Dec 182020

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30. Sunny War – Stayin’ Alive (Bee Gees cover)

“Give me eight minutes,” producer Robert Stigwood told the Bee Gees before recording this song. “Eight minutes, three moods. I want frenzy at the beginning. Then I want some passion. And then I want some wild frenzy!” Sunny War’s cover of “Stayin Alive” takes care of the eight minutes, but she throws the frenzy out the window. This is a “Stayin’ Alive” you can cool down to. She didn’t leave out the passion, though; just because the cover’s soothing, that doesn’t mean you can’t feel how emotional and heartfelt it is. Cover artists love to deconstruct “Stayin’ Alive”; the brush strokes Sunny War applies make her portrait a worthy addition to the Bee Gees cover museum. – Patrick Robbins

29. Jenny Owen Youngs – Teenage Dream (Katy Perry cover)

Where the original was a power-pop blast embodying the feeling and spirit of being a teenager, Youngs has slowed down this Katy Perry chart-topper to a more reflective and quieter tone. The powerful drums have been shrunk into subtle beats, the soft synths fill your headphones, all focused around a breathy vocal that puts you into a dream-like state. Youngs has turned a pump-up anthem into a nostalgic dream trip that can be listened to on repeat for as long as you’d like to stay in that dream. – Brendan Shanahan

28. Hexvessel – Fire of the Mind (Coil cover)

“Fire of the Mind” was the opening track of post-industrial band Coil’s final studio album, 2005’s The Ape of Naples. An unsettling listen, the track, with its refrain of “Holy, holy,” plays as if it was stolen from a bleak Catholic service and blended with elements of electronica. For their take, Finish psych-folk-rock band Hexvessel reimagined the song as an acoustic Irish-style folk tune that plays as if it has been passed down through the ages. The group explores the dark depth of lyrics that remind us that “Man is the animal.” – Curtis Zimmerman

27. Gretchen Peters – Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) (Mickey Newbury cover)

A song that hasn’t aged at all well, or at least the hokey arrangement applied by Kenny Rogers’ unwieldy attempt to massage psychedelic guitar and swirling keys into some mature Nashville cheese. There are much better versions out there, including Mickey Newbury’s original, and it is to that that Gretchen Peters here offers a greater comparison. A song of sad reflection rather than fun, Gretchen’s honeyed tones usher in a mood of desolate acceptance, fuzzy guitar and piano introducing the mood, organ and vibraphone giving added texture. I don’t think she has ever sounded so bleak. It suits her. – Seuras Og

26. Marika Hackman – Realiti (Grimes cover)

Here’s yet another lockdown cover from a lockdown album, but an exceptional one. British indie-rock singer Marika Hackman takes on Grimes’ 2015 EDM track “Realiti” equipped only with plaintive voice, piano, guitar, and synthesizer. She makes it sparse, atmospheric, and resolutely non-danceable, to reflect the sense of inconsolable loss in the lyrics. She’s quietly devastating, in fact, when she sings as one reaching out to a lover from the past and remembering how “your love kept me alive and made me insane,” in contrast to her present life where there are “only mountains to climb.” The backwards effects and slowed-down backing vocals add to the impression that her blissful relationship, so distant to her now, has taken on an unreal, intangible, and dream-like aspect. – Adam Mason

25. Fu Manchu – Takin’ It to the Streets (Doobie Brothers cover)

Fu Manchu is one of the biggest names in stoner metal, and after 30 years, they proved they haven’t lost a step on their Fu30, Pt. 1 EP. It includes a cover of “Takin’ It To the Streets” that could not be more dissimilar from the Doobie Brothers’ version. Doom-laden chords, growled vocals, an air of menace overpowering any melodies – this is what Michael McDonald’s nightmares sound like, and I submit that that’s not a bad thing. – Patrick Robbins

24. Bill Callahan And Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy ft. Matt Sweeney – OD’d in Denver (Hank Williams Jr. cover)

Whoever first touted that these two voices could fit together deserves some sort of medal – Callahan the dark brown basement vibration, Oldham the keening wind through an open attic window. If separately they are essential listening, together they should be compulsory. With Matt Sweeney’s guitar and some muted electronica, the duo ply an almost Cohen-esque vibe to Hank Jr.s no-doubt accurate narrative. Actually not a bad song in its original incarnation, this gives it a way more spooky take, with a feel that the OD was fatal. I can’t stop playing this, one of a current run of joint performances dropping slowly, one by one. – Seuras Og

23. Lucy Dacus – Lips Of An Angel (Hinder cover)

Let us go back in time to the year of 2006 and discuss a song, a truly ridiculous, posturing, patronizing epic titled “The Lips Of An Angel” by a band called Hinder. It’s no understatement to say that back in the mid-’00s, these “Lips…” were everywhere. Booming from megastore speakers, blasting on car radios, floating through the air as you walked down the aisles of Rite Aid… a bombastic fantastic Soundgarden meets Kiss-style cheating anthem with a video so excruciatingly literal it resembled an SNL skit. Lucy Dacus’s version transforms “Lips” into a jangling, acoustic dreampop hymn of absolute and utter longing. It’s positively majestic. It’s so convincing that you may find yourself actually feeling sorry for the song’s protagonist. [Update: She’s taken it off Bandcamp, but you can still get it as part of the Save Stereogum album.]Hope Silverman

22. Nick Cave – Cosmic Dancer (T. Rex cover)

Yep, that really is Nick Cave singing, “What’s it like to be a loon? I liken it to a balloon.” The same guy who brought us such lyrics as “I don’t believe in an interventionist god.” It’s a surprising combination, certainly, but the highly unlikely cover of T.Rex’s “Cosmic Dancer” actually works. And well! Cave recorded the 1971 glam-rock ballad for the late Hal Willner’s final tribute album, AngelHeaded Hipster: The Songs of Marc Bolan and T.Rex. He stepped up to the mark, too, fulfilling the celebrated producer’s ambitious task to give the T.Rex front man his due as a composer. Cave demonstrated that you didn’t have to be a flamboyant, glitter-obsessed icon of glam-rock to sing “Cosmic Dancer.” You could instead be a pale, emotionally intense, baritone-voiced kind of guy, able to bring a high level of profundity to pretty much any line (probably even “Get it on, bang a gong”). Under his guidance, the song is translated into something slower and more mournful, minus the psychedelic effects and the “aaaah” backing vocals, and plus glum-sounding violins and oboes. Cave amplifies the unusual suggestion of darkness within Bolan’s song to make it more conceivable that it is, indeed, about reincarnation and the overwhelming burden of feeling cosmically old when physically young. – Adam Mason

21. Eli Paperboy Reed – Do It Again (Steely Dan cover)

Eli Husock, better known as Eli Paperboy Reed, is a soul-inspired singer, songwriter and guitarist. Hailing originally from Massachusetts and now based in Brooklyn, Reed channels the heart and soul of the Mississippi Delta in all of his performances. With “Do It Again,” Steely Dan’s ode to addiction and lack of control, Reed replaces the familiar percussion/piano intro with a bluesy guitar/drum shuffle. The rest of the song gets a similar treatment, layering some organ towards the end of each verse, with horns coming in full force on the chorus. The result is an engaging, polished, completely reimagined version that elevates the chorus from hook to hero. – Bob Potemski


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  One Response to “The 50 Best Cover Songs of 2020”

Comments (1)
  1. Prince sometimes it snows in april cover
    Good listening

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