Dec 312009
 


2009 will disappear into the ether in a few hours, but before it does there’s time for one last retrospective to do: The Top Covers of 2009. The Artists-to-Cover this year seemed to be Lady Gaga and Michael Jackson, though somewhat surprisingly no particularly definitive tribute to the latter has surfaced.

Speaking of tributes, anything off of our Best Cover Albums list was excluded for consideration here (you can still download those songs here though). Without further ado, let the list begin!

25. Imogen Heap – Thriller (Michael Jackson)
Any cover of this song loses something without the Vincent Price voice-over. Imogen Heap may not be the Godfather of Horror, but she’s just quirky enough to pull it off. [Buy]

24. Jason Bajada – You Are a Runner and I Am My Father’s Son (Wolf Parade)
There’s nothing harder to pull off than an acoustic-guitar and voice cover. Anyone can try – just strum the chords – but few stand out from the pack of YouTube wannabes. Bajada is one. [Buy]

23. Thom Yorke – All for the Best (Miracle Legion)
How a semi-obscure songwriter got so many A-listers for his tribute album (Yorke, Michael Stipe, Frank Black) is a bit of a mystery, but the “Idioteque”-esq blips Yorke warbles over somehow makes perfect sense. [Buy]

22. Atlas Sound – Walk a Thin Line (Fleetwood Mac)
Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox’s other band put up this tempered falsetto cover on his blog with little fanfare earlier this year. As with most things he gets his hands on, it exploded. [Buy]

21. Florence and the Machine – Addicted to Live (Robert Palmer)
Largely known for the robo-models who jerk about in the video, “Addicted to Love” gets a much-needed upgrade from blog darling Florence and the Machine whose Lungs was one of the best albums of the year. [Buy]

20. The Dead Weather – You Just Can’t Win (Them)
This list easily could have been the twenty-five best Jack White covers of the year. On the b-side to the “Treat Me Like Your Mother” single (vinyl only, naturally), White hollers like an in-the-gutter bluesman which the band emits musical sludge around him. [Buy]

19. Ben Lee – Kids (MGMT)
To anyone who thinks this song is all synth-hook, this plucked acoustic take should change your mind. [Buy]

18. Matt the Electrician – Faithfully (Journey)
The triumphal horns bring the bombast early on, before ceding the stage to a singer-songwriter and his ukulele. [Buy]

17. Joensuu 1685 – I’m On Fire (Bruce Springsteen)
Bruce Springsteen covered Suicide in 2005 and this one sounds like Suicide fighting back. The feedback frenzy of an opening lasts almost three minutes until the singing begins. And this is the short version! [Buy]

16. Anya Marina – Whatever You Like (T.I.)
I despise this song with a passion, so it’s ironic that not one but two brilliant covers were some of my most-played (the other being by Joan As Police Woman). The lyrics are as profound as ever. Shorty, you the hottest. Love the way you drop it. Brain so good, could have sworn you went to college. [Buy]

15. Eels – Girl from the North Country (Bob Dylan)
Eels’ E recorded this vulnerable piano cover for MySpace Transmissions, the sound of a man unable to mask his pain. [Buy]

14. Feist and Ben Gibbard – Train Song (Vashti Bunyan)
Indie-tastic charity comp Dark Was the Night had more new covers than many tribute albums, but was excluded for consideration from our list ‘cause it had just as many originals. However, the harmony on this semi-obscure song form 1966 cannot be ignored. [Buy]

13. John Frusciante – Song to the Siren (Tim Buckley)
Frusciante recently quit the Chili Peppers. If that enables him to make more experimental psychedelic covers like this one, thank goodness. He should have brought Flea with him. [Buy]

12. Coldplay – Fight for Your Right (Beastie Boys)
The Beastie Boys canceled a summer of high-profile festival appearance when MCA announced he had cancer. Jay-Z subbed in at All Points West, paying predictable tribute (“No Sleep Til Brooklyn”). More unexpected was Chris Martin’s brilliant minor-key piano ballad two days later. And the crowd goes wild . [Buy]

11. Town Bike – Radio Nowhere (Bruce Springsteen)
Bruce Springsteen closed his four-hour appearance on Elvis Costello’s Spectacle with a mashup of this and “Radio Radio.” Slamming it into “Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio” works too. [Buy]

10. Ben’s Brother – Poker Face (Lady Gaga)
Everyone from Weezer to Daughtry covered “Poker Face” this year, its catchy hook a natural for ironic sing-alongs. The indie-acoustic covers seemed to work best and “beta male” Jamie Hartman sings it so enthusiastically you almost don’t hear the tongue in cheek. [Buy]

