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20. Arc Iris – Ramble On (Led Zeppelin cover)

Saying that Arc Iris’s cover of “Ramble On” sounds nothing like Led Zeppelin’s original is like saying a Picasso painting looks nothing like an Ansel Adams photo – it’s very true, but that doesn’t make it a lesser work. This reconstruction of the first two verses and chorus turns an old half into a new whole, changing the melody and instrumentation, and there’s an entirely different feeling it gets when it looks to the east. – Patrick Robbins

19. Chris Anderson – Eh-Hee / Digging In The Dirt (Dave Matthews / Peter Gabriel cover)

Composer Chris Anderson draws from some pretty deep wells of music knowledge on his album Song Cycle. He covers Peter Gabriel twice, on a beautiful “Mercy Street” and more subtly here, working bits of “Digging in the Dirt” into – of all things – a gospel Dave Matthews cover. A Dave Matthews cover is not the sort of thing I would ever imagine enjoying, but the mesmerizing Stevie Wonder-esque arrangement elevates it to the stratosphere. – Ray Padgett

18. Galantis & Dolly Parton – Faith (John Hiatt cover)

Of course this is risible nonsense, but it is good risible nonsense, another chapter in the Dolly Does Disco catalog that is making up into the makings of a not half-decent box set. So, take the barest memory of a John Hiatt classic, and forget it. Add some Europop noodling, awash with sub-Cher vocoder and wait for the blue touch paper to ignite. With a near “Heeeeere’s Dolly” fanfare of anticipation, the Swiss EDM boys are casually trampled aside and she’s in, vocals wonkier than any old electrickery can provide. This is prime emmental aged in cream soda, and served with a schooner of moonshine and Coke. Just enjoy it, before you dispose of it. – Seuras Og

17. Eagles of Death Metal – Abracadabra (Steve Miller Band cover)

I’ll be honest: I’m not a Steve Miller fan. I chose to write about this cover sound unheard because I figured it would have to be an improvement on the original “Abracadabra.” It’s a song that I’ve seen described as “seemingly effortless,” which is a nice way of saying “it’s like he didn’t put any work into it.” But Jesse Hughes of the Eagles of Death Metal is an honest-to-God fan, and with Saw actress Shawnee Smith joining in on the chorus, the song sounds sexier, less product and more expression. So yeah, it’s an improvement. – Patrick Robbins

16. The Bird and the Bee – Ain’t Talking ‘Bout Love (Van Halen cover)

In 2010, the Bird and the Bee (Inara George and Greg Kurstin) released Interpreting the Masters Vol.1: A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates. Their covers proved so reverential, original, and joyfully irony-free that nowadays when someone dares to attempt a Hall & Oates cover, the question is no longer whether it’s as good as the original, but whether it’s as good the Bird and the Bee cover. This past year saw the duo releasing volume 2 in the series, this time dedicated to the legendary Van Halen, more specifically the timelessly melodic, virtuosic and garish party machine version of the band encapsulated within the David Lee Roth Years 1978-1985. While the original version of “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” was dominated by Eddie’s sublimely memorable guitar lines, the duo’s version instead focuses the darkness within the lyrical content. The song is transformed from a comic, maybe slightly misogynistic rocker into a moody, noirish and sinister piece of synth-pop that lies somewhere between Kraftwerk and Berlin. It sounds like a completely different song, and with it, The Bird and The Bee have raised the bar yet again. – Hope Silverman

15. Starcrawler – Pet Sematary (The Ramones cover)

No, it’s not “Don’t Fear the Reaper” you’re listening to, though the opening riff is so similar you might think so. It’s Starcrawler’s cover of The Ramones “Pet Sematary,” and it’s fantastic. Recorded for the motion picture reboot of Pet Sematary, the Starcrawler cover is decidedly more rock than punk. With growling guitars, rock solos, and chorus harmonies, the cover achieves an edgier feel than the original. – Angela Hughey

14. William Tyler – Go Your Own Way (Fleetwood Mac cover)

By now, “Go Your Own Way” has become a part of the national fabric. We know the song, we know the story behind the song, we could sing most of the words in our sleep. William Tyler’s cover is an acoustic instrumental, which leaves the listener to let the vocal play out in the back of the mind. But that leaves the front of the mind to slowly grow aware of Tyler’s ability, his intricate fingerwork, how beautifully he’s telling this old story, and we find ourselves under the spell of Mac Magic one more time. – Patrick Robbins

13. Dan Navarro – Sweet Sixteen (Billy Idol cover)

While Billy Idol is best known for his glossy, trashy anthems, one of the best songs in his canon is 1987’s rockabilly ballad “Sweet Sixteen”. Though he employs his trademark growl on the chorus, his overall performance on the song is unusually subdued. And the subject matter isn’t as obvious as it may seem on the surface. It’s not about hanging out the car window being an inappropriate jackass, but is actually based on the life of Edward Leedskalnin, engineer and stonemason who never got over his 16-year-old fiancé running away the day of their scheduled wedding. He was so distraught he fled his home country of Latvia for Florida and embarked alone (allegedly) on an art project beginning in the early 1920s that took decades to complete: building a huge coral monument dedicated to her that came to be known as Coral Castle. Reading about this story of obsession, unrequited love, and loss inspired Idol to pen the song. For their part, Dan Navarro first came to fame with songwriting partner Eric Lowen as the writers behind Pat Benatar’s 1984 Top 10 anthem “We Belong.” Soon after that success, the duo stepped out of the background and embarked on their own performing career. 2019 saw Navarro release his first solo album since the death of his beloved bandmate Lowen, and his cover of “Sweet Sixteen” is a true highlight. He transforms the shimmery ’80s vibe of the original into country folk lament that shuffles with true sweetness and sadness. – Hope Silverman

12. Rayland Baxter – Come Back to Earth (Mac Miller cover)

One experiences a whirlwind of emotions when listening to Rayland Baxter’s cover of Mac Miller’s “Come Back to Earth.” Baxter recorded it as the closing track of Good Mmornin, a seven-track EP he released in tribute to the rapper who died of an overdose in 2018. Baxter reworks the track with a lush, pop arrangement as if it was a lost deep cut from Pet Sounds or Smile. At first, Baxter’s sings Miller’s lyrics about darkness and depression with sadness in his voice. The words “I’ll do anything for a way out of my head” are especially haunting given Miller’s death. Baxter then gives the song an uplifting ending, followed by an extended outro, making the track feel like cathartic release. Even with this, you’re still left haunted, longing for all the great songs Miller will never write. – Curtis Zimmermann

11. Lana Del Rey – Doin’ Time (Sublime cover)

“Doin’ Time” is sadcore songstress Lana Del Rey’s version of this track from Sublime’s 1996 self-titled (and final) studio album. Musically structured on George Gershwin’s “Summertime,” the lyrics tell the story of the singer trapped in an unfulfilling relationship with an unfaithful female partner. The emotional constriction is so severe, the singer feels as if he is in prison; hence, the title. Del Rey’s version is a little slower and a little less edgy, with heavier orchestration, but remains lyrically faithful to the original. The video is an homage to the 1958 sci-fi movie Attack of the 50-Foot Woman. This choice presents an interesting counterpoint to the narrative of the lyrics: the movie features a philandering boyfriend on whom the titular character seeks revenge. The combination of the arrangement, the visuals, and Del Rey’s smoky vocals combine to make this one of the best covers of 2019. – Bob Potemski


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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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