Nov 122019

Go back to the begin the begin… (but not to Rockville)

25. No Doubt – It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

There may be no performance that captures Y2K better than No Doubt’s New Year’s Eve performance in 1999. Gwen Stefani is energetic and frenetic, but at times seems to lose her place in the admittedly-hard-to-cover song. It doesn’t seem like it matters to the crowd, though, because it’s really all about the idea of the song more than the execution. Who knows all those words, anyway? This is about raw energy that comes with any new beginning, and even more so as we crossed into the new millennium. And, like civilization itself this News Year’s Eve, it seemed like it could collapse at any moment. – Mike Misch

24. Old 97’s – Driver 8

In 2010, Old 97’s released covers EP Mimeograph, which included their version of R.E.M.’s “Driver 8,” and they occasionally trot out a cover of the song during their live shows. Both bands, of course, are stalwarts of whatever the alt-country movement was, with R.E.M. bringing jangle (at least initially) and Old 97’s bringing twang (more or less). Not surprisingly, the cover falls somewhere in between, with the twang edging out the jangle. Plus, it is easier to understand the lyrics when Rhett Miller is singing. – Jordan Becker

23. Sara Quin feat. Kaki King – Sweetness Follows

The original version’s electric feedback noises during the instrumental breaks contrast with the acoustic guitar and the ever-present foghorn beat (actually produced by a cello, not a foghorn alas). Leading with a style more electronic than electric, the version by Sara Quin (of “Tegan And” fame) has less sonorous background music, but the acoustic guitar layer remains the same. Quin’s vocals lend some of the deepness that is missing without the cello lines. Quin and Kaki King contributed this to a free Stereogum cover album to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the multi-platinum album Automatic for the People, which offers a number of worthy contenders for a list like this. – Sara Stoudt

22. The Feelies – Carnival of Sorts (Boxcars)

“Carnival of Sorts,” which first appeared on R.E.M.’s I.R.S. Records debut Chronic Town, was the first R.E.M. song that sunk its hooks into me. I’m still not sure why it isn’t more highly regarded. R.E.M. have acknowledged The Feelies as an influence, and Peter Buck produced the band’s second album. The Feelies often cover R.E.M., and when they do, it is usually this song. They even performed it at a star-filled R.E.M. tribute show in 2009 at Carnegie Hall. The band’s live cover is faithful to the original, and its insistent rhythm and beat highlight the intersection of the two bands’ sounds. – Jordan Becker

21. Dolapdere Big Gang – Losing My Religion

Dolapdere Big Gang have come close to making a few of these lists, from the Stones (a “Satisfaction” that sounds more like “Paint It Black”) to Madonna (a horn-flecked “La Isla Bonita”). The large ensemble’s approach is the same throughout: Turn pop and rock staples into grand Middle Eastern epics. It’d be a gimmick if this Turkish band wasn’t so damn good at it. They blend traditional rock instruments with regional instruments like the many-stringed qanun – a smart swap for the mandolin on “Losing My Religion. – Ray Padgett

20. Hem – So. Central Rain

Hem’s approach to “So. Central Rain” is slower than the original, replacing the hefty percussion and electric guitar with acoustic strums. The whole song has a country flair, allowing an instrumental break for even a mandolin. Sally Ellyson’s “sorry”s are more resonant, strengthened by the echoes produced by her bandmates’ light harmony. She delivers the apology less pleadingly and more resignedly, a “girl without a dream.” – Sara Stoudt

19. 10,000 Maniacs – Don’t Go Back To Rockville

If I.R.S.-era R.E.M. weren’t full enough of jangle, the Maniacs here up that quotient with mandolin (with me wondering if that gave you-know-who any ideas) and Natalie Merchant’s characteristic vocal driving the song. I still feel either version could have made a terrific single. The two bands had a close association in the early days, with the Maniacs often acting as support, sufficient to have the press, or maybe their respective agents, to cook up the hint of romance between Stipe and Merchant. Unlike R.E.M., the Maniacs are still on the road, despite Merchant jumping ship some decades ago and they produced a not-half-decent covers project of old English folk standards in 2015. – Seuras Og

18. Redbird – You Are the Everything

In 1987, R.E.M. left I.R.S. Records and signed with a major label. This was a big deal in those days. In response, the band decided to do some experimenting – writing more straightforward rock songs such as “Stand” or “Orange Crush” while also writing songs featuring mandolin and accordion such as “You Are the Everything.” Adding to the experimentation, drummer Bill Berry played the bass on the track. Redbird, a collaboration between folk singer-songwriters Kris Delmhorst, her husband Jeffrey Foucault, and Peter Mulvey, recorded their self-titled album in 2003, sitting around a living room on one microphone. Their version of the song is reminiscent of a campfire singalong, if everyone at the fire was a professional musician. – Jordan Becker

