Go back to the beginning… (but not Rockville)
10. Sugarland – The One I Love
This cover is simple and slow, contrasting the upbeat R.E.M. crowd favorite. A dainty guitar line intros this cover and remains throughout the song. The deep voice of Kristian Bush starts the dedication; Jennifer Nettles joins in as the echo and then takes over. The richness of both voices really stand out without the heavier percussion and electric guitar of the original. They pack extra punch in “Fire!”, and the entwining voices of Bush and Nettles blend with the similar entangling of their instruments. – Sara Stoudt
9. Cry Cry Cry – Fall On Me
Cry Cry Cry were a terrific folk supergroup of Richard Shindell, Dar Williams, and Lucy Kaplansky. With only one record to their name, 1998’s eponymous release, this was an all-covers but one piece, irrespective of their all being more than capable of penning a good song individually. This, the opening track, is probably the most upbeat of the record, straying little from the original arrangement, perhaps taken at a slightly faster lick. The innovation comes in the impassioned vocal of Kaplansky, the vocals of the other two slotting in effortlessly alongside for the chorus. Undoubtedly the calling card for the rest of the album, “Fall On Me” surely drew in a fair few punters, my purchase of it tribute to that. – Seuras Og
8. The Decemberists – Cuyahoga
R.E.M. is an acknowledged influence on The Decemberists, though R.E.M.’s (early) lyrics were unintelligible on purpose, while many of The Decemberists’ lyrics are unintelligible unless you own a thesaurus. Nevertheless, it was probably surprising that Colin Meloy and company began a live radio appearance for 2011’s The King is Dead with a cover of R.E.M.’s environmental anthem from Lifes Rich Pageant. Maybe it was because R.E.M.’s Peter Buck appeared on three tracks on The King is Dead. The band worked out the arrangement in the studio, so it is very faithful to the original, and as you can hear at the end, they then moved on to “some songs that we know.” – Jordan Becker
7. Band Of Susans – 1,000,000
If R.E.M. had recorded their Chronic Town EP with two more Peter Bucks, their version of “1,000,000” might have sounded like the Band of Susans’ cover. The band draws from jangle, feedback, abrasion, and distortion, then proceeds to make hooks out of them all. Not a bad Stipe-like vocal either, delivered by drummer Ron Spitzer. – Patrick Robbins
6. The Gibson Brothers – Everybody Hurts
The Gibson Brothers have made a name for themselves in the roots music community by blending traditional bluegrass with elements of rock and country. In 2018, the duo recast R.E.M.’s heartbreak classic “Everybody Hurts” into a late ‘60s/early ‘70s countrypolitan-style ballad. With its lonesome country twang and vocal harmonies, the cover is an ideal track for drowning one’s sorrows in a late-night saloon. The group turns the final chorus into a rousing singalong, giving even the most weary of brokenhearted lovers a brief respite from the sadness. – Curtis Zimmermann
5. Rosie Thomas – The One I Love
If “The One I Love” is classically misrepresented as being a love song, this rendition surely might add to that belief, so pared back is the instrumentation and so pure is the vocal, almost a lullaby. A threadbare acoustic arrangement gets the job done in the just-long-enough time it takes to realize quite what is being sung. Thomas covered the song for 2006 album These Friends of Mine, which included the presence of Sufjan Stevens, with whom she has often toured. Covers lovers may recognize her name from the Springsteen tribute Badlands, in which she duets with Damien Jurado on “Wages of Sin.” – Seuras Og
4. Jawbreaker – Pretty Persuasion
I somehow missed Jawbreaker completely during their early ’90s heyday, only discovering them when I heard Lucero cover their song “Kiss The Bottle.” Jawbreaker’s take on one of the most quintessential R.E.M. songs is scuzzy and grungy, and sounds like what rock music sounded like during that period. The cover first appeared on Surprise Your Pig: A Tribute to R.E.M., a collection of indie and punk covers released in 1992, and later on Jawbreaker’s 2002 album of previously unreleased material. – Jordan Becker
3. Dan Mangan – Losing My Religion
Dan Mangan’s 2019 cover of “Losing My Religion” is a spacious and sprawling cover of the classic. The opening of fingerpicked acoustic guitar and single kick drum gives a false sense of simplicity, but if you’re listening closely, there’s also some ominous and atmospheric piano and other instrumentation. As a chorus of Mangan’s voices sweep in, the song continues to throw additional sounds, building and falling back away so that nothing ever feels settled. The song is not the strangest departure from the original but adds enough variety throughout that you’ll keep coming back to hear it again. – Mike Misch
2. Fischerspooner – Fascinating
R.E.M. released its long-neglected rarity “Fascinating” in 2019 to raise money for hurricane relief in the Bahamas. The band had twice left the song on the digital equivalent of the cutting room floor; in 2001, they opted not to include it on Reveal, and in 2004 they left it off Around the Sun (their recording did leak out). In 2009, Michael Stipe urged the electro-rock outfit Fischerspooner to record it. The group subsequently released a cover as a bonus track for the album Entertainment. Fischerspooner reworked R.E.M.’s ballad as a dreamy bit of ‘80s style electro-pop that lives up to the song’s title. – Curtis Zimmermann
1. First Aid Kit – Walk Unafraid
R.E.M.’s original starts slightly ominously and builds up in motivational tenor. There is less build up in this cover, but the Swedish sisters of First Aid Kit maintain their vocal intensity and the resulting haunting ambiance throughout. Their harmony adds richness to the overall sound. This slightly folkish cover appears in the movie Wild, based on the true story of a woman who goes to hike the Pacific Crest Trail to recover and find herself after a divorce. The lyrics could not be any more fitting for the storyline. “If I have a bag of rocks to carry as I go / I just want to hold my head up high.” – Sara Stoudt
Check out more installments in our monthly ‘Best Covers Ever’ series, including Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Radiohead, and Pink Floyd.
This was interesting but I was hoping for the reverse:Songs covered by REM…
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.
On your #9 pick, Dar Williams sings lead. Aside from that, I completely agree with your description of CCC’s version!