Two things strike me as I scan through our list this year. This first is that many of the highest-ranking covers are tributes to recently-deceased icons. No surprise there, I suppose. But none actually pay tribute to artists that died in 2018. They honor those we’ve been honoring for two or three years now – your Pettys, your Princes, your Bowies. Hundreds of covers of each of these legends appeared in the first days after their deaths, but many of the best posthumous covers took longer to emerge.
Good covers take time. That principle – the cover-song equivalent of the slow food movement, perhaps – holds true throughout the list. Sure, a few here appear to have arisen from sudden moments of brilliance, flash-arranged for some concert or radio promo session. But many more reveal months or even years of painstaking work to nail every element. Making someone else’s song one’s own isn’t easy. These 50 covers took the time to get it right.
When I was 11, my dad took me to the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles for a John Fogerty “revisited” show. As usual, I was the only child in attendance, but proud of it. The theater was strangely half empty. About halfway through the concert, we both admitted that John didn’t sound or look like himself. We tried not to judge, but we were a little sad. What was next for him? Would he appear on QVC selling turquoise necklaces?
Overhearing our perplexity, someone leaned over to us and said: “You know that isn’t John Fogerty, right? It’s a John Fogerty impersonator who won a contest to play this show.”
Music of the mid-1990’s can get stuck between “oldies” and “contemporary,” but few chosen hits from that period remain timely and relevant to life in the present tense. “Zombie” by The Cranberries is one of them.
This catchy, nod-your-head tune is a message of protest against war and violence. It’s hard to recreate the ache and irony in Dolores O’Rordian’s voice without coming off downright angry and dark, like this heavy metal style cover by Leo & Stine Moracchioli. But a Haitian Creole singer Dawn Richard (known as DAWN) delivers a light and fresh take on the song in her new cover.Continue reading »
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 »
Angus and Julia Stone – Passionfruit (Drake cover)
Three prominent indie artists covered Drake’s “Passionfruit” this month: Franz Ferdinand, Cornelius, and, the best of the bunch, Angus and Julia Stone. Covering a rap song is easier, I suppose, when there’s no actual rapping. Few political or racial minefields in the lyrics for artists to navigate help too (for a counterexample: this month’s worst cover). For Triple J’s great series “Like a Version,” Angus and Julia Stone brought their beautiful harmonies to a smooth soul bed. It floats like Gram and Emmylou singing a Marvin Gaye song.Continue reading »