Dec 172015
 

Follow all our Best of 2015 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.

CoverMeBestSongs2015

I didn’t realize it until I began laying out our post, but this year’s Best Cover Songs list shares quite a few artists with last year’s. And some that showed up here the year before that. Jack White’s on his fourth appearance. And Jason Isbell and Hot Chip not only both reappear from last year, but have moved up in the rankings.

Though we’re always on the lookout for the new (and to be sure, there are plenty of first-timers here too), the number of repeat honorees illustrates how covering a song is a skill just like any other. The relative few artists who have mastered it can probably deliver worthy covers again and again.

How a great cover happens is something I’ve been thinking a lot about this year as I’ve been writing a series of articles diving deep into the creation of iconic cover songs through history (I posted two of them online, and the rest are being turned into a book). In every case the artist had just the right amount of reverence for the original song: honoring its intention without simply aping it. It’s a fine line, and one even otherwise able musicians can’t always walk. Plenty of iconic people don’t make good cover artists (I’d nominate U2 as an example: some revelatory covers of the band, but not a lot by them). Given the skill involved, perhaps it’s no surprise that someone who can do a good cover once can do it again.

So, to longtime readers, you will see some familiar names below. But you’ll also see a lot of new names, and they’re names you should remember. If the past is any guide, you may well see them again next year, and the year after that.

Click on over to page two to begin our countdown, and thanks for reading.

– Ray Padgett, Editor in Chief
(Illustration by Sarah Parkinson)

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Oct 022015
 
ChristineandtheQueens

Though you may never have heard of her, Christine and the Queens are huge in France. Her debut album went to #2 last year, her music videos have millions of views, and, judging from poking around YouTube, she’s performed on every French TV show there is. Now, like so many artists before her that have to assure doubters “I’m big in [any country that’s not America]”, she’s trying to break stateside. And she’ll probably do it.

A new version of her debut album is being released in the States, with appearances by Perfume Genius and Tunji Ige. And, in an almost too-perfect metaphor for bridging the cultural divide, one track combines a cover of Kanye West‘s “Heartless” with a cover of “Les Paradis Perdus” by an older French star, Christophe. Continue reading »

Jul 302015
 

In Defense takes a second look at a much maligned cover artist or album and asks, “Was it really as bad as all that?”

JJ-001-Web

It is easy to understand how someone could find a pre-school appropriate cover of “Big Pimpin” musically lacking. By stripping all lyrical content from hip-hop and infusing a heavy dose of xylophone, artistic value becomes shaky. While this style of cover might fit well in a high school talent show, superficially they offer little more than a tight chuckle and warrant slightly more than a participatory prize.

So, why are these covers being defended?
Continue reading »

Jun 102015
 
RESIZE-PHIL-MANZANERA

Samples in hip hop are a main ingredient of many successful hits. “No Church In The Wild” is no exception. That beautiful looped guitar riff comes from the talented master, Phil Manzanera, of Roxy Music. Phil’s solo work, “K-Scope” from 1978, was sampled by Kanye West and Jay-Z in their 2011 song. Continue reading »

Mar 022015
 

Tender, haunting and undeniably impressive – enigmatic duo Louise Millar and Michael Macias take on Kanye West‘s 2005 smash-hit “Gold Digger” and reinterpret it with their own seductive, downtempo spin.

It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since the racy tune featuring Jamie Foxx was first released, sweeping us all up in a Kanye-induced dance craze, but a decade later, Twin Duo still manage to find a way to reinvent it. The Sydney-based pair rework Yeezy’s classic radio hit with chilling grace, expertly weaving their way through the song and stripping it down to a gentle and minimalistic rework – ultimately transforming the once raunchy and vigorously executed “Gold Digger” into a heart-wrenching, moody serenade, rich with mellow synths and chilled vibes. Continue reading »

Dec 042014
 

They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

The American Dream is to be self-made. To carve out an identity wholly one’s own and to succeed beyond one’s wildest imagination.

The life and times of Shawn Carter are a blueprint of the American Dream and bear striking resemblance to one of modern American fiction’s greatest protagonists, Jay Gatsby.

Both F. Scott Fitzgerald’s eponymous parvenu and the Brooklyn-born MC sprung from conceptions of themselves – impoverished Midwestern teenager James Gatz morphed into the infamous Jay Gatsby while Shawn Carter took on the nom de rappeur Jay-Z.

Both knew the excesses and trappings of extraordinary wealth as young men and both fell in love with golden girl goddesses with voices full of money.

One noteworthy difference between Gatsby and Jay-Z?

Gatsby was a man, a mere mortal, damned and doomed from the onset, whereas Jay-Z is also Jay-Hova, and gods are not as easily felled.
Continue reading »

Jun 032014
 

I’ve got to admit I came to this one quite cynical but as most cover junkies will admit cover versions are always so intriguing as we get to see how an artist has put their own spin on a song. This is one of my favourite Kanye songs, the production on it possibly his best work so I was intrigued to see how a Welsh singer-songwriter with a dream-pop and James Blake-esque sound could do it justice. Continue reading »

Sep 252013
 

Lorde has taken the world by storm with her infectious hit “Royals.” Even though her debut album, Pure Heroine, won’t be released until September 30th, the 16-year-old New Zealand native has been dubbed the new queen of alternative and opened up New Zealand’s iHeartRadio festival. During her set, she pulled out this cover of Kanye West‘s “Hold My Liquor.” Continue reading »