At the end of every year, Norwegian singer-songwriter Sondre Lerche covers one of the past 12 month’s biggest hits. In the past he’s tackled Ariana Grande, Drake, and Beyoncé (that one made our recent Best Beyoncé Covers Ever countdown). For the project’s tenth year, though, he pulled a twist, covering not one song but three – and not entirely new songs either.
In Pick Five, great artists pick five cover songs that matter to them.
Singer-songwriter Nicki Bluhm boasts a lot of experience with collaboration. Her new album To Rise You Gotta Fall (hear a track below) features two co-writes with her friend Ryan Adams, and in recent years she’s toured in Phil Lesh’s band and as part of the Incredible Stringdusters. When last I saw her live, she was singing “The Weight” in Levon’s barn as part of Amy Helm’s female-musicians collective Skylark.
So as someone who knows how different musicians and genres can blend to create unexpected classics, it’s no surprise she’s a fan of cover songs. She used to record amazing covers with her band while driving the van, and her new album includes a powerful blast through Dan Penn’s “I Hate You” (appropriate for a divorce record). And she digs deep in her cover recommendations below, going from a certain song you might remember from last month’s Best Beyoncé Covers countdown to a nod to a Grateful Dead song she has sung with Lesh himself. Check out Nicki’s picks below.
‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.
Lindsey Buckingham is out of Fleetwood Mac for reasons that, a few weeks later, remain as enigmatic as many of the band’s best songs. He was fired – or quit? – amid reports that he wanted to work on a solo album while everyone else wanted to tour. This after reports a couple years ago that he wanted to do a Fleetwood Mac album and Stevie didn’t. Their professional lives today are as complicated and messy as their romantic ones once were.
And let’s be honest: He’ll be back in a few years for a dramatic “reunion tour.” But why wait that long to celebrate this great band? We decided to use the excuse of the recent news to pay tribute to one of the most cover-able bands of all time. And lord knows we’ve paid tribute before, full album tributes to Rumours and Tusk and much more (a bunch of links a the bottom).
But now, just as we did with the Talking Heads last month, we’re looking at the entire catalogue, ranking the top thirty covers of Fleetwood Mac songs from any album or era. There’s no specific Lindsey-focus or anything. Though the majority of songs are from the the classic lineup (including a number from Lindsey’s passion project Tusk), a handful come from the band’s blues beginnings before he or Stevie joined. If the record sleeve said “Fleetwood Mac,” it was fair game for artists to reinterpret – and boy, have they ever. Without further ado, thirty artists who listened carefully to the sound, then played the way they felt it.
Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
Earlier this week, we posted Wavves’ cover of the Weezer deep cut “You Gave Your Love to Me Softly,” and I went looking for our full-album tribute to Pinkerton to link to. Turns out I was misremembering and we hadn’t done one (we did do the their blue debut album many years ago). So today, for Pinkerton’s 20th birthday, we right that wrong.
At this point, the story of Pinkerton is almost as famous as the music on it. After a huge college radio hit with their debut, Rivers Cuomo and co. followed it up with this “difficult” second album. It’s more personal, confessional, weird, and divisive. Cuomo was so hurt by the album’s initial rejection by fans and critics that, to some interpretations, he turned to attempting radio-friendly crowd-pleasers and, as a result, has never made another masterpiece (though if you stopped following Weezer in their “featuring Lil Wayne” era, know that their two most recent LPs are a major return to form).
Follow all our Best of 2015 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.
I didn’t realize it until I began laying out our post, but this year’s Best Cover Songs list shares quite a few artists with last year’s. And some that showed up here the year before that. Jack White’s on his fourth appearance. And Jason Isbell and Hot Chip not only both reappear from last year, but have moved up in the rankings.
Though we’re always on the lookout for the new (and to be sure, there are plenty of first-timers here too), the number of repeat honorees illustrates how covering a song is a skill just like any other. The relative few artists who have mastered it can probably deliver worthy covers again and again.
How a great cover happens is something I’ve been thinking a lot about this year as I’ve been writing a series of articles diving deep into the creation of iconic cover songs through history (I posted two of them online, and the rest are being turned into a book). In every case the artist had just the right amount of reverence for the original song: honoring its intention without simply aping it. It’s a fine line, and one even otherwise able musicians can’t always walk. Plenty of iconic people don’t make good cover artists (I’d nominate U2 as an example: some revelatory covers of the band, but not a lot by them). Given the skill involved, perhaps it’s no surprise that someone who can do a good cover once can do it again.
So, to longtime readers, you will see some familiar names below. But you’ll also see a lot of new names, and they’re names you should remember. If the past is any guide, you may well see them again next year, and the year after that.
Click on over to page two to begin our countdown, and thanks for reading.
– Ray Padgett, Editor in Chief
(Illustration by Sarah Parkinson)
For thirteen years, siblings Sara and Sean Watkins – best known as two-thirds of Nickel Creek – have been hosting a monthly “Watkins Family Hour” concert in L.A. Frequent collaborators include Fiona Apple and the Heartbreakers’ Benmont Tench, and they and more have finally recorded a debut album due out next week. It’s all covers, and the closing track is especially timely with the Grateful Dead just wrapping things up last week: the Dead’s American Beauty classic “Brokedown Palace.”