loved it’s culture, history, and laidback vibe. IZ had one of the purest voices I had ever heard and channels the Hawaiian spirit so completely in this song, just ukulele and voice. It’s a simple, beautiful song. I prefer it to his version of “Over the Rainbow.”
2 Don’t Worry Baby: Beach Boys. My first job, while still in high school, involved working in a garage on cars. I was a motor-head in small Pennsylvania town where there was nothing to do but race in the streets at night and chase girls. This song speaks to all of that and with real yearning and tenderness. I owned a 1966 Mustang for 20 years. My ex will tell you that I always tear up when this song came on the radio and I am behind the wheel of a beautiful vintage car, singing along.
3 Go All The Way: Raspberries. This is just a perfectly crafted pop song from the early 70s, simple enough to sing along, but with enough changes to keep it interesting. Very balanced and with addictive hooks and a beautiful melody. Who can resist the sound of the jangling rock guitars and harmonies, with Eric Carmon’s beautiful voice? When I hear this song I am a teenager again.
4 Rock n Roll Nigger: Patti Smith. I’m a big fan of 70s punk and there are a number of contenders for my favourite song of that genre. Smith is the godmother of the movement, more so this than deeply mired in it herself. This song is very edgy, an anthem for the outsider, which I very much felt that I was at that time, very in your face FUCK YOU confrontational, but is also beautiful punk poetry. The energy of the recording is electric, Smith’s voice never more provocative.
My guest artist would be Iggy Pop, him doing the spoken word part in the song’s mid section. Now how good would that be?
5 Under My Wheels: Alice Cooper. My favourite rock band of all time would have to be the Alice Cooper Band, the original band before he went solo. My first instrument with strings was the bass guitar and Dennis Dunaway was my idol. I still consider him one of the best bass guitar players in rock, no question about it. Listen to the Killer and Schools Out albums, he’s really leading the band with his playing. Perhaps it is because I was in mid-teens when I first fell under their spell, and at that age music is everything, at least was everything in the 70s. Under My Wheels has incredible energy and involves cars, which again, I loved. I spent hours, days, working on the bass line and still play it when limbering up my fingers.
6 Downtown Train: Tom Waits. So many great Tom Waits songs, where does one start? Walking Spanish Down the Hall is strong contender but my favorite is probably Downtown Train. He perfectly captures that beautiful moment, catching the eye of someone just in a moment before she or he disappears out the door, … and will you see them again, maybe tonight. My song I Can’t Wait is also about the impatience to see someone again. In this Waits song the yearning is almost painful, so tangible. He’s a true master with words and melodies.
7 Everybody’s Lonely: Harry Chapin. A song about mistakes, the road not taken, the lover allowed to drift away, but hope for a better tomorrow, … and maybe she’ll decide to join after all, he hopes. Anyone who’s lived, who’s taken the deep dive into the amorous unknown can connect at a very deep level with that. Chapin also sings, “I know that I’ve got a lifetime coming,” but of course he didn’t, and that makes the song all that more immediate and powerful.
8 Night Bruce Springsteen. The Born to Run album came out the summer that I graduated from high school, 1975. I was living the bohemian dream in a trailer without electricity or water. My roommate was also my closest friend and drummer in my band. Like me he was a car nut, even more so actually, and we both were grease monkeys working in garages during the day, flying around country roads looking for any kind of excitement at night. This song jumps from the vinyl (8 track in those days) with the saxophone blaring and snare snapping like a machine gun. It’s the perfect song for pulling out of the driveway, revving the engine, and hitting the road with your best mate or girl at your side. Till you’re out on a midnight run. Oh hell yeah.
9 Pastures Of Plenty: Woody Guthrie. An outlier here, but I need to tip the hat to Woody. I taught myself how to play the 6 string guitar in Texas listening mostly to scratchy cassettes of his simple but eloquent folk songs about the American struggle. He wrote hundreds of songs and there was a time when I could probably play half of them by heart, but Pastures of Plenty has to be one of my favourites for capturing the difficult immigrant experience. At the same he sings of hope that the American promise will come through. I’ve always loved that about Guthrie’s music: honest, poetic, hopeful.
10 I Want You (She’s So Heavy): The Beatles. Too many Beatles tunes to choose from, it’s ridiculous, but this is one of my favourites. I love George Martin’s heavy mix of the moody minor key rhythm guitars, McCartney’s deep bass runs, Billy Preston’s Hammond organ, Lennon’s pleading, repeating refrain I want you, and then that sublime solo guitar work. The singing and playing is so soulful, it is just perfection. But yes of course, it was The Beatles.