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.
Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
It feels a little strange saying “spoiler alert” about a movie that’s closing in on fifty years old and is a huge cult favorite besides, but if you’ve seen Harold and Maude, you know the importance the Cat Stevens song “Trouble” has in the movie. The sequence is unforgettable, and one viewing will forever tie the song to that series of images.
Of course, the song didn’t need Harold and Maude to stand out – it was a key track on Mona Bone Jakon, the album that reintroduced Stevens to the listening public as an introspective singer-songwriter over a year and a half before the movie’s release. No longer a chamber-popster, Stevens looked long and hard at himself and humbly reported what he’d found to listeners who could relate. They still do.
That’s A Cover? explores cover songs that you may have thought were originals.
Time travel is impossible, say some physicists. But ask any true music fan if it can be done, and the answer will be an enthusiastic “Yes!” And it’s a lot easier than you might think.
How? Just traipse on over to your laptop (or, more likely, the smartphone currently warming your pocket). Punch in “Sheryl Crow First Cut is the Deepest,” and within seconds you’ll be transported back to 2003, Crow’s supple mezzo-soprano filling your earbuds and floating out over a lovely mandolin and steel-string guitar intro. It’s a powerful song, too: An affecting plea for love after the scorched-earth anguish of an affair gone awry.
When it was released, Crow’s song was a perfect encapsulation of that era’s modern, high-gloss folk-rock: Well-oiled, heavy on heartstring-tugging touches and somewhat light on passion. It was a hit, too, peaking at #14 on the Billboard Hot 100 in March of 2004. But as regular Cover Me readers, you’re already bracing yourself for the inevitable pull of the rug: Sheryl Crow didn’t write “The First Cut Is the Deepest,” nor was she even the first to chart with it.
In Pick Five, great artists tell us about five cover songs that matter to them.
When post-punk pioneers Gang of Four first reunited in 2005, they told the New York Times they weren’t planning on writing any new songs. They have clearly changed their tune since then, following a couple recent albums with a new EP out this week. Way back in 1980, David Fricke called them “probably the best politically motivated band in rock & roll,” and they’re still at it: that new EP features a photo of Ivanka Trump on the cover. And its title? Complicit. (As if that wasn’t pointed enough, there’s also a Russian translation.)
Last year I did a roundup of the Best Cover Songs of 1996. It was a fun project to retroactively compile one of our year-end lists for a year before Cover Me was born. I wanted to do it again this year, but continuing the twentieth-anniversary theme with 1997 seemed a little boring. Turns out 1997 also featured a bunch of Afghan Whigs covers.
So to mix it up, I decided to go a decade further back and look at 1987. Needless to say, the landscape looked very different for covers. For one, far more of that year’s biggest hits were covers than we saw for 1996. The year had #1 cover hits in Heart’s “Alone,” the Bangles’ “Hazy Shade of Winter,” Los Lobos’ “La Bamba,” Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now,” Club Nouveau’s “Lean on Me,” and Kim Wilde’s “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.” Plus ubiquitous hits that didn’t quite top the charts, but remain staples of the songs-you-didn’t-know-were-covers lists, Buster Poindexter’s “Hot Hot Hot” and George Harrison’s “Got My Mind Set On You.”
Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.
Following the cultural tumult that was the end of the 1960s, many musicians opted for a more introspective, seemingly autobiographical approach to their songwriting. Artists like James Taylor, Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, and scores of others suddenly made it okay to turn down the volume and once again focus on the lyrical content that tended to get swept aside during the height of psychedelia. Yet not all introspection resulted in the creation of original material. With the nation seemingly falling apart, many artists began looking back to the late-1950s and early-1960s, essentially their formative years, to help better understand how they arrived and, in the process, finding themselves temporarily transported to better times.
For a musician like Laura Nyro, herself always open and contemplative within her own songs, the approach transcended the internal here and now in favor of a more accurately autobiographical look at how she ended up where she did by the time of 1971’s Gonna Take A Miracle. Rather than digging deeper into herself in an attempt to find a wealth spring of inspiration, she returned to her original inspirations as though they were a palate cleanser designed to erase the memories of the preceding years’ social unrest. By returning to her roots and the music that inspired her in the first place – her “favorite teenage heartbeat music,” she called it – Nyro sought to find her center, looking backwards for answers contained within what was beginning to be (incorrectly) perceived as a simpler time.