Sep 032021

Go back to the beginning

10. Jesse Tyler Ferguson – Alejandro

Our Hit Parade was a monthly cabaret show at Joe’s Pub in New York where singers of all stripes would cover the hottest songs of the day. They didn’t always like the songs (as Bradford Scobie made clear in my favorite video, doing Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite”). But they always had fun with them. Here, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who you probably know best from his role on Modern Family, makes a meal of all the Italian names in this joyfully ridiculous “Alejandro.” – Ray Padgett

9. Orville Peck – Born This Way (The Country Road Version)

The song “Born This Way” is a callback: Lady Gaga had in mind Carl Bean’s 1977 cover of the gay liberation disco hit “I Was Born This Way” when she wrote it. And this year she called back her own song, having Orville Peck reimagine it for the Born This Way album’s 10th anniversary. Smart move to place this anthem into the hands of Orville Peck; as a queer country music artist, he can deliver the song’s message with complete conviction and perhaps a new urgency. It doesn’t hurt that his presence and his voice draw favorable comparisons to Elvis Presley and Chris Issac. Another thing that makes Peck seem kind of at home in the weird constellation of Lady Gaga: he always wears a fringed mask. It has nothing to do with Covid, either; he just wears a fringed mask, and always has.

Peck opens his take with aching pedal steel guitar swells that make this track stand out from any collection of Gaga covers. But the song doesn’t stay long on predictable country music turf; he’s too restless an artist, and anyway the song itself would not fit comfortably into a straight-up country take. The piece may not overpower musically, and Peck dropping into certain old-timey cliches toward the end of the song may feel cloying rather than witty, but Peck’s touch-up of the lyrics, and his additions to them, make a real impression on the material. His originality will make fans of the original song hear things they’ve not heard before, and may open the song to new fans in new ways. – Tom McDonald

8. 30 Seconds to Mars – Bad Romance

Let’s get this out of the way: Jared Leto sings this song. Some people may have a strong reaction to that fact, so fair warning. Still with me? Good, because this is a pretty impressive cover of “Bad Romance” and the main reason is Leto. He’s surrounded by some great accompaniment, in particular solid, crisp drumming and compelling guitar. But all of the bells and whistles here serve to emphasize the pleading, emotional vocals. When the bridge arrives, Leto’s repeated plea “I don’t wanna be friends” reflects the torment that is embedded in the original’s lyrics. Maybe Leto’s acting background helps him here as he wrings this song for all the emotional weight it can deliver. – Mike Misch

7. The Baseballs – Paparazzi

If the problem of being “of the moment” could be defined, it would be the speed of it becoming off the moment. Gaga’s 2009 smash now sounds as dated as early Madonna. So the Baseballs do the song a favor; by aging it in some rockabilly-lite cheese, they give it posterity. Who the Baseballs? Sam, Digger and Basti are a sort of newer Big Daddy, who covered similar territory in the ’80s and ’90s. So they play Rhianna, Beyoncé, all of them in ’50s and ’60s styles. For all its kitschy kookiness, and a production as ersatz as Jess Conrad, I quite like their take on “Paparazzi”; it makes me start to hum along. – Seuras Og

6. Folly and the Hunter – Marry the Night

Folly and the Hunter produced traditional folk-infused rock tracks from 2011 until their final performance in 2018. Their folk sound works surprisingly well here and emphasizes the storytelling factor of the song. Some groovy piano towards the end keeps the track from being too monotone. In place of the electropop grandeur of the original, this track builds through its many layers that swell to a majestic end. – Sabrina Caires

5. Big Freedia – Judas

Big Freedia’s contribution was the first single released from the same Born This Way set that spawned Orville Peck (#9) and The Highwomen (#22), and it feels fitting. Big Freedia and Lady Gaga both channel that “I am unapologetically me” energy. The very beginning of this song makes you think it’s going to be a light rendition, but within 15 seconds, Big Freedia brings the bombastic energy the “Queen Diva” is known for. The big brass and stutter-step percussion present in much of her own work fit in here, replacing some of the heavier techno elements in the original. The song remains theatrical, making this pairing of Ga-ga and Freed-i-a a perfect one. – Sara Stoudt

4. Richard McGraw – Bad Romance

New York singer-songwriter Richard McGraw delivered this folksy take on one of Gaga’s most revered tracks on a cover record he released in 2012 titled Popular Music. It is a strikingly dark take, giving it an almost western sound. The track generally sounds very menacing – listen if only to hear how Gaga’s “ra-ra, ga-ga” chant from the original sounds if you folk-ify it (complete with a choir and all). – Sabrina Caires

3. The Puppini Sisters – Shallow

“Shallow” is, of course, from Lady Gaga’s appearance in the remake of A Star Is Born, the film that caused more than one critic to re-evaluate her. The Puppini Sisters (who aren’t sisters) specialize in Andrews Sisters-style pastiche, often of modern material. Here they carry off the trick of making the song seem from the earliest version of the film, or at least the era within which it was set, 1937. The Pasadena Roof Orchestra, who provide the backing here, are also veterans of recreating pre-war moods, so the performance sounds true to expectation, with few of the knowing winks of, say, Scott Bradlee, whose Postmodern Jukebox the “Sisters” have also played with. – Seuras Og

2. Bob Weir and Trey Anastasio – Million Reasons

It was a perfect jam-band bromance. In 2017, Phish frontman Trey Anastasio and the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir together delivered this acoustic version of Lady Gaga’s country-style ballad “Million Reasons” at the Wanee Festival in Florida. In true jam fashion, the delivery is slightly rough around the edges, but the pair touch on every emotion with the song. They blend elements of sadness, longing and even a touch of joy. Hearing the track now makes you wish both artists would have added it to their respective bands’ setlists. – Curtis Zimmermann

1. Lissie – Bad Romance

Lissie has recorded some of the best covers of the 21st century (if you haven’t heard her version of Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness”, I highly recommend it), and she hits this one out of the park. Lissie brings a little bit of old western attitude to this song with the guitar’s tone (do I sense a little twang?) and the “come hither if you dare” summoning of the “ra-ra”s and “ooh la la”s. As the song progresses, the spoken word interludes with the escalating guitar and percussion tempo tell us we’re about to move up a level. Somehow Lissie summons even more power in each chorus, all of which are sung with such emotion, yet controlled force. Even at the end of the song Lissie adds another layer, with some folk dance ambiance, complete with clapping us out. – Sara Stoudt

Check out more installments in our monthly ‘Best Covers Ever’ series, including Madonna, Joni Mitchell, Beyoncé, Billy Joel, and more.

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