Our official list of the Best Cover Songs of 2017 comes next week. But first, we’re continuing the tradition we started last year by rounding up some of the songs it most killed us to cut in a grab-bag post. No ranking, no writing, just a bunch of knockout covers.
For years, Phish superphans and the band’s many detractors – so far apart on so much else – have been able to agree on one thing: the band does some killer live covers. Phish long ago made a Halloween tradition out of covering another band’s album in full, tackling ambitious choices like the Beatles’ White Album and Talking Heads’ Remain in Light. And “ambitious” was also the keyword for the band’s just-completed thirteen night run at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Dubbed the “Baker’s Dozen,” each night featured a different donut theme and, more significantly, no song repeated the entire two weeks.
But back to the donuts. The band took the silly premise seriously, theming their sets each night around a donut flavor. This led to a number of surprise covers that they’ve never played before (or probably ever will again). Strawberry-donut night got “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Strawberry Letter 23.” Chocolate-donut night got “Chocolate Rain” and “You Sexy Thing” – originally by Hot Chocolate. They even dug deep into lyrics, playing the one Radiohead song that talks about lemons.
Such first-time-ever covers tend to appeal even to non-fans because they tend to be short and –
let’s keep the donut theme going here – sweet. Unlike a jelly donut, on a song they’ve never play before they rarely jam. Instead, the fun and sheer rock chops to come forward in a way they may not on the heady stuff.
So I’ve ranked all the first-time covers from the past two weeks of Phish’s concerts, below. I’ll admit I’m not a huge fan myself – I once wrote an article defending their home of Burlington, Vermont from its jam-band stereotype – but some of these are among the best performances I’ve heard by them. Others…are not.
Phantogram has yet again crafted a super chill cover of an inherently frantic song. Their recent cover of Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” features a down tempodrum beat and Sarah Barthel’s silky smooth vocals which combined, result in a hypnotic haze. They adopt a similar approach to Hole’s “Violet”.
Gone is the angst ridden scream singing of the original. Courtney Love’s passionate, off-key, and messy delivery is replaced by Barthel’s similarly passionate, but beautifully precise and ethereal take on the song. The band sits at polar opposites as well. Love’s band is all in with as much rock angst as can be mustered, whereas Barthel’s band adopts a decidedly relaxed accompaniment with easy guitars and mallets on the drums.
The first episode of Girls aired on April 15, 2012, exactly five years ago. Six seasons in five years is more aggressive than the usual one-season-per-year pace of most shows. You could say Girls was growing up fast.
The series has featured more than 389 songs (per Tunefinder), not including the music of the finale tomorrow. Music writers routinely covered episodes, reveling in the impact the show’s music had on the depth of the storyline.
Covers of male songs performed by women were sprinkled across the episodes, in many cases spotlighting younger and less famous females. HBO could certainly afford the rights to the original recordings, so using these covers became a deliberate choice, not a plan B.
Radiohead songs work surprisingly well as bluegrass. Chris Thile’s Punch Brothers alone have covered “Kid A,” “Paranoid Android,” “Packt Like Sardines in a Crushed Tin Box,” “2+2=5,” and, with Sarah Jorosz, “The Tourist.” Then there’s one of those The Bluegrass Tribute To… albums saluting the band. And the latest killer Radio-grass cover comes from Philadelphia quintet Man About a Horse, tackling the very timely OK Computer track “Electioneering.” It’s the first single from their debut album out in May, and we’ve got the exclusive premiere below.
Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.
Matthew Vadnais lives in Beloit, Wisconsin. He’s been writing for Cover Me since 2015. Of all his Cover Me essays, he especially likes his reviews of the albums paying tribute to Blind Willie Johnson, Uncle Tupelo’s No Depression, and Jason Molina.