At the end of every year, we work for weeks curating our annual Best of the Year list (here’s last year’s). We’re monitoring what comes out all year though, so this month I thought: why wait? Here’s a more impulsive and spontaneous list, some songs we’ve written about already and others we didn’t get to. Just some great covers that stood out as the month comes to a close.
It has been a little over a week since the death of Cranberries singer Dolores O’Riordan. So much potential music was lost on the day she passed – including this cover.
O’Riordan was scheduled to record vocals on the Bad Wolves version of “Zombie” just days after her sudden death. She had heard from a former manager that the cover was special and, after hearing it, agreed. They’ve released the cover – sans O’Riordan vocals – and it’s not hard to figure out why it resonated with her.
2017 was a particularly tough year with the loss of so many musicians, and 2018 is starting out with more sadness. Dolores O’ Riordan, lead singer of The Cranberries and one of the most recognizable female vocalists in history, has passed away at the age of 46. Their influence, and specifically, O’Riordan’s leadership, can be felt in the generations of musicians who have followed them, as described beautifully by Hozier: “My first time hearing Dolores O’Riordan’s voice was unforgettable. It threw into question what a voice could sound like in that context of rock. I’d never heard somebody use their instrument in that way.”
The Cranberries released very few covers in their career: two for tribute albums, and a third, a cover of Elvis Presley’s “In The Ghetto” on their album Wake Up and Smell the Coffee.
The first of two compilation covers, “(They Long to Be) Close to You”, can be found on If I Were a Carpenter, a tribute album to The Carpenters. O’Riordan’s voice is the immediate tip off that we have flashed forward almost 25 years from the original hit. With sparse instrumentals, the Irish lilt is especially pronounced, as is the slightly darker tone of O’Riordan’s voice from Karen’s sweetly sung rendition. It’s a lovely cover, and a standout on the album.
When last we heard from Alyson Greenfield, she was using her glockenspiel to record one of the best covers EPs of 2011. Now she’s finally back with a new cover, and while there’s no glockenspiel, there is a plethora of other unlikely instruments: omnichord, casiotone, and chord organ. She’s also left behind the hip-hop sources on that first EP, instead taking on the Cranberries deep cut “Dreaming My Dreams” (not to be confused with the ‘berries similarly-titled megahit “Dreams”). The swirling textures of her oddball keyboard arsenal bring an appropriately dreamy backing to the lilting melody.
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)
There’s not a whole lot of information out there about the artist who goes by Missio. A “Who Is Missio” manifesto on his website does little to answer that question, revealing only that he lives in a 1974 airstream trailer, has an unpleasant history in the music business, and recorded 52 songs already for this new project. What little else I could glean is that his real name is Matthew Brue, he lives in Austin, and he says he aims for “songwriting inspired by minimalistic purism.”