40. My Poor Friend Me (Bad Religion cover)
Back in October, SPIN.com released Germs of Perfection: A Tribute to Bad Religion. This uneven album included a number of acoustic covers so sweet they made your teeth hurt. Frank Turner offers the glorious exception, keeping it quiet without coming off weak. Self-pity never sounded so empowering.
39. It’ll Be Better (Francis and the Lights cover)
Like a more subdued Chromeo, Francis and the Lights brings white-boy R&B right into the 21st century. Having spent the year opening for Drake and La Roux, Francis Farewell Starlite (great name) just released his debut full-length It’ll Be Better. A great record in its own right, it soars even higher under Alex Winston’s gentle kinderpop hand.
38. Kiss Off (Violent Femmes cover)
Say Hi’s “Kiss Off” – one of the stranger selections on the Sing Me to Sleep: Indie Lullabies collection – trades the original’s walking bass line for a dirge-like riff. Absurdly-distorted guitar keeps threatening to take over before being forced under, like someone trying to swallow back vomit.
37. Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos) (Woody Guthrie cover)
Outernational ft. Tom Morello
Both Outernational’s politics and sound combine Woody Guthrie with Rage Against the Machine, so this cover was inevitable. Recorded during the outcry over Arizona’s harsh anti-immigration laws, “Deportee” revives a 1948 ballad with picket-line hollering and plenty of accordion. Never one to miss a good political protest, Rage’s Tom Morello lends a helping hand.
36. Monday Morning (Melanie Fiona cover)
The Baseballs turn current pop songs into 1950s rockabilly rave-ups. Most songs work about as you’d expect: hilarious the first listen, amusing the second, unpleasant thereafter. Not here. The song works so naturally I had to listen to Melanie Fiona’s original to ascertain how it was ever not rockabilly. After hearing this, the original sounds like the forced genre-crossing novelty.
35. I’ll Keep It with Mine (Bob Dylan cover)
Subterranean Homesick Blues: A Tribute to Bob Dylan’s ‘Bringing It All Back Home’ featured bold remakes like a gypsy-party “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” and a steel-drum-hip-hop “Maggie’s Farm.” Ironically though, the most affecting track proved to be one of the most conventional. Denison Witmer used only an acoustic guitar, the most clichéd Dylan cover trope, to astounding effect on original album outtake “I’ll Keep It with Mine.”
34. Bad Romance (Lady Gaga cover)
Lissie owned the cover world in 2010, delivering knock-out performances of “Stairway to Heaven,” “Pursuit of Happiness,” and “Nothing Else Matters.” Her strongest entry offered a perfect synergy between performance and timing. Just at “Bad Romance”’s cultural apex, Lissie’s storming rock performance melded churning guitars and beautifully-rolled “R”s.
33. All the Best (John Prine cover)
My Morning Jacket
After “One Big Holiday” and their four-hour Bonnaroo sets, My Morning Jacket earned a reputation as one of the most galvanizing rock and roll bands around today. In their earlier days, though, they played more steel guitar then electric. Here, they return to the country roots they never completely left. The lesser-known Prine song was made for feel-good mix CDs.
32. Moby Dick (Led Zeppelin cover)
Zeppelin’s storming instrumental finally gets lyrics, courtesy of one Herman Melville. Ahab’s deranged ranting perfectly accompanies that thunderous riff. On the musical side, Jon Bonham’s famous drum solo gets company from accordion, kazoo, and plenty of other briefly-featured ironic instruments. I’m pretty sure I hear the kitchen sink in there too.
31. Whip My Hair (Willow Smith cover)
Jimmy Fallon (as Neil Young) and Bruce Springsteen
To really get this cover, you have to watch the video once. After you do though, you can forever after enjoy the song for both inspiring the uproarious collaboration and being a pretty darn impressive reinterpretation in its own right.