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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Nov 142016
 
leonard-cohen-wight-1970

On Friday, we posted our tribute to Leonard Cohen, calling him maybe the greatest gift to cover songs ever. Many musicians agreed over the weekend, covering his songs across the world in live shows. We’ve rounded up a bunch below, from Coldplay, Norah Jones, Okkervil River, The Avett Brothers, Car Seat Headrest, and more.

The biggest surprise: Not many people picked the most obvious choice, “Hallelujah.” It seemed so perfect that I saw at least one person on Twitter begging musicians to pick something – anything – else to cover, and they listened. I figured it would dominate even more than “Purple Rain” did when Prince died, but perhaps many felt intimidated by the iconic Jeff Buckley and John Cale versions. It also might seem a daunting song to really sell, particularly if you just learned it in the tour bus (one of the only bands who did cover it: Styx). Continue reading »

Nov 042011
 

The Nirvana tributes keep coming. We’ve already heard the iconic Nevermind album honored by SPIN, an all-star concert, the city of Miami, and – oh yeah – us. Now there’s another Nevermind tribute, from the same tribute label that delivered Paint It Black and Subterranean Homesick Blues. It’s called Come As You Are: A 20th Anniversary Tribute To Nirvana’s Nevermind and you can hear three of the best tracks below. Continue reading »

Jul 252011
 

When it rains, it pours. It seems like half of our posts in May/June detailed song releases leading up to the Rave On Buddy Holly tribute album. On June 25th it came out, we reviewed it, and we figured we could let our Round-the-Clock Buddy Holly Tribute Coverage News Team go. Well, looks like we’ll have to hire them back again, because now there’s another all-star Buddy Holly tribute album in the works. It’s called Listen to Me: Buddy Holly and includes contributions from Brian Wilson, Lyle Lovett, Stevie Nicks, Ringo Starr, and Zooey Deschanel, who, amusingly, also appeared on the other tribute. Rolling Stone has a teaser video for the album here. No tracklist has been announced, but the album comes out September 6th. If it rolls out anything like the last one, expect hourly updates on its progress. Continue reading »