Today we continue the tradition we started way back one month ago. Since we’re still new at this, I’ll reiterate that our picks are unranked and semi-impulsive. Even the un-blurbed “Honorable Mentions” at the bottom aren’t necessarily worse than the rest; in many cases, we’ve just already written about them at length and have little else to say.
We have yet to hear a Land Below cover that didn’t surprise us. Though he’s only been at it a couple years, Sweden’s Erik Lindestad has developed something of a cover speciality: Taking a song with one instantly recognizable element, and stripping it away. For instance, on our tenth birthday he covered “Hooked on a Feeling” without a single “ooga chaka.” When he tackled Moby’s ubiquitous “Porcelain,” he ditched the string sample melody that soundtracked all those commercials. And his new cover of Blur’s “Song 2” walks the same path.
“Song 2” is best known for two words, instantly recognizable to soccer fans everywhere: “Woo hoo!” Most people would build their covers around that holler, since it’s the only part many people recognize. For Lindestad, they’re an afterthought. On his mellow electronic cover, he croons the words over a soft synth bed.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…
London Fashion Week wrapped up recently and, amidst all the catwalks and chic parties, there were plenty of concerts and tapings. High-end designers Mulberry tapped some of the U.K.’s hottest acts to play their parties and, in one case, to record a special cover. Pop singer Sunday Girl (aka. Jade Williams) stopped by their offices to cover Blur’s “Tender.”Continue reading »
Regular readers here at Cover Me know that every Tuesday for the past few months, the folks over at the A.V. Club have squeezed an indie band into a very small room in their office to record a cover from a preselected list of tunes. Last week was particularly nuts, but this week the Get Up Kids go Undercover with their version of Blur’s “Girls and Boys.” For many on this side of the pond, this song marked the opening salvo in the Britpop invasion of the mid-’90s that brought us such bands as Oasis and The Verve. With its bouncing bassline and deliberately over-accented lead vocal, the tune charmed many.Continue reading »