Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
“You Oughta Know” represented a handful of firsts for Alanis Morissette. It was the first single off her 1995 Jagged Little Pill album and the first release based on her collaboration with Glen Ballard, who shares writing credit and produced the song. While it’s also technically her first public break from the pop-leaning sound she’d previously engaged, that Alanis – like Robin Scherbatsky’s “Robin Sparkles” days, for How I Met Your Mother fans – was really known only to her native Canada.
For most American listeners, “You Oughta Know” was the first time they’d heard Alanis Morissette, period – and a demure introduction it was not. The song also marked, for more than a few JNCO-clad girls in their teens and twenties, the first time that 1990s alternative rock seemed not just open to frustrated female energy but perfectly suited to it. Its combination of smartly conceived jabs and soaring emotion ensured the song would stay lodged in musical memory for a long time to come – and that many other artists would want to give it a try. Continue reading »
Follow all our Best of 2016 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.
2016 in music will be most remembered for one thing: death. It seemed like an unprecedented list of major musical figures left us this year: David Bowie, Prince, Merle Haggard, Leonard Cohen. The list, sadly, goes on and on.
Prominent passings affect many aspects of the music world, but the impact is particularly clear in the world of cover songs: When an artist dies, a lot of people cover his or her songs. The world was hardly hurting for Prince covers before April 21, but afterwards, to paraphrase the man himself, we went crazy. Bruce Springsteen alone became a one-man tribute machine, covering Bowie, Prince, The Eagles’ Glenn Frey, and Suicide’s Alan Vega after they died (it’s a shame his tour ended before Cohen passed because he’d do a great “Everybody Knows”). Our list this year features a number of these tribute covers – though both the Cohen covers listed were actually released before his death, proving there’s no need to wait to honor one of the greats.
Our list also features fantastic final covers by the recently departed, brilliant song-interpreters like Sharon Jones and Allen Toussaint. The fact that they died may add extra meaning to these new songs, but they’d make the list regardless. Whether they performed wonderful covers or wrote wonderful songs for others to cover, we miss these artists because they were great. They don’t need any “death bump.”
The year wasn’t all dire though. Our list features many covers by and of artists who are alive in every sense of the word. Kendrick Lamar and Drake represent the new world of hip-hop, Kacey Musgraves and Sturgill Simpson in country, Animal Collective and Joyce Manor in indie rock, and in too many other genres to name. Jason Isbell currently holds a streak here, making his third consecutive appearance this year.
We also have plenty of artists whose names I won’t highlight here, because you probably won’t have heard of them…yet. We’re not in the business of predicting fame – the music industry is far too fickle for that – but some of our past best-cover winners have gone on to big things this year, like Chance the Rapper (2014 winner) and The Weeknd (2012 winner). Hell, Sturgill (#3 in 2014) just got an Album of the Year Grammy nomination!
Those early covers may have helped kick off such success. A revelatory cover song can help a musician attract early attention. When I interviewed Mark Mothersbaugh recently, he said no one understood what Devo was doing until they covered “Satisfaction.” A familiar song done Devo-style finally made the connection for people. “Whip It” and other original hits would not be far behind.
Maybe some of this year’s under-the-radar names will go on to Weeknd-level superstardom. But even if they don’t, all these covers, by household names and Garageband geeks alike, deserve recognition. We’ll miss all the great musicians who left us this year, but it’s gratifying to see so many promising younger artists coming in to fill their shoes.
– Ray Padgett, Editor in Chief
(Illustration by Sarah Parkinson)
PS. Last year in this space, I mentioned I’m writing a book about cover songs. Well, Cover Me (the book, that is) is finished and will be out next year! In addition to the aforementioned Mothersbaugh, I interviewed Roger Daltrey about “Summertime Blues,” David Byrne about “Take Me to the River,” and many more. Follow our Facebook for updates on preorder, etc. Now, on to the countdown…
Last year, Alanis Morissette’s monster album Jagged Little Pill celebrated its 20th birthday and, as happens on such occasions, got its own big box set. For an even better tribute, though, check out The Land Below’s new cover of one of the album’s hit single, “Hand in My Pocket.” Over low synth drones and a slow crescendo, Sweden’s Erik Lindestad sings the haunting melody at about half the speed of the original. For even those of us who were not Alanis fans the first time around, this cover is revelatory.Continue reading »
Last fall, Kanye West took over the Internet with his G.O.O.D. Fridays series of free song releases. Now, Durham NC quartet Delta Rae tries to one-up him with a similar GRAET Mondays campaign. Fittingly, one of the first songs in their weekly updates is a joyous cover of West’s “All of the Lights.”Continue reading »
America’s obsession with choirs covering popular hits has been growing with intensity over the last several years. Just look at the television sensation Glee, the Academy Award/Hollywood darlings of PS22 Chorus, and even those crappy group song nights on American Idol. However, last year audiences were introduced to a different kind of choir in a haunting trailer for the movie, The Social Network. Sung by an all-female Belgian group, the Scala and Kolacny Brothers’ ethereal cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” played over the montage. Their unique take on this oft-covered tune became an overnight sensation.
The United States may just be catching on, but the Scala choir has been creating chilling cover songs since 1996. With five studio albums under their belts in Europe, Scala is finally reaching across the pond. In addition to their North American tour that begins next month, the group finally released their album in the U.S. Boasting thirteen tracks from their previous overseas albums, Scala and Kolacny Brothers is a great introduction to some of their best material. Continue reading »
This is definitely one of my favorite songs of the ’90s and I knew I could really squeeze the hell out of the angst in this song, but I wanted to do something a bit different. I secretly was hoping the Nine Inch Nails song [“Something I Can Never Have”] would win, because it is so spare and dark, yet very powerful. When the Alanis song won, I thought, well, what if Trent Reznor was doing it? That was my initial inspiration. I slowed it way down and started playing around with different piano lines. I love a looping, melodic, hypnotic instrumental line, and I really wanted to bring a mix of electronic and organic instruments.Continue reading »