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.
In 2016, indie singer Michelle Zauner, who performs under the moniker Japanese Breakfast, opened for fellow Japanese-American singer-songwriter Mitski. “Being half-Asian and going on the Mitski tour, that was like, a big deal,” Zauner told Rolling Stone. She said fans would come up and thank them. “They feel like they see part of themselves in us in a way that they haven’t been able to before.”
Mitski should be no stranger to readers of Cover Me; her work has landed on our Top 50 lists in both 2015 and 2017. Japanese Breakfast recently took a page from Mitski’s playbook and expanded her electro-pop repertoire by releasing a cover of “California Dreamin’” on the SiriusXMU indie-rock radio channel.
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!
“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.
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)
We may not get to see much of her face, but we have been hearing a ton from Sia. We have heard snippets of her The Mamas & the Papas cover during the trailer of the upcoming San Andreas film (starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), but the Internet, being the Internet, has produced the full rendition.
Sia’s powerhouse vocals are at an all time high, backed by haunting orchestration. Sia has the uncanny power to transform anything, even a folksy, nostalgic sort of ditty, into an evocative anthem that demands to be listened to on repeat.
Listen to more Sia on her official website.
Listening to Wallflower, Diana Krall’s new covers record, a question comes to mind:
Who’s the intended audience for this?
It’s a strange beast of an album, in which the jazz star (is she even really a jazz artist these days?) takes some of the most obvious choices from the pop/rock cannon and goes full lounge singer on them.
A lot of the blame for this album can probably be tossed onto producer David Foster (whose daughters, weirdly enough, currently have a mockumentary-type show on VH1). The whole album is drenched in dreamy strings, gentle (or non-existent) percussion, and whimsical piano. Not that the production on any one song ruins the whole thing, but the arrangements all seem to be exactly the same. If these songs weren’t currently playing in every dentist office in the country at this exact moment, you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart.