Oct 132017

Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.

Who does the best version of “God Only Knows”?

Accepting that the true answer is probably “Beach Boys, Beach Boys, Beach Boys,” this is a song oft covered and rarely, if ever, bettered, such is its beauty and ubiquity, as reliant on the arrangement as the melody, the lyrics as the singer. Most who have met the cover-me challenge have failed, duplicating and copying, facsimiles falling and failing at the shrine of St. Brian. And at the feet of St. Carl, for it is his sublime vocal that nails it. Some of these are pleasant enough – come in, Elvis Costello and Michael Stipe – but leave a memory that just longs for the original. A distinctive or different voice isn’t enough, as both Joss Stone and P.P.Arnold have discovered.
Continue reading »

Sep 212017
the killers bowie cover

Recently, The Killers took to the BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge to plug their upcoming album release. Fittingly, they coupled their new song “The Man” with an iconic, similarly egotistic hit by David Bowie. If you’ve heard The Killers’ new song, you might be able to guess the Bowie song that they seamlessly transition to. And what a transition.

“Fame” is an excellent fit for Brandon Flowers’ piercing tenor. His voice is as instantly recognizable as Bowie’s, and he sings the classic with the same gusto as the original. The band and back up singers are fully invested, covering every instrumental solo and breathy “Fame” that you anticipate. Continue reading »

Aug 162017
ramonda hammer

Los Angeles quartet Ramonda Hammer gets compared to vintage 120 Minutes-era grunge a lot. Rolling Stone even said they sound “like an alternate Nineties where L7 was the biggest band in the world.” So it’s appropriate that their new David Bowie tribute comes by way of Kurt Cobain.

“We’re all Bowie fans, and when he passed we wanted to cover one of his songs as a tribute to him,” frontwoman Devin Davis says. “I think ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ was the obvious choice because 1) the lyrics are super powerful, and that has to resonate with me when singing a song, and 2) we’re also huge Nirvana fans, and their cover of that song for MTV Unplugged was mind-blowing. Since we’re a grunge band, we thought we’d try a heavy, fast-ish version of the song and make it our own, while paying homage to both David Bowie and Kurt Cobain.” Continue reading »

Apr 152017
HBO Girls music

The first episode of Girls aired on April 15, 2012, exactly five years ago. Six seasons in five years is more aggressive than the usual one-season-per-year pace of most shows. You could say Girls was growing up fast.

The series has featured more than 389 songs (per Tunefinder), not including the music of the finale tomorrow. Music writers routinely covered episodes, reveling in the impact the show’s music had on the depth of the storyline.

Covers of male songs performed by women were sprinkled across the episodes, in many cases spotlighting younger and less famous females. HBO could certainly afford the rights to the original recordings, so using these covers became a deliberate choice, not a plan B. Continue reading »

Mar 102017

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.


Until 2010’s Scratch My Back appeared, Peter Gabriel had been an artist more covered than covering – arguably a pity, given the cracked wistfulness of his croaky beauty. But I guess if you can write material of the quality and diversity that he has, why bother with someone else’s material? The problem was, Gabriel hadn’t been writing that kind of material – this was his first album in eight years.

So was Scratch My Back just, as covers projects can so often be, a stopgap sales pitch to keep his brand alive during a creative lull? Who knows? I think not and hope not, feeling this a deliberate if somewhat failed experiment on two levels. Flawed, maybe, rather than failed.
Continue reading »

Jan 252017
protest cover songs

Well, it has been quite a week in politics. President Trump got sworn in Friday, then on Saturday hundreds of thousands of protesters marched across the country. We don’t need to go into the many (many) controversies and debates the first few days of the Trump administration have already brought us. You know them, and that’s not really our beat anyway.

What is our beat is cover songs, and a whole lot of politically-minded covers came out in the past week. Some are explicitly covers of songs with political lyrics, like Neko Case, kd lang, and Laura Veirs covering Patti Smith’s “People Have the Power” and OK Go covering Morrissey’s “Interesting Drug” (opening lines: “There are some bad people on the rise / They’re saving their own skins by ruining other people’s lives”).

Other covers are only political in the sense that they were released to raise money for groups like the American Civil Liberties Union or Planned Parenthood. Barsuk Records put out a covers comp featuring Nada Surf, David Bazan, Mates of State, The Long Winters (wonderfully titled Sad!). Members of the Philadelphia punk scene came together for a 35-song set of covers by the likes of Laura Stevenson and Jeff Rosenstock, which range from the covers of political artists like Against Me! and Bikini Kill to a cover of the Beatles’ “I’m Only Sleeping,” which would be difficult to find a political take on. Continue reading »