Boulder musician Adam Baerd plans to release 100 songs covering 100 years of music. The idea was inspired by his grandmother, who set out to learn some standards from the Great American Songbook.
Baerd’s brother also provided some inspiration by compiling customized Spotify playlists for everyone in the family.
“Listening to that playlist, I was just sobbing silently,” Baerd says. “He just reached into my brain and was able to give me this feeling that I don’t know if I’ve ever had before. Six hours of music selected just for me. That gave me something I wanted to share with other people.”
Century of Covers, scheduled to be released at midnight on January 1, 2022, is an ambitious undertaking. But it doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility for Baerd, who released a three-hour-long totally improvised album, Perfectish, last year.
He also won’t be doing it alone. The ten albums — one for each decade starting in the 1920s, with a song chosen from each year — will be recorded at UI Sound Studios in Boulder. The project will also take a lot of musicians. “The number is up in the air right now,” he says. “But, honestly, it’s going to include at least thirty other musicians, which is just going to be a joy.”
Baerd and his collaborators spent several months compiling 100 songs and fact-checking them to make sure they were written in their respective years. They also wanted to make sure they were picking songs that they could do an interesting take on. Most of the playlist is secret, but it will include a flamenco-style version of Britney Spears's “Toxic” and a bluegrass cover of Motörhead's “Ace of Spades."
“We get to bring new genres to those old tunes, as well,” explains Baerd. “That's going to be part of what makes this so exciting. In the same way we are going to bring flamenco to Britney Spears or some Gypsy jazz to Eminem, we are also going to bring some of those modern genres backward and see what happens.”
Baerd says it was easier to pick the songs for the first couple of decades, because recording was expensive and the technology wasn’t widely available. Once the crew set out to pick songs from the early 2000s and beyond, however, it became much more difficult, as the era of independent record labels and microgenres emerged. About five countries are represented. Because recording technology was developed in the United States, the earliest decades skew toward American music.
“I’d like to say we have every genre covered, but I think that would be literally impossible,” he says. “But we’ve got hair metal. We’ve got glam rock. We’ve got bluegrass. We’ve got classical. Hip-hop is certainly in there. We’ve got EDM. We’ve got power pop. We tried to be as inclusive as possible — that’s the whole point of the project.”
Colorado will be represented in the project, Baerd notes. It remains to be seen what that means — Colorado artists or songs about the state or both — as he is mum on the subject for now.
“That’s what’s kind of fun, is keeping the set lists on the down-low,” he says. “That’s what keeps these set lists special, is not knowing what comes next. All of a sudden you hear it and your brain goes, ‘Oh that’s great. I remember that song,’ or, ‘Wow, that’s a cool use of this.’”
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Although the ten-album set is scheduled to drop online on January 1, 2022, Baerd is running a Kickstarter campaign to raise $173,000 to pay for studio time, song licensing, the musicians and a host of other expenses. People who donate at the $25 level will get one song sent to them a month — about a quarter of the total output. Those who donate $100 or more will get a cassette tape-inspired USB drive of the songs. The campaign ends on March 10.
Baerd says that a tight schedule will be necessary in order to get 100 songs done in slightly less than two years. And he is not beyond swapping out musicians or instruments to make the recordings the best they can possibly be.
“It breaks down to about a song a week,” he says. “Fortunately, the material is already technically written.”