20. Boom Operators – Nutbush City Limits (Ike & Tina Turner cover)
Boom Operators’ “Nutbush City Limits” sound nothing like the Ike & Tina Turner original. Does that mean it sounds like Bob Seger’s famous version instead? Not even close. The band (about whom I can find little information – anyone know?) blend acid house and industrial for a cover that sounds like a city limits. Not a place you want to stay long, but it’s fun to get a taste of the dark menace.
19. Everything But the Girl – Downtown Train (Tom Waits cover)
Everything But the Girl’s “The Only Living Boy in New York” just ranked high on our Paul Simon covers list. When we finally get around to Best Tom Waits Covers, their “Downtown Train” will rank higher too (higher than Rod’s, certainly). As they do on so many of their best covers, they take a song not written as a duet and make it totally work as a back and forth between a man and a woman. Now it’ll break your heart twice.
18. Violent Femmes – Do You Really Want To Hurt Me (Culture Club cover)
Though they get covered constantly, Violent Femmes haven’t done that many covers themselves in their long career. 1986’s “Children of the Revolution” (originally by T. Rex) is probably their best, but “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me” is up there. The Culture Club’s ’80s-pop hit sounds nothing like the Femmes, but Gordon Gano transforms it. When he whines “why why why why,” it could just be another Femmes original.
17. Barenaked Ladies – Lovers in a Dangerous Time (Bruce Cockburn cover)
As someone who doesn’t consider himself a fan of either Barenaked Ladies or Bruce Cockburn, I was surprised how much this got under my skin and into my head. Barenaked Ladies’ debut single, years before “One Week” sent them supernova, “Lovers In a Dangerous Time” is mellower than some of their own big hits, a gentle folk-rock number with jazzy piano, brushed drums, infectious harmonies, and an honest-to-god cello solo. Fun fact: The Barenaked Ladies also did one of the worst covers of 1991, covering Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” for the Coneheads soundtrack – a truly cursed sentence.
16. Dinosaur Jr. – Hot Burrito #2 (The Flying Burrito Brothers cover)
It always makes me laugh that the Flying Burrito Brothers doubled down on their terrible band name by naming not one but two songs “Hot Burrito.” Blech. But you can’t let the name throw you. “Hot Burrito #2” is a hell of a song in its original country-rock incarnation, sung by the legendary Gram Parsons, and it’s a hell of a song in this raw and ragged grunge incarnation, sung – or, rather, sneered – by J. Mascis.
15. FMT Featuring Camilla – 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover (Paul Simon cover)
Need to get amped up to leave your lover? If the original song is too mellow and you want more of a dance club vibe, try this cover. Couple Frank Meyer-Thurn and Camilla Hüther helped form Germany’s dance music scene at the tail end of the ’80s. Part of their contribution was this cover. It starts out with some synth “doo doo”s typical of your favorite early ’90s dance track and features a syncopated backbeat throughout. At first the change in beat emphasis in the chorus makes singing along a bit tricky for those used to the original, but the new groove quickly sinks in. (Sara Stoudt, via Good, Better, Best: “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”)
14. Dr. John – Deal (Grateful Dead cover)
Deadicated, one of the first big tributes albums of the ’90s (which I wrote about in my book on the subject), provided a lot of contenders for this list. Cowboy Junkies’ “To Lay Me Down”? Indigo Girls’ “Uncle John’s Band”? Jane’s Addiction’s “Ripple”? All great. Hell, I even have a soft spot for Midnight Oil’s nutty “Wharf Rat.” But ultimately the good doctor himself won out. He wasn’t as of-the-moment as some of these other bands. His contribution is timeless.
13. Fatima Mansions – Paperthin Hotel (Leonard Cohen cover)
Another tribute album that could have provided half this list was I’m Your Fan: The Songs of Leonard Cohen (speaking of my book…). A number of tracks landed on our recent Best Leonard Cohen Covers list, so I wanted to mix up this 1991 list with some different selections. Fatima Mansions’ “Paperthin Hotel” wasn’t even on the album proper; it was on a four-song More Fans EP that rounded up some second covers the featured artists did (including John Cale, who famously did “Hallelujah” on the main album, reinventing “Queen Victoria”). This “Paperthin Hymn” starts mellow, but soon explodes into chaos, sounding Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds with a sledgehammer.
12. Buddy Guy – There Is Something on Your Mind (Big Jay McNeely cover)
Look, you don’t need me to tell you Buddy Guy is one hell of a guitar player. But what the the-axe-trics sometimes mask is that he’s one hell of a singer too. Take this blues ballad, from Guy’s commercial breakthrough, after decades in the business, Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues. It’s piano and organ driven, with Guy’s guitar licks almost an afterthought. The focus is his emotive, powerful singing.
11. Vic Reeves – Abide in Me (Traditional cover)
Vic Reeves is these days better known as a British comedian, but in 1991 he released a synthpop album with some real credentials: It was co-produced by The Human League’s Philip Oakey. Riding the dance music trends of the year, he wildly reimagined a Christian hymn as something that could explode on the rave floor. Think Moby with more hair.
The list continues on Page 6.