Dec 162016
 

Follow all our Best of 2016 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.

best cover songs

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…

NEXT PAGE →

Apr 182016
 
BrianEno

Brian Eno’s upcoming album The Ship has only two tracks, each over twenty minutes long. The second, “Fickle Sun,” is divided up into the three separate movements – and the third is actually a cover of the Velvet Underground’s “I’m Set Free.” A Serbian radio station has posted it as a part of a mix, so you can listen to it below.

With shimmering electronics and the occasional burst of orchestra, the cover is, for lack of a better term, Eno-esque. The choral vocals are beautiful (it’s unclear whether it is Eno himself singing) and it’s everything you might expect and hope for with Eno covering the Velvets. Continue reading »

May 022014
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

Little Willie John made a splash with “Fever.” It’s an ominous song that slinks along in a minor key. A hit in 1956, it certainly stood out amongst the rest of the R&B hits of the day, burning briefly but brightly. Two years later, Peggy Lee caught “Fever,” slowed it to a simmer, and added some heated lyrics. Once again, it became a hit – a process that would be repeated a couple years later, thanks to Elvis Presley. And there’s been no lack of covers since (an epidemic?). Seems few are immune, with two of the (single-named) queens of pop music, Madonna and Beyonce, having given it a go. But “Fever” has spread to many genres, and the best of the best bring something unique to the hot (and catchy) tune.
Continue reading »

Apr 232014
 

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 your favorite cover of your favorite Beatles song?
Continue reading »

Apr 112014
 

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

There are certain things that you always remember. Meeting the love of your life. Seeing your children for the first time. And, of course, the first time you heard Talking HeadsRemain in Light. Maybe that isn’t a statement of general applicability, but it is true for me.

In October of 1980, I was a college junior and assistant program director of WPRB-FM. It was my responsibility to swing by the post office every day to pick up the station’s mail, including the packages of records. This meant that I got to see the new releases before anyone else. By that time, I had become a pretty big Talking Heads fan (and rued my error in having skipped their show on campus back in my freshman year). We fans knew that the band was moving in new directions after the previous year’s Fear of Music, which had begun integrating more complex rhythms, dance beats and world influences into their sound, and the music press was buzzing with anticipation about what they were going to do next. So, on that cool October morning, when I ripped open the box from WEA as I walked toward the station, I was thrilled to see Remain in Light. After scurrying down into our basement office, I quickly threw the record on the turntable, and was immediately blown away.
Continue reading »

Dec 192013
 

I’m not sure there were more great cover songs this year than any other. But there were more good ones.

What I mean by that is, the average quality of the covers we come across in the time we’ve been around has risen, rather dramatically. Whether they’re iTunes homepage singles or some guy emailing us his Bandcamp, more cover songs in 2013 avoid the old pitfalls than ever before. They don’t sound like they were recorded in a cereal box, substitute ear-bleeding volume for actual creativity, or – the worst cover sin of all – try to carbon-copying the original. With the ease of production and distribution available now, artists seemed to record covers only when they felt they had something to add, and do a halfway decent job committing those ideas to 1s and 0s. Continue reading »