Oct 302020

Go back to the beginning

10. Dion – Book of Dreams (Bruce Springsteen cover)

Eight years after their release, Springsteen’s Lucky Town and Human Touch albums – released the same day in 1992, after he’d canned the E Street Band – seemed like footnotes. But buried beneath cheap ’90s production and E-Steet-Lite band performances lurked some great songs. Dion, of “Runaround Sue” and “The Wanderer” fame, heard one on “Book of Dreams,” transforming it into a doo-wop song a good bit better than Bruce’s own recording. Bruce appeared on Dion’s new album just a few months ago; maybe he still feels he owes him for rescuing this great song from ’90s obscurity.

9. Holly Golightly – Use Me (Bill Withers cover)

White Stripes fans probably know Holly Golightly best as being Jack’s sassy duet partner on Elephant standout “It’s True That We Love One Another.” But her recording career predated that 2003 breakthrough moment by nearly a decade. Three years before Elephant, her album God Don’t Like It featured this wonderful jangle-pop Bill Withers cover.

8. Chris Whitley – Spanish Harlem Incident (Bob Dylan cover)

I’ve mentioned a few artists who competed with themselves for this list, but perhaps no one released more A+ covers in 2000 than Chris Whitley. His album Perfect Day features knockout cover after knockout cover. If we hadn’t picked this one, it would have been his take on another Dylan track, “4th Time Around.” Or maybe the Doors’ “Crystal Ship.” Or one of the three blues covers (“Smokestack Lightning,” “She’s Alright,” “Stones in My Passway”). But, in the end, nothing quite topped “Spanish Harlem Incident.”

7. Ann Dyer & No Good Time Fairies – Taxman (The Beatles cover)

Speaking of great covers album, Ann Dyer & No Good Time Fairies’ Revolver (A New Spin) is a must-own. Dyer goes free-jazz-freakout on songs from the classic Beatles album, warping and mauling them at times beyond repetition. I settled on “Taxman” partly because we already had an “Eleanor Rigby” on this list (#41), but that cover, and the entire album, are well worth the time to track down too.

6. Sherie René Scott – Bargain (The Who cover)

When we eventually tackle The Who in our Best Covers Ever series – and we really should soon – it’s gonna be hard for anything to top Sherie René Scott’s soul workout on “Bargain.” The original recording is unquestionably great, a Who classic. But to my ears, Scott’s is even better.

5. Chumbawamba – New York Mining Disaster 1941 (Bee Gees)

#3 on our recent list of the 50 Best Bee Gees Covers Ever came from an unlikely source: Chumbawamba. Unlikely, that is, if you only know the band for their one big hit “Tubthumping.” In fact, they’d been recording politically-minded protest music about workers and unions for years before their fifteen minutes of fame, so a song about a fictionalized mining disaster is right in their wheelhouse.

4. Cat Power – Satisfaction (Rolling Stones cover)

If this list tackled the best covers albums of 2000, Cat Power’s The Covers Record would be at or near the top of the list. Part of me wanted to pick a lesser-known selection for this list; her versions of “I Found a Reason” and “Sea of Love” are sublime. But ultimately nothing tops the album’s first and best-known track, her Joni Mitchell-esque reimagining of “Satisfaction.”

3. Ani DiFranco – Used Cars (Bruce Springsteen cover)

Badlands: A Tribute to Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska has so many great covers it took effort to not put every one on this list. You already heard one (Raul Malo, #26), and this one’s even better. Ani DiFranco takes a generally overlooked Springsteen song and makes it as powerful and poignant as anything The Boss ever recorded.

2. Alison Krauss – Down to the River to Pray (Traditional cover)

Yes, we made it almost to the end of our list without yet mentioning a true covers phenomenon in the year 2000: the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. Against all odds, the Coen brothers took a bunch of old traditional songs to number one, selling eight million albums and earning the Grammy for Album of the Year. For the purposes of this list we’ll give the edge to Krauss, but honestly the whole album is every bit as good as the hype. (And if you’ve never seen the Grammy Awards performance with Krauss, Gilliam Welch, Emmylou Harris, Ralph Stanley, and more, it’s worth your time).

1. The White Stripes – Death Letter (Son House cover)

The White Stripes have not yet revealed the tracklist of thier forthcoming Greatest Hits album, but I sure hope “Death Letter” is on it. First released on their 2000 album De Stijl, it became a staple of their incendiary live shows; Setlist.fm lists it as their third most-played track, ahead of even “Seven Nation Army.” It was reliably a source of Jack White going absolutely insane on distorted bottleneck guitar solos while Meg pounded along next to him. They captured that lightning in a bottle on the initial studio version too, setting the template for their many great blues covers to come.

Want more? Check out previous retrospectives on the best covers of 1996, 1987, 1978, and 1969!

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