Oct 012018
 
best cover songs september

Update October 5: Hear a conversation about this list, and our recent Best Abba Covers Ever roundup, on SiriusXM:

Al Green – Before the Next Teardrop Falls (Freddy Fender cover)


Sorry, Beyoncé; the biggest surprise release of the year might be Al Green’s sudden return after a decade away. Well, not totally away; he still conducts weekly services at his Memphis church and, when I attended, was liberally sprinkling quotes from “Love and Happiness” and “Take Me to the River” into his sermons. Best of all: This Freddy Fender cover sounds like Al hasn’t lost a step. It’s apparently a one-off, but hopefully recording it will whet his appetite to do more. Continue reading »

Sep 282018
 

‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

I’ve been watching early episodes of Saturday Night Live recently. On the fifth episode ever – back when it bore the shorter title Saturday Night – the host was comedian Robert Klein. Two musical guests joined him: Loudon Wainwright III and ABBA.

Wainwright’s performance plays it straight, just him and his guitar on stage. With ABBA, though, the show undermines the Swedish quartet from the start. They have to perform “S.O.S.” on a sinking Titanic set, competing for screen time with Klein and some SNL writers pretending to drown in vintage dining-lounge attire. Even when the camera lands on ABBA, it waves and swoops to indicate they’re going down with the ship too.

The second performance, “Waterloo,” does them even dirtier. Before the first verse even ends, these words pop up on the screen: “Right now ABBA is lip-syncing. It’s not their fault. The tracks didn’t arrive from Sweden.” The band appears to have no idea they are being thus undermined, even as the audience titters. I’ve watched the entire first season now, and haven’t seen any other musical performer treated this way. (The individual videos sadly aren’t anywhere embeddable, but the full episode is on Hulu).

This SNL appearance neatly embodies the ABBA dichotomy. On the one hand, they were such huge stars that the show simply had to book them. On the other, they seemed so irredeemably uncool that the show felt obliged to mock them so it didn’t lose its cultural cachet. And forty-plus years on from that performance, we treat them the same way. We’ll sing and dance along to their songs – particularly after a drink or two – but only the most ardent poptimist would put ABBA anywhere but the “guilty pleasure” category.

True, the productions may be dated, and the outfits ridiculous, but at their core the songs are rock-solid. Songwriters Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, sometimes aided by band manager Stig Anderson, penned songs that still rise above the cheese-tacular performances. And there’s no better evidence than in the thousands of genre-spanning covers. Everyone from Richard Thompson to Portishead has covered these songs – and not with a wink and a nudge either, but honestly finding timeless lyrics and melodies beneath ABBA’s very of-its-time presentation.

Cher did it too, releasing her ABBA tribute album today to piggyback on the second Mamma Mia! movie’s success (commercial success, that is, as the reviews were not kind – a true ABBA divide, there). So in honor of that, we decided to pick out the best ABBA covers ever. No, none of Cher’s make the list. But thirty other artists do. Continue reading »

Aug 162018
 

‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

madonna covers

Today is Madonna’s birthday, when the Material Girl herself turns – well, one isn’t supposed to talk of such things, so let’s just say it’s a nice round number. Round enough for us to devote this month’s Best Covers countdown to her many hits and, in a few cases, underexposed deep cuts.

A very few cases, to be honest. More than anyone we’ve done these lists about before, Madonna remains best known as a singles artist (even Beyoncé now gets thought of as an album artist). As a result, it’s the singles a cover artist tends to focus on – f’rinstance, the song “Like a Prayer” has been covered more than every other track on the album Like a Prayer combined. The repeated dipping into the same dozen or so songs sets the bar pretty high. You can’t just tweak a tune here and adjust it there. To stand out amidst the million other “La Isla Bonita” covers, an artist needs to attempt something radical.

Many have taken up the challenge. Not one cover on our list would you confuse with Madonna’s version for a second. These artists translate her dance-pop smashes into garage-punk, gypsy-jazz, reggae-soul, and a few genres that no amount of hyphenates will do justice (just wait ’til you reach that Sonic Youth side project).

So get into the groove below. And, if you have any favorite covers we missed, express yourself in the comments! Continue reading »

Jul 312018
 
Arctic Monkeys – Lipstick Vogue (Elvis Costello cover)

Arctic Monkeys got a lot of attention covering the Strokes last week (especially because on his new album, Alex Turner sings: “I just want to be one of the Strokes”). But I preferred their wonderfully sleazy “Lipstick Vogue” cover, played in honor of Costello as he recovered from cancer surgery. Turner’s a product of his influences; in addition to the Strokes and Elvis, he appears to have his Nick Cave snake slither down cold. Continue reading »

Jul 262018
 

‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

rolling stones covers

Mick Jagger turns 75 today, three decades past his famous 1975 benchmark: “I’d rather be dead than sing ‘Satisfaction’ when I’m 45.” Mick’s still singing “Satisfaction” today – and so are a lot of other people. So what better way to celebrate his birthday than with a countdown of the best covers of Rolling Stones songs of all time?

It’s not that we haven’t posted plenty before. They’re actually our fifth most-posted band, after Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, and Neil Young (a little surprised about that one, but as of this post, Neil’s only ahead by one). We’ve shared our favorite covers of “Ruby Tuesday,” “Honky Tonk Woman,” “Wild Horses,” “Paint It Black,” and “Back Street Girl.” We’ve posted covers of every track on Sticky Fingers, Beggars Banquet, and – in case those weren’t long enough – Exile on Main St. And it’s not just covers of the band we adore either; the Stones’ recent album of blues covers ascended to the very short list of albums we’ve awarded five stars.

But we’ve never pulled it all in one place until today. Just as we did for Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, Beyoncé, and Talking Heads, we’re counting down the best covers of Rolling Stones songs ever. The length beats Floyd’s forty-song record; we’ve got fifty Stones covers, from A (Albert King) to Z (Zydeco, Buckwheat). The Stones have been covered in all eras, all genres, and by all sorts of people. By the time you read this, the next all-time-great Stones cover might well have landed.

You can’t always get what you want, as the man once said – but if you click on, you just might get what you need.

Jul 022018
 
cover songs june
Andrew Combs – Reptila (The Strokes cover)


The Strokes’ Is This It songs have been covered to death, so musicians are digging deeper. We heard a killer Angles cover in April from Billie Eilish (more on her in a minute), and now singer-songwriter Andrew Combs takes on this Room on Fire track. His own music leans Nashville Americana, but from the crazy horns here, sounds like he’s been spending time in New Orleans. Continue reading »