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…

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Oct 102016
 
Howard Stern Presents The Beatles' Revolver

As you may have heard, this year marks the 50th birthday of the Beatles’ seminal album Revolver. We already put together our own tribute album, but the celebration continued this past weekend with another set of covers. For his radio show, Howard Stern collected all-new recordings of every track by some serious heavy hitters, from vets like James Taylor and Cheap Trick to newer buzz bands like Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats and Milk Carton Kids. And we’ve got every song below. 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 »

Apr 272011
 

You don’t hear much from Edie Brickell these days. Perceived mostly as a one-hit (or album) wonder, her 1988 album Shooting Rubberbands At The Stars with band The New Bohemians went double platinum, but she’s only released a few low-profile albums since. Her 1992 marriage to Paul Simon probably took the pressure to perform off as well. Continue reading »

Sep 082009
 

Each song on The Queen is Dead is such a perfect alt-pop gem, listening to the whole album is almost too much. But Morrissey is not about to throw in some filler just to let the listener catch a breath. The indie movement has been trying to replicate this album for the past twenty years. They have yet to succeed.

The Ukrainians – The Queen Is Dead
Technically, this is not “The Queen Is Dead,” but rather “Koroleva Ne Pomerla.” Yep, that band name is no cute moniker. This bit Eastern European choral-punk (a new genre?) stomps and swings like whirling dervish chanting channeled through Sid Vicious. [Buy]

Cursive – Frankly, Mr. Shankly
This one goes from grunge to lounge to hard rock…and that’s just the first 45 seconds! It’s like ten covers in one, utilizing drum pounds here, cello screeches there, indie goodness everywhere! [Buy]

Pale Sunday – I Know It’s Over
You’re not quite sure whether to bang your head or try some flamenco moves in this one (I think the woodblock is the culprit here). Above it all hovers that haunting melody, accusing as much as it pities. [Buy]

Billy Bragg – Never Had No One Ever
Bragg has never been known for his singing, but on the quiet strummer his lazy drawl’s search for the tune hits you straight in the chest. This one comes off The Smiths Is Dead, another full-album tribute worth getting. [Buy]

The Very Most – Cemetry Gates
In this live one from the fine folks at archive.org, The Very Most prove that an acoustic guitar and tambourine are all one needs to accompany Morrissey’s unusual lyrics and catchy melody. When he wrote this one, Keats, Yates, and Wilde were all on his side. [Buy]

Matteo Scumaci – Bigmouth Strikes Again
Subtle guitar plucking complements Matteo’s Italian accent, carrying him gently along as he sings oh-so-sweetly about bludgeoning his woman toothless. Morrissey always was a romantic. [Buy]

J Mascis – The Boy with the Thorn in His Side
There are a lot of covers of this one, including one by Jeff Buckley that suffers from shaky recording quickly. Not so here, as the Dinosaur Jr. frontman slashes at his acoustic guitar while he snarls like he’s got a couple thorns in him himself. [Buy]

Damage Done By Worms – Vicar in a Tutu
The phenomenal band name covers a “psychobilly” acoustic punk band like the Violent Femmes with an Eastern European accent. The saloon piano solo in the middle sounds like the soundtrack to a Quentin Tarantino barroom brawl. [Buy]

Nada Surf – There Is a Light That Never Goes Out
So many covers of this one stay so close to the original, I set out to find one that did something drastically different. I found several, all of which terrible. When covering a perfect song, sometimes not straying too far can be good advice. [Buy]

Supergrass – Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others
Fellow Brits Supergrass built the alternative rock up to distortion-punk hollers. Some songs are bigger than others too, and this one is bloody enormous [Buy]