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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Aug 102016
 
BowThayer

If you haven’t heard of an instrument called the “bojotar,” don’t feel bad. Only one person in the world plays it: Bow Thayer, an Americana musician up in Vermont. It’s a custom-built combination of the banjo, electric guitar, and dobro. He’s trying to spread the word though, and got a tip from banjo master Béla Fleck. “Béla told me the best way to sell people on the thing is to become a master of it myself,” Thayer said, “to find out what it can really do and blow people away.”

He’s done just that, and his latest demonstration of the bojotar’s prowess comes on a new tribute album to two early American musicians: Dock Boggs and Mississippi Fred McDowell, two obscure rural singers brought to wider attention when recorded by field musicologist Alan Lomax in the ’50s. Thayer titled his tribute The Source and the Servant and has posted his cover of the Boggs song “Sugar Baby” (an excellent demonstration of the bojotar in action) and a note: Continue reading »

Apr 252014
 

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

While too few outside of the metal community are familiar with Clutch, they are not struggling to make an impact. With live shows that are the stuff of legends, Clutch has been reliably rocking audiences for the past two decades. Rock, blues, funk, punk – it all fuses together, making for a band that is loved and vehemently defended as “more than just metal.”
Continue reading »

Aug 232011
 

It’s not very often that a musician finds their fame in after the age of 60. Enter Steven Gene Wold, also known as Seasick Steve, a man who has been part of the music industry all of his life but only became a full-time musician 10 years ago. He just released his fifth studio album, You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks, and accompanies it with a new Third Man Records 7″ featuring two Mississippi Fred McDowell covers. Continue reading »

Feb 032011
 

Our White Stripes tribute continues today with a massive live collection. The Stripes were known for their concert presence as much as anything and, with the freedom that only a two-person band can bring, they frequently performed covers both expected (delta blues) and not (Mazzy Star). Some songs appeared frequently over the years, others popped up for one night only. Sometimes they were planned performances, other times Jack White just started singing some lyrics.

Below, we give you a collection of cover songs the band performed on their 2005 Get Behind Me Satan tour. The set was originally compiled by a user over at the Little Room forum and his/her efforts amaze us to this day. Thirty-three songs, all available as MP3 downloads below. The audio quality ranges from pretty-good to fantastic. Download them individually or as a full set. Continue reading »