The Best Cover Songs of 2017

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Dec 152017

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10. Bob Seger – Busload of Faith (Lou Reed cover)

I Knew You When, Bob Seger’s first album in three years, featured “Busload of Faith” as its first single. The song first appeared on Lou’s New York album almost thirty years ago, but it feels more timely than ever. Seger makes no bones about wading into politics, adding the line “you can’t depend on the president.” It’s also worth noting that Seger’s presence recasts “Busload” as a midwestern rocker, and the song’s all the richer for it. – Patrick Robbins

9. Lydia Loveless – Sorry (Justin Bieber cover)

Lydia Loveless delivers exactly what we’re looking for in a cover of a gigantic pop hit with her version of Justin Bieber’s juggernaut “Sorry.” There’s an incredible amount of depth waiting to be teased from the seemingly shallow lyrics of the original. Loveless treats the song as seriously as her own and the Bieber version is quickly forgotten. The stripped down instrumentation and downtrodden vocal delivery result in an emotionally taut song that could appear on any great breakup mixtape. – Mike Misch

8. Chance the Rapper – They Won’t Go When I Go (Stevie Wonder cover)

It’s hard to talk about this cover without talking about its place at the end of Chance’s appearance on Tiny Desk Concerts, a series of NPR-filmed, stripped down quiet-ish performances that conflate proximity and intimacy with high but almost invisible production values. Chance mentions how much he loves the show multiple times in his taping, giving a shout-out to favorite episodes. This cover – a terrific ode to the original and a casual repositioning of it along side Chance’s very public faith and polarizing roles as community activist and rapper who makes some white folk more comfortable than other rappers – is the culmination of his Tiny Desk Concert. It comes after his performance of a poem he wrote on the way to the studio, one that he has to re-start because he’s interrupted by a PA announcement that reminds us these suckers really are filmed in an office building. In other words, it comes at the end of a twelve-minute broadcast that, especially for a mega-star like Chance, is simply more personal and autobiographical than media appearances usually are. He starts the song with a dedication to “somebody close to me who just lost somebody close to them,” a perfectly crafted dedication that reminds us what he stands for emotionally and spiritually as an artist and as a proxy and go-between for so many populations, communities, and genres. This cover is beautiful in its own right, particularly as it swells and conjoins Stevie Wonder’s brand of ebullience and hope with Chance’s. It also embodies the paradox at the heart of Chance’s magic: he is able to bring so many things together but, at the end of the day, they won’t go when (or where) he does. – Matt Vadnais

7. Rhiannon Giddens ft. Bhi Bhiman – Freedom Highway (The Staple Singers cover)

If Rhiannon Giddens continues to release albums as good and significant as Freedom Highway for a few decades, she might become an American treasure like Mavis Staples, whose lead vocals on the original Staples Singers’ version of the song “Freedom Highway,” are an iconic example of socially conscious popular gospel. As it is, Giddens is pretty damn great already, and her cover of Roebuck “Pops” Staples’ civil rights anthem, secularizes the song somewhat, moving it out of church and towards the soul end of the musical spectrum, without losing any of the song’s power. It features joyful vocals from Giddens and Bhi Bhiman, and trumpet from the aptly named Alphonso Horne. – Jordan Becker

6. Bob Weir and Trey Anastasio – Million Reasons (Lady Gaga cover)

Bob Weir and Trey Anastasio have at least eight decades of combined experience playing cover songs. The two joined forces for a five-song acoustic set during the Wanee Festival in Florida in April that included a cover of Lady Gaga’s “Million Reasons.” In true Grateful Dead fashion, their version of Gaga’s tune sounded a bit under-rehearsed and had less than perfect harmonies. Amidst the chaos, there’s a few moments of near perfection. Weir’s voice is suddenly haunting as he sings his half of the lyrics, “I bow down to pray/Lord show me the way/I’ve got a 100 Million reasons to walk away,” almost as if he’s been playing the song for 50 years. It’s what the Dead and Phish have always done best: take a seemingly random song and turn into one of their own, with beauty shining through, even with the flaws. – Curtis Zimmermann    

