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40. MØ – Bullet with Butterfly Wings (Smashing Pumpkins cover)

Danish vocalist MØ somehow finds a way to create a song that sounds extremely different from its source material while also being incredibly reminiscent of it. MØ’s vocals are raspy and expressive and take center stage here. The song is slower and prettier, but the heavy reverb on the drums and the melodic bass guitar somehow create a late-’90s alternative feel nevertheless. – Mike Misch

39. Unwoman – Heroes (David Bowie cover)

We here at Cover Me are rather keen on Unwoman (Erica Mulkey). A friend of the site, she has come to short-noticed aid for us when a song is badly crying out for a cover, delivering the goods for those moments when all the world needs is a steampunk electrocello rendition of… well, nearly anything. Not that that is good enough reason for her inclusion here today. Inclusion here requires quality, and this has it in shovelfuls. A one-time collaborator of icy string quartet Rasputina, Mulkey takes that band’s sometimes 2D approach to a different level, with enough humanity to transcend beyond what might otherwise retain only novelty appeal. There is enough Viennese concert hall here to cut through the black top hat and taffeta that band might have provided, cutting some soul to the strychnine. Here, Bowie’s Berlin seems a more hospitable place than when the Thin White Duke lived there, the vocal more an appeal than a cry of despair. – Seuras Og

38. Lettuce – Everybody Wants to Rule the World (Tears for Fears cover)

No Tears for Fears song has been covered more than 1985 hit “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” (despite “Mad World” being another choice, it’s not even close). The tune’s distinct melody and poignant words, combined with its unapologetically ‘80s sound, continues to inspire artists to put their own spin on the track. This year, we saw multiple covers, including renditions by the likes of Weezer and Pomplamoose. The standout among this group is this version by the jam band Lettuce, who included the cover on its album Elevate. The group reworked the track as a mellow-soul slow jam, blending elements of funk and hip hop. The album version is solid, but like any jam band, the music is meant to be experienced live. In concert, the band opened the track with a long, slow keyboard intro and included extended mid-song sax and guitar solos. Tears for Fears never sounded so groovy. – Curtis Zimmermann

37. Jenn Champion – My Name Is Jonas (Weezer cover)

Over an insistent, pumping synth bass line float the echoing vocals of Jenn Champion, formerly of Carissa’s Wierd. The lyrics are crisp and clear; that’s often true in a cover that serves to highlight the depth of the song, but in this case it’s really the opposite. The lyrics don’t really seem to mean much, even though we can hear them better. Champion’s cover has an almost sanitized feel to it compared to Weezer’s relatively unhinged original. There are little fun synths and harmonies that happen throughout, but the strength of the song still hinges on that continuous bass walk and Champion’s dispassionate voice. – Mike Misch

36. Rhiannon Giddens – Gonna Write Me a Letter (Ola Belle Reed cover)

One of Rhiannon Giddens’ passions is to look for the connections among music of different styles and cultures. Her project with multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi, There Is No Other, is, as her record company noted, an exploration of “the overlooked movement of sounds from Africa and the Arabic world and their influence on European and American music.” “Gonna Write Me a Letter,” by Giddens’ fellow North Carolina-born female banjo player Ola Belle Reed, is a classic Appalachian bluegrass lament about forbidden love. Giddens and Turrisi (joined by Kate Ellis on cello and viola) transform it into a Middle Eastern-inflected dirge that is no less powerful than the original, and demonstrates how a good song can work across continents. – Jordan Becker

35. Dan Mangan – Losing My Religion (R.E.M. cover)

How could I have been missed this in my Good, Better, Best piece on this song earlier this year? Mea culpa, for it is a delight, totally deconstructing all of the integral parts, retaining some, changing others. (What, no mandolin?!) I can’t define the genre, a potent mix of acousticity and electronica, Mangan’s voice a gentler analog of Stipe, his vocals multi-tracked in the chorus, giving almost a flavor of Gregorian chant, offset by the percussion laying in. And then out again, all with that insistent underbubble of sequencer, the distant piano chords a memory of the tune, the almost flamenco of the guitar the sole constant. – Seuras Og

34. Ohmme – Kicking Television (Wilco cover)

Chicago is one of the most tightly-knit music communities in the country, so it’s no surprise that Chicagoans Ohmme chose to cover their local heroes Wilco. Talented multi-instrumentalists Macie Stewart and Sima Cunningham comprise Ohmme, whose ties to Wilco go back to Stewart’s previous band Kids These Days, which Jeff Tweedy produced. “Kicking Television” is an outtake from the original release of A Ghost is Born, and was selected as the title track for their follow-up live album. Ohmme’s version manages to be both more melodic (sometimes) and more discordant (at other times) than the original. Stewart and Cunningham draw on their background in improvisational and experimental music to make this track less of a tribute and more of their own, as when they rely on vocals to perform the eight note guitar hook mid-song. While the cover is perhaps not as frenetic as Wilco’s live performances of the song, it’s still a whole lot of fun. – Bob Potemski

33. Kelsey Lu – I’m Not in Love (10cc cover)

It’s taken almost 45 years, but finally someone has gotten it right. Since its initial recording in 1974, 10CC’s otherworldly ballad “I’m Not in Love” has been sampled constantly, imitated unsuccessfully, and misinterpreted endlessly. Within the world of cover versions in particular, it’s been relentlessly mishandled, and to be frank, it’s deserved far better than it’s received. But then again, maybe that’s a tribute to just how perfect and sonically untouchable the original is. At best, a cover can only get within the proximity of it, close but never touching. Enter Kelsey Lu. One of the highlights of her unclassifiable new album Blood is her stellar version of “I’m Not in Love.” Lu instinctively recognizes and accentuates what made the song so great in the first place: the layered wanting of the vocals, the heartrending melody line, and the emotionally monumental closing minute. She knows the sound is not meant to be lean and spare, but stirring and huge. This cover comes as close as anyone has ever gotten to truly capturing the widescreen emotion of the original, a stunning take of a song that was pretty perfect already. – Hope Silverman

32. The Wandering Hearts – Nothing Breaks Like a Heart (Mark Ronson ft. Miley Cyrus cover)

The original song definitely has country and folk roots, but hearing it stripped of Ronson’s production emphasizes these aspects. The Wandering Hearts, an Americana band from London, maintain the richness of the vocals that Cyrus brings to the original while having the numbers to produce layers of harmonies. We even get a little bit of “Jolene” thrown in there for good measure, an ode to Cyrus’s cover. The ending increases in tempo and urgency, the acoustic style getting less dainty in anticipation of a broken heart (thanks for that, Jolene). – Sara Stoudt

31. Lissie – Dragula (Rob Zombie cover)

Yes, this is one of those covers from a movie that takes the original song and slows it way down in a minor key for dramatic effect. But, unlike many of those, this one is going to stick with you, for a couple reasons. First, “Dragula” by Rob Zombie is one of those songs that everyone knew and forgot. It’s great cover material from the standpoint of “Oh yeah, I remember that.” On the other hand, it’s a very strange original song and a tough song to cover. Lissie rises to the challenge the same way she’s done on many covers in the past: through the power of her vocals. The music and her voice grow more powerful and dramatic throughout. By the time the song ends, you’ll be too engrossed to remember that you’re even listening to a cover. – Mike Misch


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  One Response to “The Best Cover Songs of 2019”

Comments (1)
  1. What about Steve Earle & Los Refugios Tiernos – Señor (from Mayans MC), Bob Dylan cover

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