We already counted down the 50 Best Cover Songs of 2018 but, inevitably, many of our staff’s personal favorites get left off. So, before we begin scouting for what might become the best cover of 2019, we share the best of the rest, an unranked hodgepodge of worthy covers that only just missed our year-end countdown.
The saga began last year when an adoring fan implored Weezer to cover Toto, blowing up the internet when Weezer covered “Africa” – and had their biggest hit in years. In response to Weezer, Toto have returned the favor and covered…”Hash Pipe”??? “We figured since we were smoking hash since before they were born, that’s the one we should do,” explains Steve Lukather introducing their version of one of Weezer’s most divisive singles.
What a time we live in. It’s a time when a 14 year old fan can influence a major band with a simple hashtag. #weezercoverafrica began in December, with a young girl’s plea to her favorite band. Why Toto? Why “Africa”? Who knows? (She’s 14…I don’t think she even knows). But she chose the right combo to go semi-viral, enough to get the band’s attention
So then…Weezer covered Toto! She did it! Almost… In a hilarious twist, they covered “Rosanna” instead of “Africa.” Not entirely a surprise coming from the notoriously tongue-in-cheek band, not afraid of a little trolling themselves (see: “Can’t Stop Partying feat. Lil Wayne”).
So, how was it? Certainly nothing mind blowing, but all in all a solid cover of a less-remembered Toto hit. The instrumentation stays true to the original, although the drums are a bit messy. All of the fills and solos are treated similarly which is a wise choice as they are integral to the song as a whole. What sets the entire cover apart is Rivers Cuomo. It’s his distinctive, edgy, punky vocals that distinguish this version from the original and give it a far more current appeal.
For the latest Undercover session, the A.V. Club coerced Low into covering a Toto song, and you’ll never guess which one! Okay, we lied. Of course you’ll guess which one – “Africa” aka. the only Toto song anyone remembers (and not always in a good way). Still, reluctant though they clearly are to perform it, Low does it more justice than it probably deserves.
An exciting day for Cover Me today, as we unveil our spiffy new logo (which you saw above). All the contest entries were great, but that cover-tastic design above comes from winner Gabrielle C. She describes her approach:
I knew what I wanted to do pretty much as soon as I saw the contest announcement. I’m not very versed in popular music, so I emailed to ask for some well-known covers in order to round out the original three I had. For the artists I wasn’t familiar with, I listened to some of their songs in order to get a sense of what kind of design would be appropriate (picking fonts was actually one of the most time-consuming components of the whole project). Everything save for the wood texture was created using Photoshop, including the records themselves.
As part of her prize she got to choose a post’s theme, coming up with the great idea of choral covers. Even excluding “Ave Maria” and Handel’s Messiah, there’s a lot to choose from, famous choirs the world over reaching across genres to tackle a pop tune.
The Red Army Choir – Down Under (Men at Work)
This was the song Gabriella suggested to get the idea going, and it’s top-notch. All the joy of choral covers with the oddball charm of nonstop accordion. They do a cover of “Sex Bomb” that’ll knock you out. Maybe I’ll tweet it sometime. [Buy]
Scala and Kolacny Brothers – Bittersweet Symphony (The Verve)
This Belgian choir has a full disc of pop hits that will knock you out. This Verve hit somehow sounds perfect for the over-the-top pomp when dozens of women blast out every line. [Buy]
Traces Gospel Choir – Walk Don’t Walk (Prince)
The Artist Currently Known as Prince is a devout Jehovah’s Witness, so a gospel cover seems more than appropriate. I have to imagine Prince borrowed the title from the instrumental classic “Walk Don’t Run” (amazing cover here), but this one sounds more Van Morrison than Ventures. [Buy]
Vienna Boys Choir – Message In a Bottle (The Police)
These prim and proper rascals are so well-trained they can’t bring themselves to copy Sting’s vocal inflections. Hearing “sea” instead of “sea-oh” might throw you off at first, but the accents more than compensate. This one’s off Goes Pop, an album of all pop covers. [Buy]
Hell Blues Choir – Swordfishtrombones (Tom Waits)
These guys have put two albums out, one of Tom Waits covers, the other tackling Ray Charles. You can imagine how their takes on “Downtown Train” and “Jersey Girl” sound, but this twisted tune is a brave choice indeed. They make this lesser-known gem swing along without losing its carnival macabre. [Buy]
VoiceWorks – Grace Kelly (Mika)
