Since the surprise election of Donald Trump last week, musicians have responded in all sorts of ways, from benefit concerts to social media missives. A few have taken to the world of cover songs to express their feelings and frustrations, picking songs with titles like “Drunk On Election Night” or “Time To Move On.” We’ve pulled together a few of the best.
Suicide singer Alan Vega died last week at age 78, and since then a whole host of artists have paid tribute by covering his songs. As was the case with “Purple Rain” when Prince died, one song has become the go-to tribute song for the occasion: the uplifting “Dream Baby Dream.”
Bruce Springsteen, who has regularly covered the song solo on piano over the past decade, delivered a full-band version to open his Denmark show. Pearl Jam did the same at a festival show in Canada, while Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler who tweeted a very laptop-dj take on the tune.
Follow all our Best of 2015 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.
I didn’t realize it until I began laying out our post, but this year’s Best Cover Songs list shares quite a few artists with last year’s. And some that showed up here the year before that. Jack White’s on his fourth appearance. And Jason Isbell and Hot Chip not only both reappear from last year, but have moved up in the rankings.
Though we’re always on the lookout for the new (and to be sure, there are plenty of first-timers here too), the number of repeat honorees illustrates how covering a song is a skill just like any other. The relative few artists who have mastered it can probably deliver worthy covers again and again.
How a great cover happens is something I’ve been thinking a lot about this year as I’ve been writing a series of articles diving deep into the creation of iconic cover songs through history (I posted two of them online, and the rest are being turned into a book). In every case the artist had just the right amount of reverence for the original song: honoring its intention without simply aping it. It’s a fine line, and one even otherwise able musicians can’t always walk. Plenty of iconic people don’t make good cover artists (I’d nominate U2 as an example: some revelatory covers of the band, but not a lot by them). Given the skill involved, perhaps it’s no surprise that someone who can do a good cover once can do it again.
So, to longtime readers, you will see some familiar names below. But you’ll also see a lot of new names, and they’re names you should remember. If the past is any guide, you may well see them again next year, and the year after that.
Click on over to page two to begin our countdown, and thanks for reading.
– Ray Padgett, Editor in Chief
(Illustration by Sarah Parkinson)
Will Dailey has won the Boston Music Award for Best Singer/Songwriter. Five times. In his latest triumph, he takes on Arcade Fire‘s “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains).” He strips the song from its playful disco beat vibes, instead offering a contrasting piece with gentle tapping drums and warm guitar lines in lieu of frisky synths and pianos.
A few years back, Ezra Furman dumped his band the Harpoons to go solo. Anyone familiar with the Ezra Furman and the Harpoons records – and you should be, Mysterious Power is one of the best rock and roll records of the decade – would have a hard time thinking they were holding him bach. They were pretty all over the place sonically, after all. But perhaps they were, as his latest album Perpetural Motion swings about even more wildly. Twisted doo-wop, lo-fi garage, twirly synth-pop, brash soul: the style changes from one song to the next, following his restless interests. And clearly he’s stayed restless, as he now has a five-song bonus EP too, a covers set available when you purchase the album at Rough Trade.
Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.
Here at Cover Me Q&A, we’ll be taking questions about cover songs and giving as many different answers as we can. This will give us a chance to hold forth on covers we might not otherwise get to talk about, to give Cover Me readers a chance to learn more about individual staffers’ tastes and writing styles, and to provide an opportunity for some back-and-forth, as we’ll be taking requests (learn how to do so at feature’s end).
Today’s question: What’s a cover song that introduced you to an artist?