We already counted down the 50 Best Cover Songs of 2018 but, inevitably, many of our staff’s personal favorites get left off. So, before we begin scouting for what might become the best cover of 2019, we share the best of the rest, an unranked hodgepodge of worthy covers that only just missed our year-end countdown.
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.
– Ray Padgett, Editor-in-Chief
Start the countdown on the next page…
Cover Classics takes a look at great covers albums of the past, their genesis and their legacies.
Black Friday may have gone, but here’s a twofer bargain.
Cat Power, aka Chan Marshall, has produced two near-full album cover classics in her career (so far), which doesn’t even begin to fully address her never-more-quirky approach to the songs of others. Not that she is lost for any words of her own! She’s got a back catalogue stretching across many styles and many genres, from raw scratchy indie through slinky southern soul, a touch of electronica and back again, yet always unmistakably herself. Her career has seen her seemingly beset by internal demons; many had written her off until her triumphant return this fall with Wanderer, containing ten of her own songs, and one contender for our Cover Songs of the Year post.
But it is back to 2000 we first go, to The Covers Record. Allegedly a disappointment to her record company, who had appreciated this was an artiste worth their investment, but even with lackluster promotion it became a slow burning triumph. Praise and plaudits accumulated over the years, not least as box set dramas required ever more diverse musical accompaniments.
AJ Lambert – Lush Life (Frank Sinatra cover)
Frank Sinatra’s granddaughter covers Frank Sinatra. You think you know where this story ends: fawning nepotism. But despite familial loyalty, A.J. Lambert isn’t afraid to twist “Lush Life,” adding a Lynchian undercurrent of menace. More of an overcurrent in the crawling, nose-bleeding video.
Amy Shark – Teenage Dirtbag (Wheatus cover)
Every month, one or two of these selections invariably hail from Spotify’s terrific new cover-sessions series. My only gripe is that they came with no information, the sort a band would write in the YouTube description or press release announcing a new cover, or say on stage before performing one live. That’s now solved with Spotify’s new “Under Cover” podcast, in which the artists performing the covers talk about them. We learn that Amy Shark tried to make “Teenage Dirtbag” a Pixies song, and that she considered the song her anthem when she was young. She says: “The first time I heard ‘Teenage Dirtbag,’ I was in high school. I was crazy obsessed with it to the point where it was in my head every day all day. I would sing it in all day in school. Even teachers would say, ‘Amy, please listen to something else.'”
In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!
It’s been a while since the Airborne Toxic Event has raised its collective voice. They’ve made many hints about an upcoming album, but no soap radio. They’ve played just half a dozen gigs in the last two and a half years. Founder Mikel Jollett keeps up a steady stream on his Twitter page, but the band’s tweets have slowed to a trickle. Last month they did note the tenth anniversary of the release of their debut album, which prompted one reader to ask if they’d ever release any new music. “Yes,” came the response, but with no elaboration. It’s enough to give the heebie jeebie jitters to the band’s sizable cult, who want to know what they’re going to do next and when they’re going to do it… if at all.
In Pick Five, great artists pick five cover songs that matter to them.
Two years ago, Whitehorse, the Canadian husband-and-wife duo made up of Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland, made our Best of 2016 list with their covers EP The Northern South, Vol. 1. Well, a volume one demands a volume two (someone remind Bob Dylan), and that finally arrives in January. On The Northern South, Vol. 2, the pair cover blues legends like Jimmy Reed and Slim Harpo, but not in the bar-band-choogler fashion you most often hear these songs performed. Get a taste with the first single, a version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Who’s Been Talkin'” that sounds like Chess Records via Muscle Shoals:
You have to wait until January to hear more – unless you’re in Nashville this week, where the duo have two shows at AmericanaFest on Thursday: 4pm @ The Local (WMOT) and 10pm @ The Basement (I’ve seen them live, and can confirm they are not to be missed). Doucet and McClelland took some time out from rehearsing their own covers to tell us about their favorite cover songs. Though their music often gets pegged as bluesy Americana, their tastes span the genre gamut. They also, consciously or not, seem drawn to other bands with “horse” in the name.