It’s a busy week for new Billy Joel covers! On Tuesday we posted about Kendall Roy (yes, the character from Succession) getting an official release for “his” “Honesty” cover. And while that one wasn’t strictly speaking, you know, good – that was kind of the point – this new one is. It’s a version of “Vienna” by Melbourne singer Gretta Ray, expanding on her brief TikTok cover that went viral back in February.
‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.
For some artists we look at for these lists, it seems like every time someone covered one their songs, it turned out pretty good. Leonard Cohen was like that; the quality of the average Cohen cover is fairly high. John Prine, too.
Stevie Wonder is not one of those artists.
It’s not his fault, or the fault of his songs, but his material often gets sucked into the same cocktail-jazz muck that fellow piano man Billy Joel’s does. Nothing wrong with that sort of lounge jazz-pop when done well – and there are a few times on this list when it is – but there’s a lot of mediocrity to wade through. Stevie’s performance and production skills are so sharp that, when placed in lesser hands, his songs can come off as sentimental shlock. All the “Isn’t She Lovely”s alone are so sugary sweet you feel like you’ll get diabetes.
But here’s the good news: Covers of Stevie Wonder’s songs are so ubiquitous that, even when you weed out the bad and the just-okay, you’re still left with plenty of greatness. The fifty below span funk, bluegrass, rock, hip-hop, jam band, jazz, and into galaxies beyond. So here they are, signed, sealed, and delivered to knock you off your feet.
A few days ago at a show in Los Angeles, Pearl Jam covered the Foo Fighters in a tribute to Taylor Hawkin’s passing. They picked a relative deep cut too: “Cold Day in the Sun” is a classic-rock feeling song from the Foo Fighters album In Your Honor. In the original, which he wrote, drummer Hawkins took the lead by singing and playing, while Dave Grohl manned the drums.
In this cover, Matt Cameron leads with guitar and vocals. In addition to the full band, Chad Smith (from the Red Hot Chili Peppers) also joins in, adding in a bit of tambourine. The brightness of the lead guitar almost gives this cover a southern flair, while Cameron keeps his vocal timbre eerily similar to Hawkin’s own tone. The richness of the song really begins to shine in the chorus, when new vocal harmonies are added in. However, the drumbeat and instrumentation have been kept nearly identical to the original.
Kendall Roy, the most wily of the Roy progeny featured on HBO’s Succession, has been in the music game for a few years now. Played with disquieting intensity by Jeremy Strong, Kendall made his musical performing debut on the show’s second season with a hip-hop tribute to his father, Waystar Royco chair Logan Roy, on the stage of a particularly epic/off-the-rails company shareholder meeting. (Yes, it’s as bizarre as it sounds.) Now, with the belated release of Succession’s Season 3 soundtrack, we have another musical nugget from the show to share: Kendall Roy’s live cover of Billy Joel’s “Honesty.”
Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
SecondHandSongs says that the two most-covered songs written in 1966 were by the Beatles – “Eleanor Rigby” and “Here, There and Everywhere.” That’s no surprise. The next two most-covered songs from that year were written by another songwriting team; Burt Bacharach and Hal David came up with “The Look of Love” and “Alfie.” Also no big surprise.
But then comes the fifth-most-covered song of 1966: “Beddy Bye” by Bert Kaempfert. Ring any bells? If not, perhaps you’ll recognize it from the movie it appeared in – the James Garner comedy-thriller A Man Could Get Killed. Still no? Well, at the time it had no lyrics, but once they arrived, and once Frank Sinatra sang them, it became immortal as “Strangers in the Night.”