Dec 182020
 

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50. Lydia Ainsworth – Good Times (Chic cover)


“Good Times” was ironic when Chic first recorded it, during the malaise of the end of the ’70s. If ever there was a year to recall the uneasiness of those “good” times, this was the one. Lydia Ainsworth takes away the got-to-groove vibe of the original, slowing the song down and baptizing it with electronica chill. It results in a true evocation of a fearful time of the 21st century. Historians, take note: Should you need a soundtrack for your study of the year, Ainsworth’s cover belongs on it. – Patrick Robbins

49. Karen O & Willie Nelson – Under Pressure (Queen & David Bowie cover)

An unexpected pairing: Karen O, poster girl for indie angst, coupled with grizzled ol’ Willie, now more a living semblance of Mount Rushmore than ever. Their voices couple wonderfully, up to, easily, the standard of Willie and Sinéad’s “Don’t Give Up.” On a superbly simple arrangement, with enough memory of the original for those who need it, both singers give it their very best. The middle eight proves especially affecting, Willie beseeching, then Karen pleading, for love to be given another chance. If that doesn’t have you wailing, then the pedal steel will. – Seuras Og

48. Mikey Erg – Mother Nature’s Son (The Beatles cover)


When it comes to choosing songs to cover, the Beatles’ catalog is a ridiculously well-trod place to pull from. Or is it? You’d think that, at this stage of humanity, a millionth Fab Four cover couldn’t possibly bring anything new or compelling to the table. Yet against all odds, in this hellish year of 2020, Mikey Erg has managed to do it. Included on his fabulous four-song EP Bon Voyage is a cover of Paul McCartney’s lush acoustic White Album ballad “Mother Nature’s Son”….and it is an absolute ass-kicking joyfest. Thanks to Mikey Erg, turns out the world is a bit better with one more Beatle cover in it. – Hope Silverman

47. Molly Tuttle – Standing On The Moon (Grateful Dead cover)

The long partnership between Jerry Garcia and lyricist Robert Hunter produced a handful of truly classic songs, not to mention one or two dozen simply great ones (depending on who’s counting). “Standing on the Moon” represents one of the last of the Garcia-Hunter collaborations, appearing on the Grateful Dead’s final studio album. The song isn’t “timeless classic” material, perhaps, but Jerry himself had some especially fond feelings for its lyrics, and it struck a chord with fans. In choosing to cover this selection, the immensely talented Molly Tuttle picked a gem that hasn’t been done to death by everyone else. It’s also a winning choice because Tuttle sings it so beautifully while placing her own effortless slant on it. Tuttle titled her 2020 all-covers album …but I’d rather be with you, the title phrase lifted from “Standing on the Moon,” suggesting the song has an extra importance for Tuttle herself. It’s that intimacy with the song that lifts her performance of it out of the ordinary. – Tom McDonald

46. Tom Snowdon – Who Can It Be Now? (Men at Work cover)


Changing a song’s signature elements when covering it can be a risky move. Here, though, the change of the catchy saxophone riff into a sludgy synth works in Snowden’s late-night electronica cover of the Men at Work classic. His breathy vocal front and center, plucks of a distorted bass almost sound like vibraphone strikes, with a simple snare drum beat makes it sound like he’s in the corner, soundtracking your late night musings of a lost love. – Brendan Shanahan

45. The Bobby Lees – I’m a Man (Bo Diddley cover)

In addition to perfecting the riff and beat that bears his name, Bo Diddley wrote many songs that became rock and blues standards. His 1955 hit “I’m a Man” has been covered by numerous artists over the decades. In 2020, the Woodstock, N.Y.-based garage rock band the Bobby Lees released this rowdy, hard-rock cover. The track captures the raw energy of Diddley’s original, while at the same time channeling the spirit of noise rock’s past. It’s loud, dirty rock n’ roll the way it was meant to be played. – Curtis Zimmermann

44. Ruby Amanfu – Bitch (Meredith Brooks cover)

On the soundtrack to the TV show Little Fires Everywhere, Ruby Amanfu transforms the fun ’90s empower-pop anthem into something slower and darker. Amanfu’s powerful voice resides beautifully against a piano and orchestra arrangement that replaces the guitar. There is something almost sinister about the cover, completely turned on its head from the original. It emphasizes the feeling of the narrator’s villainy rather than fondly poking fun at her imperfections. – Ally McAlpine

43. Naeem – You and I (Silver Apples cover)

Within the cacophonous madness of the original “You and I,” Silver Apples embedded a heartfelt bit of love poetry. The hip-hop artist Naeem heard that, and he caught the way the 1969 song resonates again in 2020, how it anticipates our present tense; a line like “Life is full of big machines, and just ain’t room for the little things” seems to touch a contemporary sore point (or maybe it’s the way Naeem croons it). Naeem doesn’t just do a version of the song: this is a tear-down and rebuild situation, not a remodel or touch-up. Something of a shape-shifter himself — he formerly recorded as Spank Rock — Naeem comments that he heard it as a James Brown piece at first. Not that you feel much James Brown in the final product. What you do hear is a completely original statement. The cover eases and soothes where the original sought to disrupt. And where Silver Apples may have distanced themselves from the song’s sentiment, Naeem insists on feeling it and letting listeners feel it too. – Tom McDonald

42. Whitney – Hammond Song (The Roches cover)

Since the release of their superb debut LP in 2016, Chicago indie duo Whitney have been wearing their unabashed love for ’70s AM radio on their sleeves, with brazen nods to Bread, Chicago, and late-era Byrds threading oh-so-sweetly through their songs. This past year, they took things a step further, paying homage to sonic influences and beloved favorites by releasing an exquisite album of covers. The high point of the LP is a lush and swoon-worthy take on The Roches’ “The Hammond Song.” Even band member Julien Ehrlich himself recognized that they’d captured something special in their version, saying, “I think that this is maybe one of my favorite recordings that we’ve ever done. Every time I’ve come back to it, I’m just like I can’t wait for people to hear this.” Neither can we. – Hope Silverman

41. Amigo The Devil – Before He Cheats (Carrie Underwood cover)

On the surface, the acoustic approach to the song creates a more somber version of Carrie Underwood’s revenge anthem. However, don’t be fooled – plenty of bitterness remains. Amigo the Devil maintains the signature caustic digs to both of the involved parties. She still can’t shoot whiskey. He’s creepily still thinking he’s gonna get lucky. – Sara Stoudt

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