Dec 172021

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50. Tenacious D – You Never Give Me Your Money / The End (The Beatles cover)

When Tenacious D first released their version of the Abbey Road medley this summer, Paul McCartney himself called it “fantastic.” With the world becoming increasingly off-the-wall, and a flurry of Beatles activity arising in the latter half of the year, witnessing The D’s cover at the close of 2021 somehow feels even more glorious to behold. With just a furiously strummed acoustic guitar and Jack Black and Kyle Gass, still wannabe Rock Gods, singing in impassioned falsetto, Tenacious D explode the medley into an epic fireball — a loony, yet somehow cathartic, Rock ’n’ Roll crown jewel, and a fitting final track for a truly insane year. – Ben Easton

49. Lana Del Rey – For Free (Joni Mitchell cover)

If you think Joni Mitchell’s epitome of 1970 Laurel Canyon is not necessarily the sort of song to fit into Lana Del Rey’s usual template, fear not. This is a singer who knows her covers. Del Rey excises much of the deprecating jauntiness in Mitchell’s original, at least vocally. Meanwhile, the fancy piano provides almost a counterpoint to the all-engulfing sadness of her tones, ratcheted up a further level or three as the heavenly chorus of backing vocalists Weyes Blood and Zella Day swoop in. The lyrics, whilst typically Mitchell, sound personal to Del Rey. The whole is brought bang up to date, or at least to the sepia-tinted dateline Del Rey here inhabits, with only the barest hint possible of the Dixieland coda in the original. Utterly and beguilingly beautiful. – Seuras Og

48. Something to Do – Levitating (Dua Lipa cover)

Did the world need a ska cover of Dua Lipa? Of course not! But no one really needs ska, do they? It’s all about fun, and it doesn’t get more fun than this extremely hooky take on Dua Lipa’s massive hit. This wasn’t done with any too-cool-for-school irony either, winking at some pop star that was “beneath” them. As the band explained when they released it, they’re genuine fans: “It felt like Dua Lipa really did what we’re always trying to do, which is put together a group of songs where every part of every song works as a hook – it’s just so well done. I think you could do ‘Levitating’ in literally any kind of style and it’d work very well and it was pretty easy to work up a banger ska version because of how great the original is – minimal part changes, mostly contextual stuff.” – Ray Padgett

47. dvsn – Use Somebody (Kings of Leon cover)

With this R&B opener, you would not guess that you are about to hear a Kings of Leon cover. The song is completely transformed, yet the cry-for-help feeling remains. The “oh whoa”s, now contributed by background vocalists, help transition this to a different sense of longing, with another Kings of Leon song, “Sex on Fire,” worked into the middle of the song. This topic change leads into an instrumental interlude, one that I’m taking to be the “rock out” equivalent in this reimagining, that ends with a very extended fade out. – Sara Stoudt

46. Memoryhouse – No Reply (The Beatles cover)

When asked where the band Memoryhouse got the idea to record Mania, an EP of Beatles covers (on our Best Cover EPs of 2021 list!), singer Denise Nouvion said that after COVID-19 escalated her anxiety disorder, “I needed something to focus on, something to bury myself in.” Covering the Beatles was her antitoxin of choice: “The world is dark but the Beatles have their own orbit, their own energy that we could live off. It was less about is this a good idea and more about a desperate need to find joy.” Indeed, full immersion into the world of John, Paul, George, and Ringo will prove fascinating and uplifting to nearly anyone – witness the worldwide reaction to Get Back – and Memoryhouse prove that even their less-happy songs can bring an injection of gratification. “No Reply,” a dramatic tale of infidelity and the wrenching pain that comes from seeing the light, gets the dream-pop treatment, and the underwater shimmer Memoryhouse gives the song feels right, beautiful, and true. – Patrick Robbins

