May 162020
 

‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

britney spears covers

Last year, Rob Sheffield called 1999 “the year music exploded, the year when nothing made any damn sense, the year fans had to throw out any old-school rules for how pop worked.” If that’s true, then 2000 was the year when those new trends became the accepted norm. Back in January, we looked at covers of one of the year’s defining phenomenons – boy bands – and this month was tackle another: Britney, a pop supernova so massive she didn’t need a last name.

Her sophomore album Oops!… I Did It Again came out 20 years ago today, setting the record for the highest debut-week album sales by a female artist (it held for 15 years, until Adele’s 25). Though Spears was primarily a singles artist, her albums sold so much that even the deep cuts wormed their way into millions of teenage brains. When we compiled this list, I was pleasantly surprised it wasn’t just the half-dozen biggest hits being covered. Those songs got covered plenty, and still do (our number-four best cover of 2019 was a “Baby One More Time” – not a bad lifespan for a song written by a Swede whose grasp of English was a little rough), but musicians also dig into the album tracks and the singles that flopped.

Spears has shifted into the Vegas-residency stage of her career in recent years (not to mention Instagram star and cause-celebre hashtag). But even if she doesn’t have any more world-conquering hits in her, other artists are keeping her songs alive. Of the thousands of covers out there, here are the 25 best.

The list begins on Page 2.

Sep 232019
 

‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

bruce springsteen covers

To quote a Bruce song, this list has been a long time comin’. After all, twelve years ago we borrowed one of his song titles to name this site (a song that, surprisingly, doesn’t actually get covered very often). And over those twelve years, we’ve posted hundreds, maybe thousands, of Bruce covers: “Full Albums” tributes to Born in the U.S.A., Darkness at the Edge of Town, and Tunnel of Love; tributes to the tributes, honoring several classic Boss tribute records; a spotlight on the best “Born to Run” covers; and a million news posts. It’s time to pull it all together.

Appropriately enough for a man whose concerts routinely top three hours, this list is long. Fifty covers long, and even then we still found ourselves left with dozens of killer bonus tracks for our Patreon supporters. The hits are all here, of course, but Bruce’s catalog runs deep. This list includes many covers of lesser-known cuts and more recent songs – even one from his just-released solo album Western Stars. Though he turns 70 today, the man is not slowing down, and neither are the artists paying tribute to him. As Bruce famously sang, he learned more from a three-minute record than ever learned in school. Well, here are fifty artists who learned something from his three-minute records.

The list starts on Page 2.

Apr 072015
 

Death has a way of flattening out a life into a simple narrative that can be approximated by a few lines of obituary newsprint. This is especially true for the sort of death that is the result of life-long addiction and tendencies toward self-destruction. In the case of Jason Molina, a quintessentially midwestern artist who died in 2013 of complications due to alcoholism, the teleological power of death is such that it is easy to hear his entire catalogue as a sort of suicide note.  There is, for example, a tidy simplicity to understanding the apocalyptic seven minutes of  “Farewell Transmission,” arguably his most important sonic document, as a prophetic and self-fulfilling Book of Revelations.

However, like most of Molina’s work with Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co., “Farewell Transmission” doesn’t prophesize a ghost-filled world at the brink of demise so much as it builds that world as a fictional landscape, one filled with endless deserts and a predatory midnight that we all must actually live in. Set in the moments wherein “the big star is falling,” the song is not panicked at the prospect of the end of things so much as it grimly satisfied by its final arrival and the fact that we made it this far. Even as the end arrives, the song’s images of impending doom are undercut by a repeated exhortation for all us to “come on, let’s try.” The song’s most obvious prediction of death is immediately tempered: “I will be gone / but not forever.”
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Jul 112014
 

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.

 
“Baby Don’t You Do It” was written by the premier Motown songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland. As with other Motown songs, it got passed around the stable a bit; originally meant for the Supremes, it wound up going to Marvin Gaye, who had a minor hit with it, and Stevie Wonder and the Isley Brothers recorded it as well. It also got a toehold across the pond, showing up in setlists of the Small Faces and the Who, among others. And let’s not forget other forgotten versions, like those by the Wailers and Barbara Randolph (well worth an exploratory visit to YouTube). In other words, for a song that’s not often mentioned as one of Motown’s greatest hits, it’s made a deep, deep impression.
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Jun 142013
 

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!

My mother raised me on Dylan. In my house when I was a kid, there was the holy trinity — which was Leonard Cohen, Van Morrison and Bob Dylan, with Bob sitting center. — Glen Hansard

Neutral Milk Hotel. Townes Van Zandt. Britney Spears. Yes, Britney Spears. Glen Hansard has been covering other people’s songs for 30 years, from the street corner to the stage. His music career started early, stemming from a deal with his headmaster when he was 13: he could leave school and follow his musical heart;  if it didn’t work out in a year, he would be welcomed back with open arms. So off he busked. Continue reading »