Dec 172018

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10. Zayn – Can’t Help Falling in Love (Elvis Presley cover)

“Can’t Help Falling in Love” has gotten a whole lot of attention from a whole lot of artists over the years (we’ve certainly shared plenty), but former One Directioner Zayn Malik’s cover goes in a new direction, and a very welcome one. The song’s melody is massaged, the volume moves all around as instruments drop in and out, and Zayn’s voice glides around and through the sound like it’s only lived there all its life. Result: a sensuous R&B with a magic chill to it. He may have a boy-band background, but Zayn’s cover is the work of a mature artist, and we can’t help falling in love with it. – Patrick Robbins

9. Cake – Reincarnation (Roger Miller cover)

Cake is that odd, loveable band that manages to succeed with sounds that, wielded in lesser hands, might come across as cheesy. Case in point: their cover of the Roger Miller song “Reincarnation.” The sharp vocals and guitar, combined with easy drums and harmonies, cross the decades to make an oldie sound pretty new. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it’s a worthy tribute to a great voice in honky-tonk history. – Angela Hughey

8. Bronze Avery – Never Gonna Give You Up (Rick Astley cover)

The definition of “pop” may change over time, but a song’s romantic appeal does not. Rick Astley may be old enough to be Bronze Avery’s father, but that doesn’t matter when Avery sinks his teeth into Astley’s immortal hit. Instead of the original’s meme-able 1980s dance moves, aerial body shots by the pool incite the kind of drooling that happens with true pop music fantasy romance. Given Bronze Avery’s hip-hop leanings, his daring move to cover this classic is an admirable one. Just like Astley’s seductive looks through aviator shades melted our ’80s hearts, Avery’s smooth, belting vocals will sweep anyone off their feet, no matter the time period. – Elizabeth Erenberg

7. Meshell Ndegeocello – Sometimes It Snows In April (Prince cover)

If imitation is but flattery, then this version, dragged back to the pure essence of the song, is surely sincere. Ndegeocello, never a stranger to classy cover versions, effortlessly adds by subtraction. Jump to the 2:40 mark, where she breaks briefly into upper key and it is just wonderful. Altogether less fancy than the original, however restrained it is by Prince standards, this is truly a masterclass in control. – Seuras Og

6. Melvins – I Want to Hold Your Hand (The Beatles cover)

Melvins has taken “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” a song that made 1960s teenagers pass out from screaming, and allowed modern-day teenagers to also pass out from screaming – but for very different reasons. They bring in squealing guitars and heavy-metal drums, while still keeping the classic vocal harmonies of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. That’s all you can ask for in a situation like this. It inspired me to listen to the original right afterward, and then go back to this one again. So uniquely different and yet friendly to one another. One of the top YouTube comments says: “This is how you do a cover.” I tend to agree. – Elizabeth Erenberg

5. Sugarland – Tony (Patty Griffin cover)

A good year for “Tony” covers means a bad year for America. Patty Griffin’s powerful, painful story of homophobia and self-hatred remains sadly relevant these days. Americana singer-songwriter Mark Erelli covered the tune in January on his covers album as a stripped-down stomper in the mold of The Band. Country music powerhouses Sugarland, though, go big in a chill-inducing live performance. The pomp and circumstance of the arena-sized production only give the raw and brutal lyrics that much more power. Bonus credit due, too, for a band not just preaching to the choir. Country music remains just about the only genre left where a chunk of the audience leans right on social issues, so performing this particular song shows the band taking a stand on a subject where it counts. – Ray Padgett

4. Choir! Choir! Choir! ft. David Byrne – Heroes (David Bowie cover)

This version of “Heroes” boasts more performers than the other forty-nine covers here combined. That’s because it’s performed by a large crowd of amateurs. Their voices may not be any great shakes alone, but when properly guided and raised en masse, they channel great waves of emotion. Floating above them all is the voice of a man who does know how to sing, and in David Byrne the song has the perfect vehicle for expression of self-belief – still gawky and earnest after all these years, still knowing the key that will set listeners free. No song this year caused more goosebumps and moist eyes on my person than this one. – Patrick Robbins

3. Hot 8 Brass Band – Love Will Tear Us Apart (Joy Division cover)

Oh no, not another cover of this old staple, say you. Hang on, say I, I can guarantee this is nothing like any of the others. For a start it is cheerful and upbeat, making a joyful mockery of the lyrical sentiment. But if you dance at funerals – the origin and epitome of the New Orleans marching band tradition – hell, yeah, this makes for more counter-intuitive sense than you could ever shake a leg at. Hot 8 have history here and this takes them to another level. – Seuras Og

2. Biffy Clyro – Modern Love (David Bowie cover)

One of the year’s more irreverent covers – and, from my limited research playing this for people, one of the most polarizing. A screamo take on David Bowie will do that, I suppose. Scottish trio Biffy Clyro’s pulverizing hard rock works wonderfully for me, though, remaking a great lyric and melody in the band’s image. Having deliberately chosen a Bowie song that sounded nothing like them, they dispense entirely with the original’s swing, and the gospel choir, in favor of a pummeling rage. Singer Simon Neil tempers the throat-shredding verses with more melodic choruses, providing moments of welcome relief from the hollering. Releasing this as part of a Bowie tribute set, they surely knew they would piss off some Bowie fans. Their willingness to go full-throttle anyway puts this above just about any other Bowie cover released since his death. – Ray Padgett

1. John Prine ft. The Secret Sisters – I Just Called to Say I Love You (Stevie Wonder cover)

What John Prine did to “I Just Called To Say I Love You” is amazing. He didn’t just remake it; he had to crack through both the tremendously thick crust of schmaltz around the song and the long-stewing resentment against the song. In Prine’s hands, it’s not a joke anymore; it actually means something. I went into listening to his performance with a healthy dose of cynicism; I came out with my cynicism destroyed, replaced by a sense of wonder. If, like me, you don’t think you want to hear it at first on account of all that you associate with it, I’m asking you to give it the chance it deserves. It may be the only cover I’ve ever heard that has the power to make you a better person. – Patrick Robbins

Find most of these songs in a Spotify playlist (though fair warning: It doesn’t have some, including three of our top five). And click here for our Best Cover Albums of 2018 list!

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  7 Responses to “The Best Cover Songs of 2018”

Comments (3) Pingbacks (4)
  1. Merry Christmas and HNY2019 Ray!
    Let always there will be the sound of music!

  2. Check out “Houses of the Holy” from H.C. McEntire

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