5. Andra Day – Strange Fruit (Billie Holiday cover)

A brilliant deconstruction, an arguably deep jazz based represenation of the sultry southern states, in a sweaty evening, all blood-tinged sunset sky with lynch mob percussion, over which floats an admirably Billie-esque vocal, as foreboding strings and guitar mutter threateningly in the hinterland. Less a cover, more an entire screenplay. Wondrous. – Seuras Og

4. Ásgeir – Where Is My Mind (Pixies cover)

It’s a song that’s been covered many times before, but Icelandic superstar Ásgeir Trausti’s take on the Pixies’ “Where is my Mind” rises to the top. In a style reminiscent of James Blake, Asgeir opens the song with a clipped beat, sparse piano and layered vocals. Within a few minutes, heavily distorted guitars add to the dark moodiness of the piece. There are nods to the original hidden within this cover, but this is also something that stands wholly on its own. – Mike Misch

3. Sky Ferreira – Easy (The Commodores cover)

One of the most catchy soundtracks to emerge this year was the Baby Driver album, with much of the music inspiring scenes in the movie. A stellar standout is Sky Ferreira’s cover of The Commodores’ “Easy.” Not only does Ferreira deliver a beautiful, glossy version of the song, she also plays a role in the heist movie as the lead character’s musical mom. Ferreira’s rendition of the popular song feels just right, which is not an easy feat considering the completely cool, seemingly untouchable vibe of the original. – Angela Hughey

2. Low Cut Connie – Controversy (Prince cover)

When you learn that Low Cut Connie cites both Chuck Berry and Richard Simmons as artists they admire, you’ll start to get the picture. The Philly-based rocking revivalists go the funk route here with their short salute to The Purple One’s classic. The arrangement on Dirty Pictures (Part 1) conjures up thoughts of The Beatles and INXS – that is, until frontman/vocalist Adam Weiner takes things into his own capable hands and the Connies shift hard into party band mode. – Frank Minishak

1. Charles Lloyd & The Marvels ft. Lucinda Williams – Masters of War (Bob Dylan cover)

This is an oft-covered song, in part because its relentless, specific litany of sins applies to so many different decades’ worth of War Masters. In many hands, including Dylan’s, the blistering series of indictments builds and builds, topping one unforgivable charge with another in order to justify what is ultimately a death threat. This version doesn’t do that. It’s not driving. It’s busy, fussy, intricate, distracted, and a little drunk. Charles Lloyd’s sax buzzes dynamically but not forcefully around the edges, breaking the series of charges with circular figures that render the whole thing more insular than showy. Lucinda Williams delivers the lyrics with an imprecise cadence. She’s no less emotional than Dylan or Eddie Vedder, she’s just a bit further into the bottle of whiskey. This is a “Masters of War” for the era of fake news and internet echo chambers. It’s a rant that’s no less potent or moving just because it feels much more conspiratorial and paranoid than other versions. It’s an argument around a holiday table, or a rocking chair sermon, delivered in breathtaking imperfection. This element of risky overstatement, of potential hyperbole, makes one of the angriest songs ever recorded something I’ve yet to hear it be: the ideas here feel truly dangerous, like giving them voice is not so much a rebuttal of war but the way we fight now. – Matt Vadnais

Listen to most of the songs in this Spotify playlist. And catch up on our Best Cover Albums of 2017 and previous years’ best songs lists.

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  22 Responses to “The Best Cover Songs of 2017”

Comments (12) Pingbacks (10)
  1. I love some cover songs. Thanks for the downloading option.

  2. Deeper Well was originally by David Olney

  3. Strange Fruit is not originally by Billie Holiday

  4. Merry Christmas & Happy New Year 2018
    to Ray and all all all here
    from winter Holy Mother Russia & ‘’
    with newest cover from Japanese godiva Coppé and Georgian electronic guru Nikakoi

    * song original/lyrics translate:

  5. #3 is “Ferreira” not “Ferreria” :-)

  6. Nice.Thanks for sharing

  7. Beautiful list shared by you.

  8. Thank you for sharing best cover songs! I’ve really enjoyed your picks. Do you have similar lists for 2016 or 2015? Would be happy to listen!

  9. You guys for real?? How is Depeche Mode’s take on Bowie’s “Heroes” not even on this list

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