Insofar as a composer can become famous in modern American society, with the exception of maybe Hans Zimmer, Philip Glass is the most famous one. He’s gone from being an enfant terrible of the minimalist scene that costarred luminaries like LaMonte Young, Steve Reich, and Terry Riley, to having his works soundtrack pivotal moments in prestige pics. It’s hard to reduce Glass’ works to a single album--Glassworks was the one that first broke him to a wider audience--but Solo Piano is maybe his most enduring work. It’s his best stand alone album, and it’s been used as emotional shorthand in movies and TV shows.
It’s also been performed and reimagined the most out of all of Glass’ works, as even a cursory look at YouTube proves. So, in honor of our reissue of Solo Piano, we are honoring the seven songs on the album by picking our favorite covers of each of them. You can buy Solo Piano on April 17 from the Vinyl Me, Please store.
The Cover: Sia’s “Breathe Me”
Arguably more popular than any Philip Glass work, Sia’s “Breathe Me”--famous to Google as “that song from Six Feet Under"--takes portions of a replayed “Metamorphosis One” as its piano bed. The pitch is higher on the Sia, and it moves on from the Glass figure pretty quickly, but little does everyone know that the best minimal composer on earth had a rare pop crossover with this one.
The Coverer: Lavinia Meijer
With the exception of Joanna Newsom, Lavinia Meijer is probably the most famous harpist on earth. She’s put out a bunch of albums of classical music, and even has a platinum album in the Netherlands for her harp covers of Philip Glass compositions. This cover of “Metamorphosis Two” is pretty chill till the 2:25 mark when Meijer goes off like crazy. She’s like the Eddie Van Halen of harps on this thing.
The Coverer: Blood Orange
You wouldn’t necessarily think that a guy known for sensual and well-mannered R&B would be the first pick for someone to nail a cover of “Metamorphosis Three,” but here’s Blood Orange live on Sirius XMU, casually nailing a Philip Glass cover. Here’s to the inevitable Blood Orange classical album.
The Coverer: Bruce Brubaker (Biblo Remix)
Bruce Brubaker is one of the most well-regarded interpreters of Philip Glass’ discography; he’s been lauded by the [paper of record] (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/07/arts/music/07brub.html) for being especially good at reimagining Glass for new audiences. Last year, Brubaker released an album length cover of Solo Piano, which is great for its devotion to Glass. However, the real fireworks are on the second disc, which is all electronic reimaginations of Brubaker’s covers. This Biblo remix remakes “Metamorphosis Four” into a sparse, haunting electronic breakdown, to the point where it’s hard to sense the original composition.
The coverer: This person playing on Garage Band
Weirdly, YouTube is full of people playing parts of the “Metamorphosis” and trying to teach other people how to as well. Some brave souls have even programmed it on Garage Band in order to completely teach a novice how to play it, since the notes and the keys are visible and easy to follow. So, we honor the people spending their weekends making Philip Glass tutorials on GarageBand.
The Coverer: This dude playing on a church organ
One of the beauties of Glass’ music on Solo Piano is that it’s possible to recreate it on virtually anything with keys. For instance, watch this dude crush “Mad Rush, For Piano” on a church organ. Imagine being a church tour goer and walking into this.
The Coverer: Branka Parlic
Branka Parlic is a concert pianist known for reimagining the works of minimalist composers including, you guessed it, Philip Glass. There are a dozen YouTube videos of her playing songs from Solo Piano, but this cover of “Wichita Vortex Sutra” is recommended for its closeups of Parlic’s fast moving hands and the spacey theater it’s performed in.
Andrew Winistorfer is VMP’s Classics & Country Director and a writer and editor of their books, 100 Albums You Need in Your Collection and The Best Record Stores in the United States. He’s written Listening Notes for more than 20 VMP releases, co-produced VMP Anthologies The Story of Philadelphia International Records, The Story of Quincy Jones, The Story of Impulse and the VMP Classics release of Nat Turner Rebellion's Laugh to Keep From Crying, and executive produced The Story of Vanguard and The Story of Willie Nelson. He lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
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