Bill Callahan and Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s Will Oldham have been covering songs together for years, dating back to a 1994 EP where, as Smog (Callahan) and Palace Music (Oldham), they tackled Leonard Cohen’s “Tonight Will Be Fine.” Now they’re continuing the collaboration on a pair of new covers – not officially announced as the start of a covers album or anything, but one wonders…
Over our time tracking cover songs (13 years this month!), we’ve written about hundreds of new tribute albums, across reviews, news stories, and, when they’re good enough, our best-of-the-year lists. We also have looked back on plenty of great tribute albums from the past in our Cover Classics series. But we’ve never pulled it all together – until now.
‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.
Last week, Donald Trump gave his headlining speech at the Republican National Convention. Right after, fireworks exploded over the Washington Monument, soundtracked by a cover of “Hallelujah.” A few minutes later, a second singer covered “Hallelujah” while the entire Trump family watched. Both covers were unauthorized, and Leonard Cohen’s estate quickly said they are exploring legal action. (It must also be said that the covers weren’t very good – you won’t find either one on this list.)
Though hardly a shining moment in the history of Cohen covers, this event speaks to the cultural ubiquity of his work, and of “Hallelujah” in particular. For an artist who never sold that many records, Cohen has become about as iconic as icons get. Humble to the end, he would no doubt object – politely, of course – to that statement. But it’s true. His songs transcend his albums, they transcend his performances, they even transcend Leonard Cohen himself.
There’s never a bad time to talk about Leonard Cohen covers, but they’ve really been on my mind the past couple years. Why? Because I’ve been writing an entire book on the subject, which is out today. It’s in the 33 1/3 series of small books on specific albums. The album I selected? The 1991 tribute album I’m Your Fan: The Songs of Leonard Cohen. Without it, you probably wouldn’t even know “Hallelujah”… but we’ll get to that later.
In the book, I explore not just that one tribute album, but the entire history of Leonard Cohen covers generally. It’s a long and fascinating story, but suffice to say here that Cohen wouldn’t have had anywhere near the reach he did without others covering his songs. Covers gave him his start – Judy Collins’s, in particular – and resurrected his career more than once.
There are far too many great Cohen covers to fit in a list like this (and our Patreon supporters will soon get a bonus list of 100 more of them). But we all dug deep to pull the highlights, both the best of the totemic covers as well as brilliant but lesser-known interpretations. The covers span his entire catalog too. Plenty of “Hallelujah”s, of course, and versions of the ’60s songs that made him famous, but also covers of deeper cuts from albums throughout his recording career, up to and including his very last. We hope you’ll discover some new favorites, and maybe be able to listen to the classics you already know in a fresh light.
– Ray Padgett, Editor-in-Chief
The list begins on Page 2.
Few weeks pass without some prominent new Leonard Cohen covers, but they’ve been coming especially quickly of late. No surprise, really, with the man’s own posthumous album out last week to rave reviews. So, to try to keep up, we’ve rounded up a few of the best recent entries, in order from most Leonard Cohen-y to least Leonard Cohen-y.
aeseaes – Realiti (Grimes cover)
Bandits on the Run – Back to Black (Amy Winehouse cover)
‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.
Lindsey Buckingham is out of Fleetwood Mac for reasons that, a few weeks later, remain as enigmatic as many of the band’s best songs. He was fired – or quit? – amid reports that he wanted to work on a solo album while everyone else wanted to tour. This after reports a couple years ago that he wanted to do a Fleetwood Mac album and Stevie didn’t. Their professional lives today are as complicated and messy as their romantic ones once were.
And let’s be honest: He’ll be back in a few years for a dramatic “reunion tour.” But why wait that long to celebrate this great band? We decided to use the excuse of the recent news to pay tribute to one of the most cover-able bands of all time. And lord knows we’ve paid tribute before, full album tributes to Rumours and Tusk and much more (a bunch of links a the bottom).
But now, just as we did with the Talking Heads last month, we’re looking at the entire catalogue, ranking the top thirty covers of Fleetwood Mac songs from any album or era. There’s no specific Lindsey-focus or anything. Though the majority of songs are from the the classic lineup (including a number from Lindsey’s passion project Tusk), a handful come from the band’s blues beginnings before he or Stevie joined. If the record sleeve said “Fleetwood Mac,” it was fair game for artists to reinterpret – and boy, have they ever. Without further ado, thirty artists who listened carefully to the sound, then played the way they felt it.