Dec 182020

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20. Gillian Welch & David Rawlings – Hello in There (John Prine cover)

There could be no more poignant tribute to John Prine than Gillian Welch and David Rawlings’ bluegrass rendition of “Hello in There,” released on their lockdown album of covers, All the Good Times. Welch particularly was inspired by the celebrated US songwriter, who we lost in April, and it is she who provides the lead vocal on his timeless rumination on old age and loneliness. This in itself makes it stand out from the multitude of covers of the song, her voice so soaked in mournfulness and regret. Rawlings, meanwhile, provides the beautiful guitar picking he is renowned for, along with perfect harmonies on the chorus. But it’s the intimacy of the piece that really wins it, from having been recorded at home on a reel-to-reel tape machine. Welch sounds like she’s confiding to you in her front room, softly breathing life into those heartbreaking lyrics: “Old people just grow lonesome / Waiting for someone to say, ‘Hello in there, hello’.” – Adam Mason

19. Nichole Wagner – Life During Wartime (Talking Heads cover)

Dance Songs for the Apocalypse, Nichole Wagner titled her cover EP, and “Life During Wartime” serves as the perfect opener and descriptor. The Talking Heads original was as claustrophobic as the dance floors it filled. Wagner’s given the song more space, without relieving any of the anxiety. Indeed, the cities David Byrne asked if we’ve heard about have been replaced by locations of mass shootings in the past few years – except for Pittsburgh, PA, which didn’t need to be replaced because it had a mass shooting to call its own. It’s a song for those who wanted to feel their 2020 troubles and dance them away at the same time. – Patrick Robbins

18. Miley Cyrus – Zombie (The Cranberries cover)

One does not simply sing “Zombie;” belting it out is mandatory. Thankfully, Miley Cyrus obliges. This cover doubles down on the heavy rock elements, complete with electric guitar shredding interludes. Yet Cyrus’s strong and smoky voice still holds up to the powerful accompaniment. Although she doesn’t quite capture the little Irish lilt in the repeated “zombie” lines, we can’t deny the energy put into the delivery. – Sara Stoudt

17. Lianne La Havas – Weird Fishes (Radiohead cover)

Ever since Radiohead took the sharpest left turn in rock history with Kid A in 2000, their songs have become more challenging to cover. Far easier to have a crack at “Creep”! Yet British singer-songwriter Lianne La Havas doesn’t seem to have had too much trouble with her reinterpretation of “Weird Fishes,” principally because she and her band possess serious jazz chops. The group rework the In Rainbows track with supreme confidence, with Dan See providing the catalyst through his inspired drumming. He nods initially to the jittery energy of the 2007 original, before scaling back the beat as if to say, “…but we’ll do it this way.” Then some heavy keys, the super-smooth vibrato of La Havas, a stunning a cappella section midway through, and some hellishly nifty guitar on the outro. In fact, the track has one of the best final crescendos you could wish for, gospel backing and all, to accompany the narrator’s descent into an unknown that is scary and weird, but where there is a way out of troubled existence. “I hit the bottom and escape,” sings a soulful, ecstatic La Havas. We believe it. – Adam Mason

16. Ritt Momney – Put Your Records On (Corinne Bailey Rae cover)

This coffeeshop calm tune becomes even more dreamy with a solid backbeat in the hands of Ritt Momney. Lots of sounds are blended together; there’s a little auto tune, a little tinkly toy piano. However, all of these are mixed in a way that feels natural rather than an aural grab-bag. – Sara Stoudt

15. Bartees Strange – About Today (The National cover)

Like many songs by The National, the words here are already painfully melancholy, barely hidden behind the serene music. Bartees Strange makes the vocals the focus, replacing Matt Berninger’s baritone with his double-tracked half-whisper. The pounding drums of the original are reduced to a throbbing kick drum, hidden behind swirling noises. The song feels just as serene and sad, delivered in a different way. – Mike Misch

14. Adam Green – All Hell Breaks Loose (Misfits cover)

Former Moldy Peaches guitarist/vocalist (alongside Kimya Dawson) Adam Green steps out of what would appear to be his comfort zone to tackle the third song on The Misfits’ debut album. Green doesn’t attempt a full-on horror punk rendition, but he also shies away from the minimalist indie rock or twee-folk that might be, you know, more Adam Green-ish. Instead he indulges in a string section and some orchestral arrangements for a more early Scott Walker feel in a version that fits nicely next to Scott’s 1-4 (if the vocals were a little deeper and the pace was halved). – Jay Honstetter

13. Lingua Ignota – Jolene (Dolly Parton cover)

Jolene was a woman who flirted with Dolly Parton’s husband, and prompted her to write one of the most influential songs of the 20th century. She left a lot to the imagination, too – was Jolene just the victim of the singer’s paranoia? Or maybe the object of the singer’s crush? With Lingua Ignota’s cover of “Jolene,” there’s another theory a YouTube listener suggested: Jolene is Death, come to collect the singer’s man, and the singer’s pleading with Jolene not to take him. This interpretation gains power once you hear the intensity of these vocals, which come closer to full-on terror than Dolly’s ever did. If it’s new light you’re looking for, Lingua Ignota sheds plenty of it here. – Patrick Robbins

12. Bedouine, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Waxahatchee – Thirteen (Big Star cover)

It’s been covered again and again, but Big Star’s best known song gets the love because it’s well-deserved. The simple melody and lyrics of early teenage love and angst is timeless. Bedouine, Waxahatchee, and Hurray for the Riff Raff first covered the song in 2018 while on tour together, each taking a verse. Like many other versions of the song, they stick close to the original, but it’s nice to hear their different voices on each verse. When they harmonize at the end of each verse, though, the song soars to new heights. – Mike Misch

11. Two Minutes to Late Night – Ever Again (Robyn cover)

An exciting cover with an even more creative video, a collaboration between Royal Thunder, Mastadon, and Spirit Adrift created a cover of Robyn’s “Ever Again” in the style of Thin Lizzy for the show Two Minutes to Late Night. Although a big digression sonically from Robyn’s dance pop song, the cover has the same attitude, with an added bit of sass. The entire cover is loud, fun and one of the best internet live show videos to come out of quarantine. – Ally McAlpine


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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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