Update October 5: Hear a conversation about this list, and our recent Best Abba Covers Ever roundup, on SiriusXM:
Al Green – Before the Next Teardrop Falls (Freddy Fender cover)
Sorry, Beyoncé; the biggest surprise release of the year might be Al Green’s sudden return after a decade away. Well, not totally away; he still conducts weekly services at his Memphis church and, when I attended, was liberally sprinkling quotes from “Love and Happiness” and “Take Me to the River” into his sermons. Best of all: This Freddy Fender cover sounds like Al hasn’t lost a step. It’s apparently a one-off, but hopefully recording it will whet his appetite to do more.Continue reading »
Long before the world ever heard of Kanye West, the Gainsbourg family once gave a masterclass on the art of using controversy as a means of self-promotion. In 1985, experimental French pop legend Serge Gainsbourg and his then-13-year-old daughter Charlotte released a song called “Lemon Incest” about, well, you get the idea. The ensuing scandal helped the song climb to number two on the French pop charts. Charlotte has gone on to become an accomplished actress and singer in her own right (in 2011 Cover Mehighlighted her great version of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like A Woman.”)
Gainsbourg recently performed a cover of Kanye West’s “Runaway” on the French television program Taratata. The tune originally appeared on West’s 2010 album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Cover Me also wrote a feature about five different covers of the song). For her take, Gainsbourg shortens the track from nine minutes to three. She drops several verses, including one describing digital photography of male genitalia and another containing a feline synonym for the female anatomy. You get the idea. Continue reading »
Today we continue the tradition we started way back one month ago. Since we’re still new at this, I’ll reiterate that our picks are unranked and semi-impulsive. Even the un-blurbed “Honorable Mentions” at the bottom aren’t necessarily worse than the rest; in many cases, we’ve just already written about them at length and have little else to say.
For the first time since 808s and Heartbreaks, a new Kanye West album has been met with decidedly mixed reviews, from the ecstatic to the underwhelmed. Maybe in a few years it, like 808s will be hailed as a pioneering work that changed music. But, failing that, at least it inspired this amazing new cover – a Life of Pablo song done in the spaced-out style of 808s.Continue reading »
Canadian indie-pop vets Stars have been releasing records for 15 years now, and in that time have put out a handful of great covers: their version of The Smiths’ “Asleep” is a wonderful twee lullaby, and they put just the right combination of swagger and emotion into “Fairytale of New York.” 2016 will see them up their cover game dramatically though, with a new cover every month. And if the first two are anything to go on, it’s going to be a great year.Continue reading »
Follow all our Best of 2015 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.
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.