17. You Say Party! We Say Die! – Nightswimming

Automatic for the People, R.E.M.’s perfectly sad masterpiece, featured a song that Michael Stipe described as being about “an innocence that’s either kind of desperately clung onto or obviously lost.” You Say Party! We Say Die! understand that in their cover of “Nightswimming.” They lived it a few years later, when their drummer died and they changed their name to just You Say Party. Either way, the remorse for a time no longer available permeates both versions, one acoustically and one electronically. – Patrick Robbins

16. Hootie & The Blowfish – Driver 8

This cover comes from the rare (though not only) cover album named after a Waffle House reference: Scattered, Smothered, and Covered. Hootie & the Blowfish’s instrumentation is similar to the original, the bass forming the foundation for the more nimble guitar lines. Darius Rucker’s voice is soulful and delivers the lyrics at a slightly more measured pace than the original. Rucker sings more of a tired, world-weary, “take a break” rather than Michael Stipe’s frantic one. – Sara Stoudt

15. Great Big Sea – It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

The tumble of disconnected words and phrases in R.E.M.’s original sounds pretty headlong and breathless – until you hear Great Big Sea’s version, which comes in at almost a minute and a half shorter without missing a single verse. No hardcore version this, either; there’s a lilt to it, making it sound merrier than the original. You’ve no doubt that when they say they feel fine, they actually mean it. – Patrick Robbins

14. SKAndalous All-Stars – Radio Free Europe

I know ska-punk covers are anathema to many, seeming a simplistic way to break a song down into its lowest common denominators. I think this harsh, as there are many well-crafted cacophonies that buck that stigma. This collective, culled from a slew of other bands active in the genre – as well as from, intriguingly, the Klezmatics and Living Colour – show just how much joy can be added to an already upbeat song. The song, R.E.M.’s first release back in 1981, was originally faster than on Murmur‘s rerelease two years later. Surprisingly, this is marginally slower than either, albeit propelled by gorgeously skanky guitars, horns parping contentedly for the chorus, some spindly soloing carrying the middle eight all the way to Kingston, Jamaica. – Seuras Og

13. Furthermore – Fall on Me

“Fall On Me” tries on a whole new set of clothes from Furthermore’s closet, changing it into a trip-pop song with a much sparer sound. If the original was less a wall of sound than a closed Venetian blind of sound, Furthermore opened that blind to let in the air and space, providing much slimmer shadows in the process. – Patrick Robbins

12. Grant-Lee Phillips – So. Central Rain

With a voice not so different from Stipe’s, Phillips applies a languid, swampy feel to “So. Central Rain,” evocative perhaps of a call for rain in the dog day afternoons of a bone-dry month. Acoustic guitar shimmers behind what sounds like harmonium, the singer sounding a whole lot sorrier than Stipe ever managed. Stipe himself called Phillips’ band Grant Lee Buffalo’s debut as the “best album of the year, hands down.” Alongside and adjacent to the on-off nature of the band, Phillips has had a commendable, if low-key, solo career. This song comes from his 2006 covers album nineteeneighties, devoted to predominantly British songs of that decade, with R.E.M. and the Pixies the sole representatives of his own country. – Seuras Og

11. Patti Smith – Everybody Hurts

2007 saw the release of Patti Smith’s first covers album Twelve. It was a straight-up love letter to her youth, as well as a quirky “my mom’s been sneaking into my room and playing my records” kind of thing. The album is 12 tracks long – hence the title – but oddly, one of the better tracks didn’t make the cut and was relegated to “bonus track” status: “Everybody Hurts” (now officially track #13 in streaming versions of the album). Stipe’s eternal Patti fandom laid the groundwork for what is a friendship for the ages, with each of them regularly turning up at one another’s appearances and regularly heaping rapturous, deserved praise upon one another during interviews, performances, and in book form. Patti turns “Everybody Hurts” into a gospel song, with a beauteous and incredibly soulful vocal performance that you don’t often get to hear from her. – Hope Silverman

The list continues on Page 3.

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  6 Responses to “The Best R.E.M. Covers Ever”

Comments (5) Pingbacks (1)
  1. This was interesting but I was hoping for the reverse:Songs covered by REM…

  2. Wow! Nice collection but surprised that there’s no Tori Amos, The Corrs, Dashboard Confessional (full album of covers), Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs, the compilations Welcome To The Occupation: A Reverence to R.E.M. and Finest Worksongs: Athens Bands Play the Music of R.E.M., as well as the Helping Haiti charity single.

    • I nominated Patterson Hood’s “Don’t Go Back to Rockville” from Finest Worksongs, but sadly it didn’t make the cut.

  3. On your #9 pick, Dar Williams sings lead. Aside from that, I completely agree with your description of CCC’s version!

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