9. Chromeo – I Can’t Tell You Why (The Eagles)
Electro-funk duo Chromeo seems an unlikely duo to cover the Eagles. Their effects-laden delivery beats the odds though, taking the 1979 single straight into the twenty-first century. [Buy]

8. Dex Romweber Duo ft. Jack White – Last Kind Word Blues (Geechie Wiley)
Definitely the best Geechie Wiley cover this year. Jack White produced this one for his Third Man Records label and was nice enough to add his enviable yelp to this blues stomp. [Burn]

7. My Gold Mask – Bette Davis Eyes (Jackie DeShannon/Kim Carnes)
My Gold Mask sent this one our way a couple months ago, which just goes to show you artists out there, submissions are never ignored. [Buy]

6. The Pluto Tapes – Wolf Like Me (TV on the Radio)
Just when you thought you were sick of this song, this slow-burn cover strips away the effects to bring the submerged tune to the fore. [Buy]

5. The BPA ft. Iggy Pop – He’s Frank (Slight Return) (The Monochrome Set)
Fatboy Slim (Norman Cook to his mom) created the Brighten Port Authority apparently solely to produce some killer club-funk tracks with his favorite vocalists. Iggy Pop, who these days seems to have made a career out of guest appearances, sneers his way through this unearthed gem. Biggest shock of all: he managed to keep his shirt on during live performances! [Buy]

4. The Gaslight Anthem – I Do Not Hook Up (Kelly Clarkson)
The Gaslight Anthem tend to cover Bruce Springsteen, The Band, and Johnny Cash. Did the heart-on-sleeve rock revivals finally succumb to the temptation of the ironic pop cover? Not a chance. Against all odds Brian Fallon gives a Kelly Clarkson song the emotional heft of “The River.” [Buy]

3. Elizabeth and the Catapult – Everybody Knows (Leonard Cohen)
A song so good we did a whole interview about it. [Buy]

2. Shilpa Ray & Her Happy Hookers – I Only Have Eyes For You (The Flamingos)
Nick Cave recently called this his new favorite band, which is all the recommendation one needs. Their garage-punk racket turns this innocent love song into the best stalker rocker since “Every Breath You Take.” [Buy]

1. Kings of Convenience – It’s My Party (Leslie Gore)
Pure beauty straight out of Norway, complete with a faux-trumpet solo. Nothing more to say. [Buy]

That’s it for this year. See you in 2010!
Jul 152008
 

There’s just something about the 80’s that inspires great cover songs. So great, in fact, that this series is gonna be a two-parter. First up: Rock. All the excesses of the 80’s – big hair, ten-minute guitar solos, and Jon Bon Jovi – are all well represented below by artists who aren’t afraid to find the good songs amidst the novelty. And stay tuned for some 80’s pop next week.

Jessica Will – For Those About to Rock (AC/DC)
When AC/DC titled this song, they clearly weren’t singing to Will. Her light acoustic take packs a punch, attitude and intensity making up for lack of distortion. And if you want more acoustic female covers of AC/DC, there’s a whole disc of ‘em: Backed in Black.

M. Ward – Let’s Dance (David Bowie)
Indie posterboy, most recently of She & Him fame, does a quiet take kind of like how you would expect and indi posterboy covering Bowie to sound

Jon Regen – Don’t Stop Believin’ (Journey)
Another ironic Journey cover…yech. This one’s a keeper though, not too mellow and keeping the strong melody of the original. Bonus points for rocking out the guitar fills on the keys!

Anberlin – Love Song (The Cure)
So far in today’s 80’s rock theme, we’ve yet to have any real rocking covers. This should change that though, an aggressive rock band from Florida that does a loud and intense take, with a singing voice that melts in your mouth.

Grizzly Bear – Owner of a Lonely Heart (Yes)
The Bear made the blog rounds a year or so ago with their “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)” cover (download it here), and this takes a similar approach, a slow builder that never explodes.

The Whip – White Wedding (Billy Idol)
When the banjo leads this one in, you know you’re in for something special. And are you ever. This one’s off a charity comp of Portland covers called Bridging the Distance. Yes, the Decemberists are on it.

Scott D. Davis – The Final Countdown (Europe)
I posted Laibach’s cover of this one a few weeks back, but this piano take is fun and bouncy – way more than Laibach’s death-goth. Davis has a whole album of these instrumental takes on classic rock, Rockfluence, and it’s fabulous.

Mary Lou Lord – Jump (Van Halen)
Cover girl extraordinaire, Lord does a song so sincere here you wonder whether she realizes exactly what band she’s covering. It’s beautiful though, and as she draws you in you forget the original even exists.

