10. I Wanna Be Your Dog (The Stooges cover)
There are few phrases in the English language less romantic than “I wanna be your dog.” John Velghe and duet partner Abigail Henderson turn Iggy’s grimey assault on its head, though, discovering unlikely beauty in lines like “So messed up, I want you here / In my room, I want you here.” If Velghe sang this to you, you’d let him be any animal he wanted.
9. As I Went Out One Morning (Bob Dylan cover)
I wouldn’t have pegged Dirty Projectors for big John Wesley Harding fans, but 2010 saw them record both “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine” and “As I Went Out One Morning.” The former is a relatively faithful acoustic jam, and the latter appears to be too…until the girls enter. Their joyous background “Eeehhhh”s might be annoying if they weren’t so beautiful.
8. Wolf Like Me (TV on the Radio cover)
Covered on both this year’s list and last year’s, “Wolf Like Me” adapts to a wide array of interpretations. Last year’s folksy dirge brought out the lyrical wordplay. This year’s cover, finally getting studio release after years of live performances, drowns that all to hell in a blast of jackhammer volume. By the time Scott Lucas starts screaming “We’re howling forever,” you will be too.
7. My Body Is a Cage (Arcade Fire cover)
Where Gabriel’s #20 song “The Book of Love” was intimate, his “My Body Is a Cage” is expansive. Too often pop stars hire symphony orchestras for parts a fifth-grader could play. Gabriel apparently went the other way, telling them to go bananas. When the huge strings and brass take over, Gabriel falls back, repeating “is a” like a quiet mantra.
6. Pocket Calculator (Kraftwerk cover)
Brent Amaker and the Rodeo
A country-western Kraftwerk cover should be a novelty. It is, to a point. After you get the eye rolls out of your system though, you realize the Texas twang and back-porch backup singers totally work. Amaker lends the song a surprisingly funky beat, flipping the repetitive electro on its head. Would Kraftwerk approve? Probably not. But Merle Haggard sure would.
5. I’ll Be There (Jackson 5 cover)
Sun Kil Moon
“Pretty” is such a boring adjective, but it’s the word that inevitably surfaces to describe Mark Kozelek’s music. Whether he’s recording with Red House Painters or Sun Kil Moon, music just doesn’t get any prettier. So no surprise that he transforms “I’ll Be There” – a pretty song already – into the tune you want played for the first dance at your wedding. Better practice waltzing while weeping beforehand.
4. I Can’t Write Left-Handed (Bill Withers cover)
John Legend and the Roots
For the first six minutes, John Legend owns this song. At minute seven, though, the Roots take over. Kirk Douglas’s “Eruption”-esque guitar theatrics show all that “singing” stuff was just the prelude. The quiet protest soul builds and builds until you think it can’t possible go any further. With anyone but the Roots, it probably couldn’t.
3. Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve) (Buzzcocks cover)
Soul revivalists Noisettes find unlikely kindred in the Buzzcocks. This electronic bouncer brings people together not in spite of but because of shared romantic ineptitude. “So you suck at love?” they seem to say. “Join the club.” Invitation accepted.
2. Relief (R. Kelly cover)
Acoustic covers of rap songs are so 2005. In the past five years, every heartbroken troubadour with an acoustic guitar has “ironically” covered the most obscene hip-hop song they could find (there’s an oft-missed difference between “ironic” and “lousy”). Sam Amidon’s “Relief” squelches the stigma. R. Kelly’s smooth jam (really an R&B song, but the principle stands) comes down to earth as a woodsy banjo-and-violin ballad.
1. No One’s Gonna Love You (Band of Horses cover)
Not enough people loved “No One’s Gonna Love You” upon its release. This song could have been absolutely huge if Cee-Lo hadn’t undercut its momentum by releasing a certain profanity-laden viral sensation soon after. On this Lady Killer standout, Green discovers that Band of Horses’ Americana jam was really a soul tune all along. Electro-funk swagger and soaring strings fuel a Green performance as good as anything he’s done. That it inspired Band of Horses’ terrific response cover is just a bonus.