30. Don’t Fear the Reaper (Blue Öyster Cult cover)
Through no fault of Blue Öyster Cult, “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” will forever be associated with one phrase: “More cowbell.” The eight seconds of cowbell that appear in the Peptides’ cover offer a pop-cultural wink without distracting from everything else, which is…everything else. Slow ambient harmonies gradually pick up the pace until, all of a sudden, you’re in flamenco country. Bruce Dickinson (The Bruce Dickinson) might not get it, but you will.
29. Long Way Home (Tom Waits cover)
Mates of State
Self-serious Tom Waits fans, move along. This will just offend you. Anyone looking for fun though, Waits fan or no, could do worse than this infectious blast of electropop. Sure, just about everything about this cover, from the cheerleader “Yeah yeah yeah”s to the melodica solo, clashes horribly with the song’s lyrics. Who cares? Music this joyful wears down any indignation pretty darn quick.
28. Georgia (Cee-Lo Green cover)
Band of Horses
Wait, haven’t we seen this before? In 2006, Gnarls Barkley released a music video for their cover of the Violent Femmes’ “Gone Daddy Gone.” The Femmes were so grateful, they returned the favor with “Crazy.” Fast forward to 2010. Cee-Lo Green (1/2 of Gnarls Barkley) releases a music video for his cover of Band of Horses’ “No One’s Gonna Love You” and – guess what – the Band responds in kind. An unoriginal move, but no complaints here!
27. Shelly’s Winter Love (Merle Haggard cover)
In 2002, indie folk-rockers Crooked Fingers released their Reservoir Songs covers EP. It included such oddball choices as Prince (“When U Were Mine”) and Queen (“Under Pressure”). This year’s Reservoir Songs II stayed more firmly in their comfort zone with songs by the Kinks and John Hartford. What looked less interesting on paper proved majestic in reality. “Shelly’s Winter Love” crafts an echoey pop song, with Erich Bachmann’s gorgeous voice right up front.
26. Let the Mermaids Flirt with Me (Mississippi John Hurt cover)
Josiah Wolf and Liz Hodson
One of the all-time great delta blues singers, Mississippi John Hurt remained a cult figure up until his last few years. His guitar picking mixed melodic upper-register fills with quirky bass runs for a style that still impresses half a century later. That said, WHY? drummer Josiah Wolf and collaborator Liz Hodson keeps absolutely none of Hurt’s approach on this delicate pop cover.
25. We Used to Wait (Arcade Fire cover)
Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs has popped up on just about every Best Albums of 2010 list so far. From the day of the album’s release, “We Used to Wait” proved an immediate standout. In some ways, it’s one of the most conventionally-structured tracks on the album, making it ripe for cover. Of all the artists who tried (Mark Ronson, the Drums), though, Clare Burson’s quiet guitar ballad did it the best.
24. Candidate (Joy Division cover)
Heinali and Matt Finney
Despite the constant fracturing of genres into ever-smaller niches (post-dubstep? witch house?), some music still fits nowhere. Black as pitch, this churning, spoken-word Joy Division cover can’t easily be described. The Tom Waits rasp and the Nine Inch Nails distortion combine for some spooky stuff though, whatever you call it. Here’s a stab: post-melodic.
23. Come Talk to Me (Peter Gabriel cover)
Last week we heard Peter Gabriel cover Bon Iver in our Best Cover Albums of 2010 list. Now we hear Bon Iver return the favor, for the ill-fated I’ll Scratch Yours tribute album. A perfect marriage of song and musician, “Come Talk to Me” displays Justin Vernon at his haunting best. The intricate vocal layering reminds us why Kanye’s such a big fan.
22. John the Revelator (Blind Willie Johnson cover)
The John Knox Sex Club
In his life on earth, Blind Willie Johnson toiled in obscurity. He recorded over 30 songs for pocket change and died while living in the burned-out shell of his former house. Thankfully, his legacy lives on in songs like “In My Time of Dyin’” and “John the Revelator.” Frequently covered by the White Stripes, “John” gets a stomping Scottish facelift courtesy of the John Knox Sex Club.
21. Dancing in the Dark (Bruce Springsteen cover)
Speaking of Scotland… Tegan and Sara did the acoustic “Dancing in the Dark” thing back in 2006, but they got one thing wrong: being from Canada. Amy Macdonald’s lilting lowlands accent gives this simple acoustic arrangement its character; her effortless singing fills the music full of regret.