Dec 172018
 
best cover songs of 2018

Two things strike me as I scan through our list this year. This first is that many of the highest-ranking covers are tributes to recently-deceased icons. No surprise there, I suppose. But none actually pay tribute to artists that died in 2018. They honor those we’ve been honoring for two or three years now – your Pettys, your Princes, your Bowies. Hundreds of covers of each of these legends appeared in the first days after their deaths, but many of the best posthumous covers took longer to emerge.

Good covers take time. That principle – the cover-song equivalent of the slow food movement, perhaps – holds true throughout the list. Sure, a few here appear to have arisen from sudden moments of brilliance, flash-arranged for some concert or radio promo session. But many more reveal months or even years of painstaking work to nail every element. Making someone else’s song one’s own isn’t easy. These 50 covers took the time to get it right.

– Ray Padgett, Editor-in-Chief

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Oct 312018
 
cover songs october
AJ Lambert – Lush Life (Frank Sinatra cover)

Frank Sinatra’s granddaughter covers Frank Sinatra. You think you know where this story ends: fawning nepotism. But despite familial loyalty, A.J. Lambert isn’t afraid to twist “Lush Life,” adding a Lynchian undercurrent of menace. More of an overcurrent in the crawling, nose-bleeding video.

Amy Shark – Teenage Dirtbag (Wheatus cover)

Every month, one or two of these selections invariably hail from Spotify’s terrific new cover-sessions series. My only gripe is that they came with no information, the sort a band would write in the YouTube description or press release announcing a new cover, or say on stage before performing one live. That’s now solved with Spotify’s new “Under Cover” podcast, in which the artists performing the covers talk about them. We learn that Amy Shark tried to make “Teenage Dirtbag” a Pixies song, and that she considered the song her anthem when she was young. She says: “The first time I heard ‘Teenage Dirtbag,’ I was in high school. I was crazy obsessed with it to the point where it was in my head every day all day. I would sing it in all day in school. Even teachers would say, ‘Amy, please listen to something else.'” Continue reading »

Oct 182018
 
john prine stevie wonder

Stevie Wonder’s 1984 Oscar-winning megahit “I Just Called to Say I Love You” has earned much derision over the years due to its unapologetic cheesiness. The most famous critique came from Barry Judd, Jack Black’s record store clerk character in High Fidelity, who called it “sentimental tacky crap.” Still, the tune has endured. It is currently listed as Wonder’s fifth most popular song on Spotify. The refrain is darn catchy after all. Continue reading »

Jul 102017
 
chance the rapper covers

The last time we heard from Chance the Rapper, he was doing a weird and wonderful cover of Ziggy Marley’s Arthur theme song. So wonderful, in fact, that we named it our our favorite cover of that entire year. So needless to say, we were excited to see his new NPR Tiny Desk Concert featured another cover, of Stevie Wonder’s “They Won’t Go When I Go.”

“They Won’t Go When I Go” is a relative deep cut on Wonder’s 1974 masterpiece Fulfillingness’ First Finale, though more first heard it via George Michael’s popular cover. It’s no surprise Chance would know the original though: on The View earlier this year, he called Wonder “the greatest living artist.” Plus in that same interview, Chance said he considered Kanye West an inspiration, and Kanye himself covered this same song live way back in 2011. Continue reading »

Jan 062017
 

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

Jose Feliciano

“You know,” Steve Buscemi famously says in Fargo, “Jose Feliciano, you got no complaints.” That wasn’t always the case – his rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before game five of the 1968 World Series caused much wailing and gnashing of teeth back in the day – but Feliciano’s sheer talent and the undeniable prowess of his guitar playing, not to mention the length of his career, have seen him outlast all the negativity and become one of the most admired musicians playing today.
Continue reading »

Nov 082016
 
ThomasJeffersonViolin

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 »