Damien Rice – When Doves Cry (Prince)
One of those songs that seems to inspire great covers, I can’t decide if I like this or Patti Smith’s version more. It’s solo acoustic here, with Rice sounding so delicate that if you do touch his stomach, he might break.

Philmore – Livin’ On a Prayer (Bon Jovi)
It seems appropriate to end on some more rock, so here you go. Even louder and more aggressive than the original, but just as sing-along-able.

Dirty Pop

 Posted by at 11:40 pm  No Responses »
Nov 032007
 

Doing a 180 from the last post’s Dylan covers, today we’re gonna showcase covers of the lowest of the low, the pop song. We’re talking the song that’s written by a team of middle-aged men for some dimwit nineteen year old to auto-tune her way through. Basically, everything you hear on the radio these days. As you might imagine, take away the elaborate production and the irritating fact that someone’s making a killing with these songs, and you wind up with lots of potential for fun covers. With comps like Pop Goes Punk selling big, the pop cover is almost a genre by itself. Here it is, done right.

Jenny Owen Youngs – Hot In Herre (Nelly)
Probably my favorite of the bunch, it takes a real talent to turn a rap song into a…non rap song. But she does it, adding a cutesy tune that is fabulously inappropriate for the lyrics, complete with awkward white-dude backing vocals. Finds like this are why I follow covers.

The Mountain Goats – The Sign (Ace of Base)
A folky duet by a group that seems to be enjoying this one a little too much. The lead singer was quoted as saying this was not supposed to be a joke cover, but rather should bring out the lyrical quality of the original. Whatever.

Willie Nelson – Time After Time (Cyndi Lauper)
If you didn’t know the original, you’d be hard-pressed to figure out this wasn’t a Willie Nelson song with a particularly catchy melody. He plays with the rhythm of the chorus in a way that throws you at first, but works.

Matt Weddle – Hey Ya! (Outkast)
A Youtube sensation, this version takes the quirky pop sensation and plays it straight, an irony-free meditation on hype and failure. When people perform pop songs as if there’s a deep meaning, 99% of the time they sound like idiots. This is the other 1%.

Jamelia – Numb (Linkin Park)
This was on pretty constant rotation for weeks after I discovered it at Copy, Right. Stripping down the heavy-handed production of the original in favor of heavily-strummed acoustic guitars (perhaps the main staple of good pop covers) reveals an incredibly catchy melody.

Shawn Colvin – Crazy (Gnarls Barkley)
One of today’s premier cover artists, this one floated around the blogosphere when it came out last year. It’s very tightly done, if perhaps a little precious.

The Raconteurs – Crazy (Gnarls Barkley)
And, on the exact opposite end of the spectrum, we have Jack White’s side project here. They performed this live a few times in ’06, including this version at Lollapalooza, thrash-rocking it out with some banshee squealing choruses.

Fountains of Wayne – Baby One More Time (Britney Spears)
Sounds about like what you would think Fountains of Wayne doing a Britney Spears song might sound like.

Nickel Creek – Toxic (Britney Spears)
More modern Britney here, this one’s a little love or hate, with fiddle, banjo, and loads of falsetto. I love it.

Dartmouth Aires – Ask the Lonely (Journey)
What pop cover set would be complete without a little Journey, the definition of guilty pleasure? And with a soloist who can belt it like just like Steve Perry, it doesn’t get better. [Note: Apparently Journey’s just good for acapella; Petra Hayden (formerly of the Decemberists) does a nice Don’t Stop Believing.]

Astrid Swan – When You Were Young (The Killers)
I feel like I’m showing all my cards in this entry, as many of these are among my favorite covers ever. The piano by itself would be pretty enough; add on top of it her gorgeous voice and you’ve got a version better than the original.

The Mooney Suzuki – Just Like Jesse James (Cher)
Just released on the album Guilt By Association, it’s another one that sounds so perfect for its context that it’s hard to remember it used to be very, very different.

Hurra Torpedo – Total Eclipse of the Heart (Bonnie Tyler)
The rhythm is off, the guitar playing is out-of-tune, and the vocalist can’t sing. But it’s being played by the leading Norwegian kitchen appliance band, so really what more do you need? (Don’t believe me…to youtube!)

John West – Umbrella (Rihanna)
There are a billion cover versions of this already, by everyone from Mandy Moore to Tegan and Sara, but the cello in this one makes it better than most. It takes the über-catchy factor out of the song, making it an acoustic slow jam that rocks you to sleep.