20. Fun Lovin’ Criminals – We Have All the Time in the World (Louis Armstrong cover)
We recently named this one of the best covers of a James Bond theme song ever. They smooth out Louis Armstrong’s rasp while keeping things a little spooky.
19. Wilco – Burned (Buffalo Springfield cover)
In 1996, Wilco were just beginning the sonic experimentations that would blossom in Summerteeth and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. So think of “Burned” as the end of an era, when the alt-country band could credibly cover Buffalo Springfield better than anyone else out there.
18. Prince – I Can’t Make U Love Me (Bonnie Raitt cover)
Not only did Prince release two studio albums in 1996 – the second of the two was a triple LP! That album, Emancipation, includes a number of covers, the best of which is his smooth-soul take on “I Can’t Make You Love Me” (retitled “I Can’t Make U Love Me,” of course). The spoken word part might be an acquired taste – “I offer you sexual relations” is a pretty unsexy thing to whisper – but it’s Prince, so he sells it.
17. My Bloody Valentine – Map Ref 41N 93W (Wire cover)
Thought it took them 22 years to follow up 1991’s Loveless, in the intervening decades My Bloody Valentine would drip out new songs here and there. One of the best of those was this Wire cover, from a tribute album that really pulled hard from the ’90s names, like Godflesh and Lush (also, lest you feel too nostalgic for the ’90s, a band called Fudge Tunnel).
16. Sneaker Pimps – Firestarter (The Prodigy cover)
Rave groups like the Prodigy were massive in 1996. Though their album Fat of the Land would come next year and go not just gold or platinum but diamond (10 million copies), in 1996 they released the first huge single “Firestarter.” It was loud, aggressive, and, in spirit if not sonics, very punk rock. Everything this slow-burning Sneaker Pimps cover is not.
15. The Afghan Whigs – If I Only Had a Heart (Wizard of Oz cover)
Like the Lemonheads, the Whigs offered a number of options for this list, covering everyone from Barry White to TLC. But their best may be the least likely choice of all: the Tin Man’s song in Wizard of Oz. They make it slow and sorrowful, a gritty jazz lament.
14. Gus – Don’t Fear the Reaper (Blue Oyster Cult cover)
“Don’t Fear the Reaper” has gotten many stripped-down covers of one form or another over the years, and for a good reason: the song works really well in that capacity. Gus Black’s from the Scream soundtrack is one of the best.
13. R.E.M. – Wichita Lineman (Glen Campbell cover)
R.E.M. were not a country band, but with the right song choice their jangly indie-rock meshed perfectly with a more twangy tune. Glen Campbell’s Jimmy Webb-penned classic “Wichita Lineman,” performed live in Houston and released as the b-side to 1996 single “Bittersweet Me,” was a perfect example.
12. The Walkabouts – House of the Rising Sun (Traditional cover)
The Walkabouts’ 1996 odds-and-ends compilation Death Valley Days offers a wealth of great covers, with near-definitive versions of songs by Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Neil Young, and more. But most of those had been first released in previous years. One cover that hadn’t, and one that perfectly shows how this band can take an oft-covered song and absolutely own it, is their storming “House of the Rising Sun.”
11. The Dirty Three – I Remember A Time When Once You Used To Love Me (Arleta cover)
Rolling Stone ranked the Dirty Three’s 1996 album Horse Stories as the third best of the year – above R.E.M., Wilco, Johnny Cash, and the Fugees. Violinist Warren Ellis (who had just joined Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds, where he remains to this day) leads the instrumental trio through a ragged and epic cover of this little-known Greek song.
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