Indie-pop favorite Mika’s got a new album coming out this fall, so what better time to remember his phenomenal debut? Believe it or not, Australian television hosted an American Idol-style contest called Battle of the Choirs. This Queensland Youth Choir busted this out in the quarter finals. What did they sing the previous round? “Down Under”! [Buy]
Young@Heart Chorus – Fix You (Coldplay)
These septuagenarian singers got a lot of notice recently the with Young@Heart documentary, but this comes from a live album released before then. This one sounds like later-period Johnny Cash. The prequel to “Hurt,” perhaps. [Buy]
Perpetuum Jazzile – Africa (Toto)
Most of the world couldn’t locate Slovenia on a map (can you?), but over nine million have watched this choir on YouTube, making them the country’s greatest national export. The video to this is worth watching to see how they create the rain sounds. [Buy]
PS22 Chorus – Eye of the Tiger (Survivor)
These adorable elementary schoolers have become YouTube sensations with their covers of pop tunes (hear more). Thankfully they haven’t yet reached the age where enthusiasm is uncool, earning them an appearance on the recent Passion Pit album. [Buy]
Capital Children’s Choir – Chinese (Lily Allen)
Gentlemen, get ready to melt. These kids take one of Lily’s few songs not about partying or sex and add a heartbreaking vulnerability you’d never get from someone older. [Buy]
In the spirit of the flurry of year-end lists, here are some of the best covers of the year. Needless to say, too many great covers came out this year
The Gaslight Anthem – God’s Gonna Cut You Down (Johnny Cash)
Anchorless Records just released a set of quasi-punk Cash covers called All Aboard (get it on vinyl if you can) and, though some are generic, 2008 break-out artist The Gaslight Anthem takes Cash’s posthumous single and gives it a haunted vibe, like someone singing to you from far far away. [Buy]
Lily Allen – Womanizer (Britney Spears)
This one just came out a couple days ago, but it’s an instant ironic-pop classic. Britney’s first number one single since “Baby One More Time” (really) gets the strummed acoustic, soft piano treatment. Once you get past Mark Ronson’s obnoxious intro that is.
The Peptides – Major Tom (Peter Schilling)
When the band first sent this cover my way, I assumed it was a mislabeled “Space Oddity.” For those equally clueless, Schilling wrote a response to the classic David Bowie song (that I once had to lip-sync for five minutes in middle school in a poorly conceived outer space version of The Hobbit). Luckily The Peptides knew more than I did, as they tell the bizarre story with folksy harmonies and propelling rhythms. [Buy]
Mystery Jets – Bleeding Love (Leona Lewis)
God knows how many times I’ve listened to this one this year, but their beautiful Americana take on this admittedly catchy-as-hell pop hit never loses its charm. This comes from the always cover-friendly Radio 1 Live Lounge on the BBC. [Buy]
Southside Johnny and Labamba’s Big Band – Walk Away (Tom Waits)
Two big Tom Waits tribute discs came out this year. One, by Scarlet Johannson, induced spontaneous nausea in anyone who heard it. The other, Southside Johnny’s big band take on some Waits chestnuts achieved the shocking feat of making Tom danceable. It’s called Grapefruit Moon, and this cut is the best for a simple reason: it features Tom himself on guest vocals. [Buy]
Max Vernon – I Kissed a Girl (Katy Perry)
Vernon sent this one my way long ago and I’m embarrassed to say I never got a chance to post it before. Luckily others did, as it quickly made the blog rounds and even earned him a s lot on the Guilt By Association Vol. 2 comp alongside Kaki King and My Brightest Diamond. Dude’s even got a music video! [Buy]
Pat Buzzard – Wagon Wheel (Old Crow Medicine Show)
This one hit the old inbox a couple weeks ago, and is an instantly catchy update on the OCMS/Bob Dylan (he wrote the chorus) semi-hit “Wagon Wheel.” It’s made for a campfire sing-along far cooler than any you had as a kid. [Buy]
Lowry – Africa (Toto)
This one comes off that same comp Vernon’s on. It’s a song you’ve forgotten how much you liked, made new in an electro-lounge duet. [Buy]
Denison Witmer – Is There a Ghost (Band of Horses)
I posted this one in the Halloween entry a few months back, but as that post got taken down, here it is again. Witmer’s had the ingenious idea of releasing a bunch of free covers to promote his upcoming full-length Carry the Weight, and while they’re all worth tracking down, I keep coming back to this one. [Buy]
Bob Dylan – Miss the Mississippi (Jimmie Rodgers)
Bob recorded this in ’92, but it got its first official release a few months ago on the top-notch Tell Tale Signs outtake collection. People criticize Bob’s voice, but this song wouldn’t work without the lived-in grizzle age provides. [Buy]