Amanda Shires – That’s All (Genesis cover)
Our first song kicks off what will be a theme here. A lot of these came out at the very top of the year (or the very end of 2020) to kick a garbage year to the curb and hope for something better. Shires said: “’That’s All’ is a song that I have played a lot on tour. The song defines 2020 for me. It’s a true Covid anthem and I dare you to not dance to my version when you hear it!”
Bill Callahan & Bonnie “Prince” Billy – Rooftop Garden (Lou Reed cover)
Bill and Will have released a full album’s worth of covers in the past few months, but for whatever reason aren’t calling it an album – just another single that they drop every week, one after the other. They’re up to 13 or 14 now, always with a special guest joining them. Best of the latest batch is their take on Lou Reed’s rarely-covered Legendary Hearts song “Rooftop Garden,” accompanied by lute player George Xylouris.
Bleachers – The Whole of the Moon (The Waterboys cover)
Apparently Bleachers’ Jack Antanoff had a little extra time after his rooftop session with Springsteen, because he stayed up there to record his Waterboys cover. As if to one-up the E Street Band, he has three sax players wailing away.
dvsn – Use Somebody (Kings of Leon cover)
This song was covered constantly when it came out, but has fallen out of favor. R&B duo dvsn’s new version is the first I’ve heard in ages, and it was worth the wait. A stunning slice of electro-soul, producer Nineteen85 and singer Daniel Daley take the song far from its southern-rock roots, even working in a bit of “Sex on Fire” while they’re at it.
Grandaddy – In My Room (Beach Boys cover)
Another in the year-end covers theme, Grandaddy tackles a song appropriate to our locked-in year. He wrote: “For anyone who claims introversion as a primary characteristic and has found themselves in some sort of career that requires communicating in public, this Beach Boys song is yours. Also, scarily fitting for just being anyone out there in the year 2020.”
James Charles – Drivers License (Olivia Rodrigo cover)
“Drivers License” rocked to number-one so fast the cover-ers are playing catchup. James Charles’ is the first great version I’ve heard. It surely will not be the last. (Incidentally, I just learned writing this that his main gig is apparently as a “controversial YouTube makeup artist.” Huh.)
Jeremy Pinnell – Joey (Concrete Blonde cover)
Country covers of “Joey” have been done before. Why, one made #2 on our year-end list just last month! That one, by Puss N Boots, brought wonderful three-part harmonies to the alt-rock classic. Jeremy Pinnell’s new version strips the song even further back, just him and a guitar he softly strums. The singer’s voice needs to do all the work in a cover like this. Luckily, his is up to the challenge.
K. Flay – Self Esteem (The Offspring cover)
On her new EP Don’t Judge A Song By Its Cover, K. Flay covers songs by The Offspring, Green Day, and Limp Bizkit. What’s the common denominator? “Each song is a reimagining of a 90’s rock hit that was heavily aggressive and male-fronted,” she says. “But when you break them down they are super emotional. So this is me celebrating an era that’s had a huge influence on my career, and kind of excavating the emotionality I found in these iconic songs.”
Karen Elson – Lay All Your Love on Me (ABBA cover)
Another great new covers EP, Radio Redhead, Vol. 1 brings a somewhat folkier approach to songs by Cher, Robyn, ABBA, and more. “Somewhat folkier” because she keeps the core disco spirit lurking beneath the strumming guitars – hand claps and all.
R+R=NOW – How Much a Dollar Cost (Kendrick Lamar cover)
If the phrase R+R=NOW doesn’t mean much to you, the all-star group’s lineup of pioneering jazz musicians might: Robert Glasper, Terrace Martin, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, Derrick Hodge, Taylor McFerrin, and Justin Tyson. That’s them in the photo up top. In 2018, the group played a few nights as part of Glasper’s residency at iconic jazz club the Blue Note. Now they’ve culled a live album from those shows, featuring this inventive Kendrick Lamar cover, which takes K-Dot’s already pronounced jazz influences to their logical conclusion.
Widowspeak – Romeo and Juliet (Dire Straits cover)
Dream-pop Dire Straits might not work on, say, “Money for Nothing.” “Romeo and Juliet,” on the other hand, is a perfect fit for Widowspeak’s hushed sound. “There are also so many different associations wrapped up in the song for me: remembering the first times hearing it, putting it on mix CDs, the teen movie soundtracks, even the Indigo Girls cover,” singer Molly Hamilton said. “Sometimes you just want to sing something that feels like a friend, ya know?”
The Best of the Rest
Animal Years – White Flag (Joseph cover)
Antlered Auntlord – Casper (Daniel Johnston cover)
Black Pumas – Sugar Man (Rodriguez cover)
Caroline Polachek – Breathless (The Corrs cover)
Cristin Milioti – 715 Creeks (Bon Iver cover)
David Ford – Go Your Own Way (Fleetwood Mac cover)
Eddie Vedder – Growin’ Up (Bruce Springsteen cover)
Emel Mathlouthi – Rhapsody (Siouxsie and the Banshees cover)
Fleshgod Apocalypse – Blue (Eiffel 65 cover)
Hongjoong – Numb (Linkin Park cover)
Julien Baker – Fell on Black Days (Soundgarden cover)
“Fell on Black Days” starts about 43 minutes in
Joshua Henry – Stand Up (The O’Jays cover)
Kandle & Kendel Carson – Down By The River (Neil Young cover)
Kishi Bashi – Early Morning Breeze (Dolly Parton cover)
Natalie Gelman – Never Be Lonely (America cover)
Ruel – It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over (Lenny Kravitz cover)
Sondre Lerche – Rain on Me (Lady Gaga ft. Ariana Grande cover)
Steven Wilson – The Last Great American Dynasty (Taylor Swift cover)
Tom Jones – Talking Reality Television Blues (Todd Snider cover)
Trent Reznor – Fantastic Voyage (David Bowie cover)
Violet Orlandi – Head Like a Hole (Nine Inch Nails cover)
We Are KING – Space Oddity (David Bowie cover)
Years & Years – It’s a Sin (Pet Shop Boys cover)
Check out previous months’ best covers lists.