Dec 182014

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)

Foxygen drummer Shaun Fleming, better known by his musical alter-ego Diane Coffee, has picked one of the best ways to welcome summer. In honor of Brian Wilson’s 72nd birthday, he released this dreamy cover of The Beach Boys “Kokomo.” Continue reading »

They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

His parents named him Reginald Kenneth Dwight, and his dad wanted him to become a banker. But Sir Elton Hercules John, 67 years old today, had other ideas. Three hundred million albums, six Grammy Awards, one Academy Award, one Golden Globe, one Tony Award, the best-selling single of all time, a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and a knighthood later, we say “happy birthday, Sir Elton.”
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Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

The Beach Boys have one of the most interesting fan bases in the history of rock music. Not only are they one of the most popular bands, they also have one of the biggest cult followings, and with few exceptions, each side has little patience for what the other side adores. For every fan who cranks up “Surfin’ USA” on their car radio, there’s another fan sitting in a darkened den, studying the nuances of “H.E.L.P. Is On The Way,” Brian Wilson’s paean to vegetarianism. They do have one thing in common, though – they both think Brian Wilson is some kind of genius.
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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!

At this writing, Glen Campbell is taking his Farewell Tour. This is not one of those concert tours by a celebrity announcing retirement yet again; rather, it’s Campbell taking a valedictory lap around the country before the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease rob him entirely of his gifts. Reviews of these shows note the occasional stumbles, but also make mention of the standing ovations, Campbell’s still-unerring guitar work, and the fact that this is a man who doesn’t need to make new fans – he needs to say good-bye in style, and he’s doing exactly that. Continue reading »

This was the first year that the  free, three-day music festival Hardly Strictly Bluegrass was without it’s founder Warren Hellman. Warren passed late last year and left a San Francisco tradition that is being faithfully carried out by an army of music lovers, bigger and better than ever. This year’s festival in Golden Gate Park featured 6 stages,  a crowd of 600,000 and 88 acts with a variety of artists like Patti Smith, Elvis Costello, The Lumineers, Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, Conor Oberst, The Civil Wars, Son Volt, Ralph Stanley, Nick Lowe and many more. Check out a handful of the many covers from the weekend below! Continue reading »

Are tractors in a barn the first thing you think of when you hear The Beach Boys‘ “Cabinessence?” In case you actually thought about it for a second the answer is no. Philadelphia-based Mock Suns, who are known for playful antics such as giving away chocolate masks molded from their faces, decided that maybe you should think of tractors when listening to the dreamy 20/20 jam. Continue reading »

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

I never liked conventional “children’s music,” which is condescending and ignores the reality of children’s lives, which can be dark and scary. These children hated “cute.” They cherished songs that evoked loneliness and sadness. – Hans Fenger

Hans Fenger was a musician who accepted a job teaching music in a western Canadian school district. He dismissed hi-ho-the-merry-O children’s music in favor of current pop favorites, and his pupils responded enthusiastically enough that he recorded two albums of their performing, pressing 300 copies. More than twenty years later, WFMU DJ and outsider music scholar Irwin Chusid heard the albums and set out to get them released to the world; the end result, Innocence & Despair: The Langley Schools Music Project, wound up on multiple best-of lists at year’s end. Continue reading »

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