This week we’ve posted tributes to three of this year’s six Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees: The Cars, Dire Straits, and Nina Simone. And lord knows we’ve posted plenty of covers of the other three over the years: Bon Jovi, The Moody Blues, and “Early Influence” inductee Sister Rosetta Tharpe. But to celebrate them all in one place in advance of this weekend’s induction ceremony, we thought we’d round up a few of the best covers we didn’t include in all those other features.
Well, it has been quite a week in politics. President Trump got sworn in Friday, then on Saturday hundreds of thousands of protesters marched across the country. We don’t need to go into the many (many) controversies and debates the first few days of the Trump administration have already brought us. You know them, and that’s not really our beat anyway.
What is our beat is cover songs, and a whole lot of politically-minded covers came out in the past week. Some are explicitly covers of songs with political lyrics, like Neko Case, kd lang, and Laura Veirs covering Patti Smith’s “People Have the Power” and OK Go covering Morrissey’s “Interesting Drug” (opening lines: “There are some bad people on the rise / They’re saving their own skins by ruining other people’s lives”).
Other covers are only political in the sense that they were released to raise money for groups like the American Civil Liberties Union or Planned Parenthood. Barsuk Records put out a covers comp featuring Nada Surf, David Bazan, Mates of State, The Long Winters (wonderfully titled Sad!). Members of the Philadelphia punk scene came together for a 35-song set of covers by the likes of Laura Stevenson and Jeff Rosenstock, which range from the covers of political artists like Against Me! and Bikini Kill to a cover of the Beatles’ “I’m Only Sleeping,” which would be difficult to find a political take on.
Nada Surf fans may already be familiar with the bands’ tendency to cover songs. In 2010 they released a covers-only album titled If I Had a Hi-Fi, which aside from being an impressive palindrome, paid tribute to its influences. They covered material by Depeche Mode, Kate Bush, Spoon, among others, managing to acknowledge the original artists while maintaining their own style. For A.V. Undercover, Nada Surf performed New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle,” and while there’s no suggestion that New Order are an influence, Nada Surf certainly played the popular song with a sense of reverence.
When we named Nada Surf’s If I Had a Hi-Fi one of the best cover albums of 2010, we noted that “Enjoy the Silence” offered one of the few nods to well-known material. Perhaps the band agrees, because after pushing single Bill Fox’s “Electrocution” last year, they’ve released the Depeche Mode cover as their latest video. Get ready to emote!
Each song on The Queen is Dead is such a perfect alt-pop gem, listening to the whole album is almost too much. But Morrissey is not about to throw in some filler just to let the listener catch a breath. The indie movement has been trying to replicate this album for the past twenty years. They have yet to succeed.
The Ukrainians – The Queen Is Dead
Technically, this is not “The Queen Is Dead,” but rather “Koroleva Ne Pomerla.” Yep, that band name is no cute moniker. This bit Eastern European choral-punk (a new genre?) stomps and swings like whirling dervish chanting channeled through Sid Vicious. [Buy]
Cursive – Frankly, Mr. Shankly
This one goes from grunge to lounge to hard rock…and that’s just the first 45 seconds! It’s like ten covers in one, utilizing drum pounds here, cello screeches there, indie goodness everywhere! [Buy]
Pale Sunday – I Know It’s Over
You’re not quite sure whether to bang your head or try some flamenco moves in this one (I think the woodblock is the culprit here). Above it all hovers that haunting melody, accusing as much as it pities. [Buy]
Billy Bragg – Never Had No One Ever
Bragg has never been known for his singing, but on the quiet strummer his lazy drawl’s search for the tune hits you straight in the chest. This one comes off The Smiths Is Dead, another full-album tribute worth getting. [Buy]
The Very Most – Cemetry Gates
In this live one from the fine folks at archive.org, The Very Most prove that an acoustic guitar and tambourine are all one needs to accompany Morrissey’s unusual lyrics and catchy melody. When he wrote this one, Keats, Yates, and Wilde were all on his side. [Buy]
Matteo Scumaci – Bigmouth Strikes Again
Subtle guitar plucking complements Matteo’s Italian accent, carrying him gently along as he sings oh-so-sweetly about bludgeoning his woman toothless. Morrissey always was a romantic. [Buy]
J Mascis – The Boy with the Thorn in His Side
There are a lot of covers of this one, including one by Jeff Buckley that suffers from shaky recording quickly. Not so here, as the Dinosaur Jr. frontman slashes at his acoustic guitar while he snarls like he’s got a couple thorns in him himself. [Buy]
Damage Done By Worms – Vicar in a Tutu
The phenomenal band name covers a “psychobilly” acoustic punk band like the Violent Femmes with an Eastern European accent. The saloon piano solo in the middle sounds like the soundtrack to a Quentin Tarantino barroom brawl. [Buy]
Nada Surf – There Is a Light That Never Goes Out
So many covers of this one stay so close to the original, I set out to find one that did something drastically different. I found several, all of which terrible. When covering a perfect song, sometimes not straying too far can be good advice. [Buy]
Supergrass – Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others
Fellow Brits Supergrass built the alternative rock up to distortion-punk hollers. Some songs are bigger than others too, and this one is bloody enormous [Buy]