We already counted down the 50 Best Cover Songs of 2018 but, inevitably, many of our staff’s personal favorites get left off. So, before we begin scouting for what might become the best cover of 2019, we share the best of the rest, an unranked hodgepodge of worthy covers that only just missed our year-end countdown.
Two of the albums on this year’s list have similar titles: This Is Not Our Music and These Are Not Mine. Clever titles for collections of cover songs, sure, but misleading. Not your music? Why not? Songs are anyone’s for the singing. Even if a song’s lyrics or chord sequence didn’t first spring from a certain performer’s brain, that doesn’t mean he or she has any less claim. The great cover performers make the songs theirs, no matter whose they were before.
The twenty records below each contain numerous examples of artists doing just that. The songs may not have started out as these artists’ – but they are theirs now.
– Ray Padgett, Editor-in-Chief
Start the countdown on the next page…
The usual disclaimer: Our monthly “Best Cover Songs” aren’t ranked, and the “Honorable Mentions” aren’t necessarily worse than the others.
Update: Hear me discuss this list, along with our Best Pink Floyd Covers ranking, on SiriusXM Volume:
Angus and Julia Stone – Passionfruit (Drake cover)
Three prominent indie artists covered Drake’s “Passionfruit” this month: Franz Ferdinand, Cornelius, and, the best of the bunch, Angus and Julia Stone. Covering a rap song is easier, I suppose, when there’s no actual rapping. Few political or racial minefields in the lyrics for artists to navigate help too (for a counterexample: this month’s worst cover). For Triple J’s great series “Like a Version,” Angus and Julia Stone brought their beautiful harmonies to a smooth soul bed. It floats like Gram and Emmylou singing a Marvin Gaye song.
Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.
Here at Cover Me Q&A, we’ll be taking questions about cover songs and giving as many different answers as we can. This will give us a chance to hold forth on covers we might not otherwise get to talk about, to give Cover Me readers a chance to learn more about individual staffers’ tastes and writing styles, and to provide an opportunity for some back-and-forth, as we’ll be taking requests (learn how to do so at feature’s end).
Today’s question: What’s a favorite country & western cover of a non-country & western song?
I’m sitting here watching the Democratic National Convention, which is something else. Hundreds of political bigwigs, dressed in stern suits, acting like cheerleaders with the banners, cheering, waving at the camera, etc. I almost expected Howard Dean to streak. So as this damn election continues to never end, here are some political songs. Trying playing them over the campaign commercials; it make might make them more enjoyable.
Kodiak – Political World (Bob Dylan)
An underrated gem from Dylan’s underrated Oh Mercy, it touches on every sense of the word political. “We live in a political world / In cities of lonesome fear / Little by little you turn in the middle / But you’re never sure why you’re here.”
Sam Bush – Mr. President (Have Pity on the Working Man) (Randy Newman)
This song hits the theme of this election dead on: which candidate will have the most pity on the working man.
Cold War Kids – Electioneering (Radiohead)
I didn’t get a chance to throw this in last week’s Radiohead post, but doesn’t this sound familiar: “I will stop, I will stop at nothing / Say the right things when electioneering / I trust I can rely on your vote.”
Pickin’ On Series – American Idiot (Green Day)
I’m normally first in line to criticize series like this, which tend to just take the chords to a song and play them on a different instrument (banjo, accordion, distortion guitar, whatever). For this song at least, these anonymous session musicians sound like they tried for more than a paycheck, with a harmonies, solos, etc. And, unusual for the genre, it’s not instrumental – a big plus.
Deluxx Folk Implosion – I’m Just a Bill (Schoolhouse Rock)
Everything you forgot from eighth grade history is here in this song. I grew up on Schoolhouse Rock, and the fact that a full disc of covers exists (Schoolhouse Rock! Rocks) makes me very happy indeed.
Donavon Frankenreiter – Fortunate Son (Creedence Clearwater Revival)
A furious anti-Vietnam diatribe, the sentiments apply today as much as they did in 1969 now that a fortunate son’s in charge. Frankenreiter does away with John Fogerty’s blazing guitar line for some sensitive-guitar chiming acoustic.
Ann Vriend – Rockin’ in the Free World (Neil Young)
Kudos to Cover Lay Down for turning me onto this one, a song so often covered the same way, as easily jammable as “Watchtower”. With an ominous string section though, Vriend’s take is almost gothic folk, emphasizing the struggle you have to get through to keep on rocking.
Billy Bragg & Wilco – Stetson Kennedy (Woody Guthrie)
Greatest song ever about voting for a third-party candidate. Though I can’t think of any others.
Joan Baez – Christmas in Washington (Steve Earle)
Joan Baez, doing a political song? Shocking indeed. Calling out both Republicans and
Democrats is direct even for her though. This is a more recent offering than her flower child 60’s days, from her 2003 release Dark Chords on a Big Guitar.
Barenaked Ladies – Fight the Power (Public Enemy)
BNL seems about as likely to fight the power as a wet noodle, but that just adds to the novelty fun of this. I can’t imagine Chuck and Flav would approve though.