Disclaimer: Our monthly “Best Cover Songs” aren’t ranked, and the “Honorable Mentions” aren’t necessarily worse than the others (they’re just the ones we had the least to say about).
Angelique Kidjo – Born Under Punches (Talking Heads cover)
Goddammit, Angelique. We spent weeks compiling our Best Talking Heads Covers post, and only days after we finish, you announce a full Remain in Light tribute album. Judging from this first single, it’s going to be pretty amazing too.Continue reading »
Buffalo Tom was an alternative rock bands always on the verge of mainstream success in the ‘90s, but who never even earned “oh-they-play-that-song” status. Though they’ve definitely got a strong cult following. The band appeared on the final episode of The Jon Stewart Show in 1995 and the comedian has cited them as one of his favorite artists. Their music even featured in a 1994 episode of the teen drama My So-Called Life during a Claire Danes/Jared Leto make-out montage (it’s about as disgusting as it sounds). These days the band has returned, having just released a new studio album, Quiet and Peace, which includes a cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Only Living Boy in New York.”
The song originally appeared on the duo’s 1970 album Bridge Over Troubled Water. Simon wrote the tune about existential longing after Garfunkel jettisoned to Mexico to appear in the movie Catch-22, hence the opening lines: “Tom, get your plane right on time / I know your part’ll go fine / Fly down to Mexico.” While not quite as iconic as “Mrs. Robinson” or “The Sounds of Silence,” the track has seeped its way into pop culture over the decades.
Buffalo Tom shifts the song into the alternative-country universe, shaping it into an anthem to aimless wandering, especially when they hit the climactic chorus, “Half of the time we’re gone, but we don’t know where.” For the accompaniment, they blend acoustic and steel guitar and include a jammy electric guitar solo to amplify the finale. Though the track might not be as edgy as some of the group’s early work, it holds up well after a few listens. The band has clearly aged better than other relics from the ‘90s (especially YouTube clips of My So-Called Life).
Last year I did a roundup of the Best Cover Songs of 1996. It was a fun project to retroactively compile one of our year-end lists for a year before Cover Me was born. I wanted to do it again this year, but continuing the twentieth-anniversary theme with 1997 seemed a little boring. Turns out 1997 also featured a bunch of Afghan Whigs covers.
So to mix it up, I decided to go a decade further back and look at 1987. Needless to say, the landscape looked very different for covers. For one, far more of that year’s biggest hits were covers than we saw for 1996. The year had #1 cover hits in Heart’s “Alone,” the Bangles’ “Hazy Shade of Winter,” Los Lobos’ “La Bamba,” Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now,” Club Nouveau’s “Lean on Me,” and Kim Wilde’s “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.” Plus ubiquitous hits that didn’t quite top the charts, but remain staples of the songs-you-didn’t-know-were-covers lists, Buster Poindexter’s “Hot Hot Hot” and George Harrison’s “Got My Mind Set On You.”Continue reading »
If someone told you to sing “This Land Is Your Land,” how much could you do off the top of your head? Redwood forest, check. Ribbon of highway probably too. But do you know this verse?
Was a high wall there that tried to stop me
A sign was painted said: Private Property,
But on the back side it didn’t say nothing —
That side was made for you and me.
That rarely-sung verse, from Woody Guthrie’s original lyrics, helped inspire Anthony D’Amato’s shimmering new cover (which features background vocals from Josh Ritter). Though written in 1940, that line about walls dividing people holds increasing resonance today. And it’s a subject D’Amato cares a lot about; his last album included the Trump-inspired original “If You’re Gonna Build A Wall” and both tracks appear on new charity EP Won’t You Be My Neighbor.Continue reading »
When we last did an election-themed post, we wrote “this damn election continues to never end”. That was in August of 2008. How naive we were then. As this latest round finally limps to a close today, we wanted to put together a cover-song soundtrack to take with you to the polls. To that end, we’ve compiled our 11 favorite covers of campaign theme songs.
Campaign theme songs used to be far better than they are now. Up until the 20th century, candidates would use songs written specifically for them, from James Madison’s “Huzzah for Madison, Huzzah” to James K. Polk’s “Jimmy Polk of Tennessee.” The best remembered is probably William Henry Harrison’s “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too,” a song proved more influential than his actual presidency, which lasted a month before he died in office. Sometimes these theme songs were just rewritten versions of popular songs (“Hello Dolly” becomes “Hello Lyndon”, “My Kind of Town Chicago Is” becomes “My Kind of Guy Dukakis Is”), but even still at least some effort was being made to come up with original lyrics.
Sadly, those days have ended. Now candidates choose from a handful of already-popular songs that vaguely embody their message. Hillary Clinton’s been using Katy Perry’s “Roar” a lot this time around, which Donald Trump leans on Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” after just about every other musician filed cease and desist letters (they eventually did too). No matter your politics, the move away from jolly songs about a particular candidate is a bummer. We’d definitely get behind a platform of “Make Campaign Theme Songs Great Again.”
In lieu of that, we’ve made a playlist celebrating campaign songs past and present. We could only find so many covers of the older candidate-specific songs – they don’t age well, particularly if the candidate is a loser (artists are not lining up to cover “Go with Goldwater”) – so we padded it out with some more recent campaign theme songs you might actually know. Go vote, and bring this soundtrack with you.Continue reading »
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.