Dec 172021

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30. Hildegard von Blingin’ & Whitney Avalon – Holding Out for a Hero (Bonnie Tyler cover)

“Bardcore” was one of 2020’s highlights (granted, the bar was pretty low that year), with songs by the likes of Lady Gaga and Radiohead turned to medieval-style ballads. We all had a good laugh and moved on. But long after the fifteenth minute ticked past, bardcore pioneer Hildegard von Blingin’ kept on recording her covers, and “Holding Out for a Hero” showed her reaching new heights. Not only are both the music and the video animation evocative, the song’s lyrics are appropriately backdated: “Somewhere after midnight in my wildest fantasy” becomes “Erelong at the witching hour within my reverie,” for example. If you put that amount of care into your work, you deserve all the bounty you can reap. Here’s hoping Hildegard has more to offer us when the next sumer is icumen in. – Patrick Robbins

29. Dylan LeBlanc – Play with Fire (The Rolling Stones cover)

The Rolling Stones recorded “Play with Fire” rather hastily – or, rather, Jagger and Richards did, since the other band members had fallen asleep. Even with the harpsichord ornamentation, the recording was under-produced and musically under-stated. Dylan LeBlanc makes up for that anemia on his cover. He builds up a richly layered sound with synths, a string quartet, and a full-blown drum kit or two (where the original had only a tambourine). Vocally, LeBlanc replaces Jagger’s cold menace with a warmer, more delicate quality; the choir that comes in on the refrain further softens the sound. The menace is in the string arrangements, with their psychedelic horror-film tropes. “Play with Fire” is the opening track to Pastimes, LeBlanc’s all-covers EP (also on our Best EPs list), and it burns pretty brightly. – Tom McDonald

28. Big Freedia – Judas (Lady Gaga cover)

I reported on this track back in June, and I’ve been bopping to it ever since. How do you take an already high energy track and turn it up to 11? By incorporating elements of New Orleans bounce, that’s how. The drum fills are amazing, and the marching band transforms the track from a high art-pop song into a festival banger. Could this version ever be topped? To me it would be a very tall order. – Brendan Shanahan

27. Bedouine – Songbird (Fleetwood Mac cover)

SoCal singer-songwriter Bedouine finds dynamism and clarity in small moments. Her 2021 album Waysides, a collection of folk ballads, may seem easygoing on the surface. But the songs carry a kind of buzzing energy as well, thrumming along out of sight, beneath the record’s hood. Bedouine’s cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Songbird,” the closing track of Waysides, encapsulates her singular approach at its best. In lieu of Christine McVie’s big baby grand, Bedouine punctures the cover with a mélange of pointed keyboard textures. Her warm contralto vocal performance feels darker-hued too, resonating deeply and more enigmatically than the original cut. – Ben Easton

26. The Secret Sisters – Heavy Balloon (Fiona Apple cover)

The Secret Sisters start this cover from Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters with a heavy, dark sound, similar to the 2020 original. After about a minute, the mood shifts, almost sounding like a Bee Gees song is about to break out. Suddenly there’s a harmony-heavy interlude with a ‘70s folk sound. It’s pretty clear there’s a lot happening in this cover. Even though it’s almost two minutes longer than the original, the Secret Sisters’ version never drags. The song rides on the strength of the vocals and an abundance of funkiness. – Mike Misch

25. HONGJOONG – Numb (Linkin Park cover)

One of those covers that on paper sounds like it shouldn’t work, but does. The track is essentially a hip-hop style cover (thanks to its fully rapped Korean second verse), but with the original melody and melancholy are maintained to ensure the track is still recognizable. There’s a lot to love about this cover, and I’m looking forward to seeing if HONGJOONG, of the K-Pop group ATEEZ, will take on other songs in the same manner. – Brendan Shanahan

24. Lou Hayter – Time Out of Mind (Steely Dan cover)

There aren’t a lot of covers of Steely Dan’s subtle, slinky, and moderately successful single “Time Out Of Mind.” Frankly, now that Lou Hayter’s version exists, anyone who attempts it going forward will have some serious climbing to do. In Hayter’s hands it is fatly synthesized, sophisticated and spacious, and it features a ridiculously spicy and rocking one-take guitar solo by Jeff Wootton of Gorillaz. Yes, Lou is a fan and it shows, offering that “Steely Dan are my favorite band. So I approached this cover with my utmost respect and tried to be reverent”. Mission accomplished and more. – Hope Silverman

23. Michael Stipe – Sunday Morning (The Velvet Underground cover)

It’s been a good year for Velvet Underground reassessments and tributes. The former R.E.M. frontman delivers a haunting vocal on his redo of “Sunday Morning,” the lead-off track on I’ll Be Your Mirror, a full-length all-star tribute to The Velvet Underground and Nico album. Stipe sticks to the original’s melody, but the music surrounding the vocal takes plenty of liberties: a clarinet opens the song, and from there the weirdness gently accumulates and transmutes behind and between the lyrics. The song ends with the curious blurps and bleeps of Bill Frisell’s guitar electronics. These sonic oddities reveal the guiding hand, ear, and spirit of the late great Hal Willner, the project’s producer. It was to be Willner’s final project. Stipe, for his part, sounds better than ever on a song he clearly has a feeling for. – Tom McDonald

22. The Maine – THNKS FR TH MMRS (Fall Out Boy cover)

Fall Out Boy’s bombastic song mellows out when covered by The Maine. With just a simple acoustic guitar and a slightly slower pace, we realize just how sad the song is. The content is especially resonant in now yet another year of collecting pandemic memories, “even though they weren’t so great.” Revisiting this song over a decade later might help us grapple with the past while “looking forward to the future,” making it an unexpected but appropriate song for a somber New Year’s Eve playlist. – Sara Stoudt

21. Touché Amoré – Hard to Explain (The Strokes cover)

Instrumentally, Touché Amoré’s “Hard to Explain” sounds fairly similar to The Strokes’. But vocally, it couldn’t sound much different. While Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas is as cool a customer as they come, Touché Amoré’s Jeremy Bolm runs hot. Real hot. From the first notes, he’s shrieking at top volume. It sounds like he’ll be hoarse before he gets to the first chorus, but he powers through, never taking his foot off the gas for a second. If hardcore isn’t usually your thing, this might be a perfect entry point: hooky, accessible indie-rock music with a singer losing his goddamn mind overtop. – Ray Padgett


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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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