Sep 032021

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30. All Time Low – Alejandro

Overshadowed by “Bad Romance” and a Beyoncé appearance on The Fame Monster, and talked about more for its controversial music video than its sound, “Alejandro” is a surprising choice for the pop punk band All Time Low. They double down on the song’s boldness by stripping it down rather than trying to compete with the original’s over-the-top energy. The sense of longing, despite the narrator pushing away various lovers, is especially pronounced in this acoustic version. Upon reading the comparison between the sound of the original song and Ace of Base’s “Don’t Turn Around,” I can’t unhear it, but in the acoustic version, those sound-matching frills fall away, and we are left with a simple story. – Sara Stoudt

29. Catherine A.D. – Telephone

This version of “Telephone” has so much weight. Every component of this song for nearly two minutes is just heavy: the thunderous, plodding piano, the swelling strings, and the main event, Catherine A.D.’s voice. She almost slurs her words as she glides her way through the opening lines, turning a song about cell phones in the club into a melodrama. There are breaks in this style, more staccato sections, but the song always returns to the beautiful, heaviness Catherine has crafted. – Mike Misch

28. The Musgraves – The Edge of Glory

This UK country/bluegrass quartet give a real Darkness of the End of Town Springsteen ambience to this song. The simplicity of the Musgraves’ rendition is astonishing, replacing all that kitchen-sink-and-all production with the mournful voice, the angsty drawn-out fiddle, and as much overcast sky as in the whole of Nebraska. Wiki refers to the band in the past tense, indicating they are no more, and, contrary to the expectations of the name, they are not a family unit. It looks as if they only managed one EP, ahead of their van and equipment being stolen on the eve of a prestigious showcase gig opportunity. – Seuras Og

27. VanJess – Bad Romance

A cappella covers of Gaga songs abound, but the pair of Nigerian-American sisters in R&B duo VanJess, Ivana and Jessica Nwokike, veer away from the genre’s collegiate cliché, substituting some serious gospel harmonies and inventive hitting-the-wall percussion. After a number of their covers went viral, they got signed to a major label a few years back. No surprise. – Ray Padgett

26. Sondre Lerche – Rain on Me

Sondre Lerche brings his ’80s pop influences to twist the electronic characteristics of this 2020 hit. The original uses sparkly electronic production to bring about feelings of joy and relief, whereas this track uses a sunny acoustic guitar strum before it delves into the electronic break. Lerche’s vocals are laid-back and glide smoothly over the verses and chorus. Despite still being dance-pop, this cover’s production is not as busy as the original, which allows the lyrics to shine. – Sabrina Caires

25. Hydria – Aura

Starting on this list, I was worried it was going to be 90% “Bad Romance,” “Telephone,” and “Poker Face.” And, to be sure, we have plenty of each. But it’s a credit to the depth of Gaga’s catalog, and her well-earned perception as an artist as well as a pop star, that people cover the deep cuts too. “Aura” comes off Gaga’s derided 2013 album Artpop, and, on their cover from around that time, heavy Brazilian band Hydria reclaim the song as a symphonic metal epic. – Ray Padgett

24. Honeywagon – The Fame

Honeywagon have recorded tribute albums saluting Michael Jackson, the Rolling Stones, and Blink-182, to name a few. They’re a bluegrass band, a sentence fragment that will have more than one reader skipping ahead to the next entry. But hold your horses, folks – this is no faceless “Pickin’ On” ensemble coasting on irony here. “The Fame,” from their 2013 tribute album Gaga, finds Honeywagon doing more than just stripping away the electronics. It’s an intricate arrangement, invested in the lyrics even as they don’t speak to their station in life. There’s neither trappings of novelty nor mockery, and the cover is truly the better for it. – Patrick Robbins

23. Mika – Poker Face

Mika’s “Poker Face,” recorded live in the BBC Live Lounge studios, is a well made and put together deconstruction of the original and its analog synth schtick, seeming to have a little of the appeal of Billy Joel. The piano-man vibe is well supported by the bass and drums and it sashays along quite briskly, and manages to both respect and reject virtually all of the original mood. – Seuras Og

22. The Highwomen – Highway Unicorn (Road to Love)

Who better to sing about the power of the highway than The Highwomen? The supergroup is composed of four gifted musicians and songwriters – Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris, and Amanda Shires – each of whom had smashing successes in Americana and country music settings before joining forces. As a collective, their sound transcends the genres they rose up in. On “Highway Unicorn” they sound a little like Heart circa 1980 (never mind that most of these woman were born well after 1980). Their 2019 cover of “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac channels that same time period, and while it’s a stirring performance, it doesn’t reveal much more than the band’s ability to faithfully recreate a song. On “Highway Unicorn,” by contrast, they fully demonstrate their talents for reimagining a song.

Lady Gaga’s electropop is a much bigger leap from Americana/country than is the music of Fleetwood Mac, so it’s no surprise The Highwomen would want to remodel the original rather extensively. Then again, Highwoman Natalie Nicole Hemby has written a few songs with Lady Gaga, so maybe the distance between these artists is not that wide after all. They bring in some light touches to counter whatever is overwrought in “Highway Unicorn” (the drum sticks perform a galloping pattern, in a nod, I guess, to the pony that appears part way into the song). And they do it with additional vocal firepower from Brittney Spencer and Madeline Edwards. – Tom McDonald

21. Queen of Hearts – Marry the Night

Although this band didn’t win the Perez Hilton “Marry the Night” Cover Contest, you have to appreciate the effort. This rendition is heartfelt, and the band’s rock guitar approach would fit right in with the evolution from techno pop to more rock and roll sounds on the Born This Way album. The singer’s performance reminds me of Adam Lambert’s on Glee, but the performance isn’t merely carried by the strong vocals; the guitar riffs are subtle but skilled. – Sara Stoudt

The list continues on Page 3.

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