May 162020
 

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

britney spears covers

Last year, Rob Sheffield called 1999 “the year music exploded, the year when nothing made any damn sense, the year fans had to throw out any old-school rules for how pop worked.” If that’s true, then 2000 was the year when those new trends became the accepted norm. Back in January, we looked at covers of one of the year’s defining phenomenons – boy bands – and this month was tackle another: Britney, a pop supernova so massive she didn’t need a last name.

Her sophomore album Oops!… I Did It Again came out 20 years ago today, setting the record for the highest debut-week album sales by a female artist (it held for 15 years, until Adele’s 25). Though Spears was primarily a singles artist, her albums sold so much that even the deep cuts wormed their way into millions of teenage brains. When we compiled this list, I was pleasantly surprised it wasn’t just the half-dozen biggest hits being covered. Those songs got covered plenty, and still do (our number-four best cover of 2019 was a “Baby One More Time” – not a bad lifespan for a song written by a Swede whose grasp of English was a little rough), but musicians also dig into the album tracks and the singles that flopped.

Spears has shifted into the Vegas-residency stage of her career in recent years (not to mention Instagram star and cause-celebre hashtag). But even if she doesn’t have any more world-conquering hits in her, other artists are keeping her songs alive. Of the thousands of covers out there, here are the 25 best.

The list begins on Page 2.

May 012020
 

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

john prine covers

Are there any bad John Prine covers?

I mean, sure, there are bad covers of anyone worth covering. But it struck me going through the many candidates for this list that they mostly ranged from transcendent on the high end to pretty good on the low. “Pretty good” was about as bad as it got! I don’t think you could say that for anyone else we’ve featured in this series. Continue reading »

Mar 252020
 

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

aretha franklin cover songs

August 16 has long been a day of infamy in the history of American popular music. It started in 1977 when Elvis Presley, the King of Rock n’ Roll, passed away. Forty-one years later, another member of rock royalty also died: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul. Though she was older and her death less of a shock to the cultural landscape, I still remember the exact moment when I heard the news. I was with my family driving home from Sesame Place in Pennsylvania listening to the Beatles channel on SiriusXM. The DJ interrupted to tell us the sad news and in Franklin’s honor played her version of “Let It Be.” Continue reading »

Feb 272020
 

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

smokey robinson covers

The story goes that Bob Dylan called Smokey Robinson “America’s greatest living poet.” Not so, it turns out, but it sure seems like something he would say – it sounds a note of contrariness, but it also has the ring of truth.

Smokey Robinson turned 80 this month, and his legacy as one of the architects of the Motown sound has long been assured. Not only did he have a silken falsetto that conveyed sunshine and rain with equal ease, he also wielded a pen with a similar level of genius. Whether writing for The Miracles, the band that he led throughout the sixties, or the other members of the Motown stable, he came up with songs that became not just a part of music history, but a part of our nation’s history. As Smokey said, the Motown slogan was not “The Sound of Black America,” but “The Sound of Young America,” and that sound has rung down through the corridors of time as surely as the sound of the Liberty Bell.

No further proof is needed than the number of covers of Smokey’s songs – covers of his own recordings or covers of the original recordings by The Temptations or Marvin Gaye or the many other singers who benefited from his pen. His voice has spoken to other artists for decades, and when those artists tell us what he told them, those songs are just as fresh as they were the day he first set them down. We found thirty superlative covers of songs that Smokey wrote and/or sang, but, as we could have found thirty great recordings of “My Girl” alone, we know we’ve missed a few along the way. Whether you’re steamed at what we missed, or excited to discover what we found, we can agree on one thing: Smokey Robinson is one of the all-time greats, and we’re fortunate to have the privilege to listen to the songs he wrote for the rest of our lives.

– Patrick Robbins, Features Editor

The list starts on Page 2.

Jan 242020
 

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

best boy band covers

2020 marks a number of twenty-year anniversaries in music, but perhaps nothing as much as the extremely turn-of-the-millenium phenomenon of the boy band. At the start of the year, NSYNC set a first-week sales record with No Strings Attached. At the end of it, Backstreet Boys set their own sales record with Black & Blue. No one before or since sold CDs like boy bands sold CDs. Even the year’s other huge artists seemed defined in reaction to boy bands; Eminem dissed boy bands in seemingly half of his songs, while Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst was constantly starting feuds with them. It was that kind of year.

Because boy bands had their detractors. Boy oh boy, did they have their detractors. I was a 13-year old in 2000, and I remember the arguments dominating middle school hallways. But whether you were a fanatic or a skeptic, it’s hard to argue that, stripped of the love-it-or-hate-it presentation, the songs were rock solid (melodically, if not always lyrically). I imagine every one of us has gotten some of these stuck in our head – even if we didn’t want them there.

So rather than picking just one artist, we decided to pay tribute to the entire genre. We didn’t limit it to songs from the year 2000, but we did limit it to the phenomenon that 2000 represents. Though you can make a fair argument that The Beatles and Jackson 5 were boy bands, including groups like that would render this list pretty meaningless. Every artist here fits a pretty strict definition of a boy band, even if they came just before the genre’s cultural peak (New Edition) or after it (One Direction).

So everybody, rock your body with the 25 best boy band covers ever.

– Ray Padgett

The list starts on Page 2.

Nov 122019
 

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

REM Covers

Last week, R.E.M. released a 25th anniversary expanded reissue of their 1994 album Monster. Unlike many of their albums, Monster was not an obvious candidate for a splashy box set. Practically every new review has noted that Monster was, as Salon succinctly put it, “a notorious staple of dollar bins everywhere.” But, as tends to happen with such reissues, the celebrated albums get celebrated again and the less-loved albums get a critical reappraisal. Sure enough, everyone loves Monster all of a sudden.

So perhaps an avalanche of Monster covers is forthcoming – because there certainly aren’t many now. Despite that being the ostensible news peg for this list, no songs from that album appear on it. But, in a band with as rich a discography as R.E.M.’s, there was a lot of competition. Sure, the obvious hits get covered as much as you think, but many artists delve deeper. The song at the very top of the list, for instance, originally appeared on 1998’s Up, an album that might have an even worse reputation than Monster.

Luckily we don’t need to wait four more years for the reappraisal of that, or of any of the other songs on our list. These 25 covers reappraise R.E.M. deep cuts you didn’t know and reimagine the hits you’ve heard a million times.

The list starts on Page 2.