Disclaimer: Our monthly “Best Cover Songs” aren’t ranked, and the “Honorable Mentions” aren’t necessarily worse than the others (they’re just the ones we had the least to say about).
Angelique Kidjo – Born Under Punches (Talking Heads cover)
Goddammit, Angelique. We spent weeks compiling our Best Talking Heads Covers post, and only days after we finish, you announce a full Remain in Light tribute album. Judging from this first single, it’s going to be pretty amazing too.
Black Sheikhs – Sex Is on Fire (Kings of Leon cover)
Listen, the “ironic swing-jazz covers of pop songs” thing has been done. A lot. But rarely as ably as UK quintet Black Sheikhs do on new covers album On Fire. On the first listen, you’ll chuckle hearing Bruno Mars and Nirvana lyrics twisted so. But after that, you’ll just enjoy the music. (Shout out to Cover Lay Down’s Joshua Farber for turning me onto this one.)
Dirty Revival – Closer (Nine Inch Nails cover)
Every December, I listen to a hilarious medley of Nine Inch Nails lyrics set to Christmas jingles. It’s musically creative, absolutely, but it’s still primarily a gag. And a big soul-band cover of “Closer” sounds like it would be the same sort of novelty. But Dirty Revival have the chops to genuinely make this a killer cover – good for repeat listens, not just a one-time chuckle.
Imaginary Future – I Won’t Back Down (Tom Petty cover)
Two months ago I compiled a bunch of Tom Petty covers for SiriusXM (archived here). I dug through plenty of “I Won’t Back Down” covers – it’s roughly tied with “Free Fallin'” and “American Girl” as his most-covered song. But none sounded quite like this new one.
Jennifer Warnes – Just Breathe (Pearl Jam cover)
When I first typed that header, I miswrote it as: “Just Breathe (Leonard Cohen cover).” Now, the song “Just Breathe” has nothing to do with Leonard Cohen. But it’s hard to type “Jennifer Warnes” without wanting to add “Leonard Cohen cover.” In some ways, she was Cohen’s definitive song interpreter. He thought so, certainly. He even gave his former backup singer a few iconic songs he hadn’t released yet himself – “First We Take Manhattan” and “Ain’t No Cure for Love” – to debut on 1986’s classic Famous Blue Raincoat: The Songs of Leonard Cohen. For her first album since 2001, though, she tackles a very different source: Pearl Jam. In her tender delivery, it sounds kind of like Cohen.
The Kills – List of Demands (Reparations) (Saul Williams cover)
A powerful cover, made even more powerful by its accompanying visuals, featuring dancers (plus Kills Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince) hooded and shackled as prisoners. “It’s a song of strength and empowerment, rooted in the idea of rising above,” Mosshart wrote in a statement. “It was one of those songs you’re almost scared to cover, because it carries so much respect. It wasn’t a straight up love song or a drug song. It was defined, serious, and perfect already. With certain songs, you feel like an intruder trying to sing them, but this one felt like my own.”
And Saul Williams himself approves: “I always felt envious of the way the 60’s generation shared songs and ideologies. Jimi singing Dylan. Rotary Connection singing Otis Redding. The Stones singing the blues. This is all part of the beauty and power of music and it reverberates deeply in me. All this to say, I’m honored. I liked The Kills before they chose to cover ‘LOD.’ If they can feel themselves in that song, it’s because they are as much a part of it as I am.”
Norman Lamont and the Heaven Sent – Bamboo (Dave Van Ronk cover)
Lamont emailed us this about his fantastic cover of an old Van Ronk folk tune: “He says in his autobiography it was the only song of his that ever made any money, as it was covered by Peter, Paul and Mary. He wrote it in ten minutes, describing it as ‘doggerel’. He hated it. I hope you like our version better than he liked his! It’s got an unusual combination of trumpet and Robert Fripp-style guitar, with a choir.”
The Parrots – Soy Peor (Bad Bunny cover)
Bad Bunny’s “Soy Peor” video has over 515 million views on YouTube. To put that insane number into context, that is more views than any Justin Timberlake video. And, in a sign of our increasingly fractured culture: I’d never heard the song until the Parrots sent us this cover. The Madrid rock duo turn the reggaeton smash into a psychedelic garage nugget. They say it’s the first cross-genre they’ve tried. Hopefully not the last.
PEAKES – Running Up That Hill (Kate Bush cover)
That beautifully filmed cover of “Walk on the Wild Side” we posted a few weeks ago? It was the first in a new cover-song series from Mahogany Sessions. And whoa boy, are they off to a good start. British trio PEAKES continued the winning streak with a stunningly stripped-down electronic “Running Up That Hill.”
Prince Fox – The Middle (Jimmy Eat World cover)
Prince Fox’s “The Middle” cover debuted at a site called EDM Sauce, which might set low expectations if you’re not a modern-dance-music fan. But while you can certainly hear the DJ’s dance music background in this cover, it’s less prominent than you might think. This is hardly some four-on-the-floor banger for the Coachella rave tent. Instead, it takes the basic melody and guitar riffs of the original song and slows them down. The computerized beats and effects get layered on with a mercifully delicate touch.
Buffalo Tom – Only Living Boy in New York (Simon & Garfunkel cover)
Courtney Barnett – Never Tear Us Apart (INXS cover)
CHVRCHES – XO (Beyoncé cover)
Eddie Vedder – Room at the Top (Tom Petty cover)
Gang of Youths – Straight to You (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds cover)
Hibibi – Green Fuz (Randy Alvey and the Green Fuz cover)
Hundred Waters – I Don’t Believe in the Sun (Magnetic Fields cover)
Juliana Hatfield – Physical (Olivia Newton-John cover)
Lana Del Rey – You Must Love Me (Madonna cover)
Lola Coca – A World Without Love (Peter and Gordon cover)
Manchester Orchestra and Julian Baker – Bad Things to Such Good People (Pedro the Lion cover)
Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats – Atlantic City (Bruce Springsteen cover)
Roger Daltrey – As Long As I Have You (Garnet Mimms cover)
Vanessa Carlton – Call Your Girlfriend (Robyn cover)
Wavves – Onie (The Electric Prunes cover)