Last year, Ryan Adams shocked the music world with his earnest track-for-track cover of Taylor Swift’s 1989. Initially, news of the album was assumed to be either a joke or purely inspired by irony, but the finished product was strong enough to land a spot on our favorite cover albums of 2015. Swift responded favorably to Adams’ tribute, but as far as we know she hasn’t gone into the studio to cover any of his songs.
In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.
Merle Haggard died on April 6th, his 79th birthday. On another April 6th, eleven years earlier, he celebrated his birthday in Chicago, opening the spring run of Bob Dylan’s “Never Ending Tour.”
I don’t know what he did for most of that 66th birthday, but I do know how five minutes or so was spent. He was standing outside his tour bus, listening to a handful of Dylan obsessives sing “Happy Birthday” to him. I was one of them.
Follow all our Best of 2015 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.
Everywhere but here, the world of cover and tribute albums tends to be a sleepy one. Most years our “Best Cover Albums” list is composed of records that either flew totally under the radar or, at best, earned a few news posts on music blogs. There’s the “all star” tribute albums that make a brief mark before being largely forgotten. And there’s the big-name artists whose cover albums get seen as a side project before their next “real” albums. That’s just the lot you sign up for when you release an album of cover songs most years.
But most years don’t have Ryan Adams.
Even though they do sound similar, the thought of Ryan Adams – a guy known for intense genre-hopping, releasing albums like a song factory, and being an all around cool guy – being a Taylor Swift fan seemed unlikely.
Apparently, he’s a fan. Enough of a fan to cover her newest record, 1989, in its entirety.
Follow all our Best of 2014 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.
A few months ago, I read an interesting interview with an artist named Nouela. You probably haven’t heard of her, but you may have heard her music. She’s become a specialist in a weird but growing niche: covers recorded for movie and television trailers. Whether doing a piano “Sound of Silence” to promote a new HBO show or a brooding “Black Hole Sun” to promote Liam Neeson punching people, she’s found a quickly-growing way of getting her covers out there.
It struck me as part of a growing trend we’ve seen. More and more great covers seem to come from unexpected places. Sure, you’ve got still your standby sources, your b-sides, tribute albums, and radio shows. But new avenues for covers have increasingly crept in. This year saw a Sam Smith cover that is only available to hear under Grey’s Anatomy dialog (thankfully he’s recorded a few live versions too) and a whole covers album recorded to plug a Canadian TV show. Brands have fully embraced covers too, most recently My Morning Jacket’s “This Land Is Your Land” recorded for North Face ads, or Charli XCX and Bleachers trading covers for Kia.
We don’t care where they originated when we make our year-end lists, though, and we would up with some of everything. In our top five alone, we’ve got a live radio session, a deluxe-edition bonus track, and a cover hiding in plain sight on one of the most acclaimed country records of the year. You have to keep an eye on more places than ever to spot the best covers these days. Wherever they come from, we’re glad to have ’em.
Click on over to page two to begin our countdown, and thanks for reading.
– Ray Padgett, Editor in Chief
(Illustration by Sarah Parkinson)
“Wharf Rat” is an interesting song within the vast canon of the Grateful Dead. First performed in 1971 and included on numerous live recordings, it was never released as a studio track. The lyrics recount the tale of the singer meeting an old man, down and out, who then becomes the storyteller. This storyteller approach was later used by lyricist Robert Hunter in the multipart “Terrapin Station.” Musically, the song is not complex, but it features different sections and tempos, abandoning conventional verse and chorus format.