45. Los Lobos – Sail On Sailor (Beach Boys cover)

Back in 2014, I wrote an In The Spotlight piece about Los Lobos, and observed that over their long career, they “have demonstrated that not only can they play pretty much any style of music, they can play it very well.” This was fully demonstrated on 2021’s Native Sons, an album of covers (except for one original) of songs originally written and recorded by artists from their native Los Angeles. As singer David Hidalgo said about their cover of “Sail On Sailor,” “How do you do an album about L.A. and not include something from the Beach Boys?” Why this song, of all of the great songs they could have chosen? It turns out that the original was sung by Blondie Chaplin, who was briefly a member of the Beach Boys in the early 1970s; Chaplin was a friend and mentor of Los Lobos, and had performed a cover of “Sail On Sailor” with them. It’s a beautiful, faithful cover, but it still sounds like a Los Lobos song. – Jordan Becker

44. Jess Cornelius – I Can’t Tell You Why (The Eagles cover)

I always sensed something sinister in the Eagles’ “I Can’t Tell You Why.” I couldn’t really put my finger on it, but it always felt like there was something darker going on, unlike most other songs the Mellow Mafia had their fingers on. Well, Jess Cornelius’s simple but noisy cover finds that sinister edge. In this version, the fraught relationship depicted in the lyrics of the song is given sonic life in the distorted rhythm guitar, the atonal lead part, and Cornelius’ haunting voice. If the song was intended to be tender, it isn’t any longer. – Riley Haas

43. Widowspeak – Romeo and Juliet (Dire Straits cover)

On their Honeychurch EP, Brooklyn duo Widowspeak took Dire Straits’ “Romeo and Juliet” as far away from its classic rock origins as it’s possible to get. They cited its “many associations,” particularly “teen movie soundtracks,” as their influence in recording it, clearly conscious of the level of cool the song’s acquired from featuring in such flicks as 1995’s Empire Records and 1998’s Can’t Hardly Wait. They’re not inviting you, therefore, to consider the track in connection to a gravelly-voiced white male, an arpeggiated resonator guitar, and some supremely technical and restrained drumming. They’re instead inviting you into a wonderfully dreamy sonic landscape born of Molly Hamilton’s breathy vocals, and Robert Earl Thomas’s subtle guitar licks, combined with glowing synth tones, and the kind of homespun, lo-fi production that involves the sound of a guy reading from the Book of Ezekiel on the outro. The off-kilter intimacy they create adds huge emotional weight to this tragic Shakespearean tale, while shining new light on the heartbreaking poetry that exists beneath the song’s conversational demeanor. – Adam Mason

42. Lowland Hum – Sledgehammer (Peter Gabriel cover)

Lowland Hum’s stripped-down tribute to Peter Gabriel’s 1986 album So, appropriately dubbed So Low, made #3 on our list of best cover and tribute albums of 2021. Their “Sledgehammer” is a good example of everything that’s great about it – a Peter Gabriel song stripped of all of the ’80s artifice and laid bare. Lowland Hum find the underlying tender emotion in what is normally a goofy song about sex. Sure, the lyrics might seem even goofier without all the production surrounding them, but Lowland Hum sing these words with conviction, as if it wasn’t just sex that mattered. – Riley Haas

41. King Hannah – State Trooper (Bruce Springsteen cover)

Nothing happens in “State Trooper.” A mechanistic rhythm evokes the wiper blades beating back the wet night, as the loner at the wheel stares at the rear-view watching the patrol car that’s trailing him and watching him back. Whether the driver gets pulled over, we don’t find out. We only know that if he gets pulled over he’s screwed…or Mister State Trooper is. It’s all about that tension that never resolves. Liverpool duo King Hannah mostly stays faithful to the Nebraska track. They even rehash Springsteen’s spontaneous whoops and shouts. Except here the shouting is too loud and too close to the mic. It breaks the distortion ceiling, the audio gets clipped, and the imperfection is perfect. Just when you think it’s over, the full drum kit kicks in and the lead guitar finds an open lane and roars to life. Springsteen’s version fades out at the three-minute mark, but King Hannah nearly doubles that length with a raucous coda that delivers us from nowhere. – Tom McDonald


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  2 Responses to “The 50 Best Cover Songs of 2021”

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  1. “Wow, what an incredible compilation of cover songs! Each song on this list showcases the artists’ incredible talent and their unique interpretive abilities. I love how they manage to put their own twist on familiar tunes, breathing new life into them. The selection here truly captures the essence of musical innovation and creativity in 2021. Thank you for curating such a fantastic list! Looking forward to discovering more amazing covers in the future. Best regards, Gary Ford.”

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