40. Astrid Celeste – Overjoyed
It’s not a hot take to regard Stevie’s ’80s output as being significantly inferior to that of the previous decades. But, even though by this stage his sound had morphed into adult-contemporary and smooth jazz territory, he was still Stevie, and thus still had it in him to kick up some magic now and then. Case in point: the infectious, lovelorn, and gloriously groovy “Overjoyed.” A #1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart in 1986, the tune has been covered by everyone from Celine Dion to Mary J. Blige to Miss Diana Ross. But, believe it or not, Venezuelan singer Astrid Celeste’s no-frills cover crushes every one of these diva-helmed versions into dust. With her dad Yasmil Marrufo on guitar, Celeste takes the lean ‘n’ mean approach, eschewing fancy flourishes while casually blowing the roof off the house with her unshowy, gorgeous voice. Prepare to swoon. – Hope Silverman
39. Quaint Ash – My Cherie Amour
Underground indie artist Quaint Ash offers us a refreshing new take on the romantic classic by dialing up the tempo. This version is dreamy, groovy, and unexpected. The intro is full of bright-timbred vintage guitars, which gives us The Kooks vibes. When singer Andrea Parascandolo’s sleepy vocals come in, they blend right into echoey detuned strings, making you feel like you’re inside of a cathedral. The interplay between the crisp snare drum and persistent bass keeps the fire going underneath the layers upon layers of ethereal sound, right up until the tasteful fade-out on the five chord (leaving us wanting more!). – Aleah Fitzwater
38. The Temptations – For Once in My Life
When Motown got its hands on a good song, they put it in the hands of as many of their artists as they could, and may the best artist win. “For Once In My Life” is the perfect example; it was recorded by the Supremes, the Four Tops, Martha & the Vandellas, Smokey & the Miracles, and many more. Stevie Wonder’s uptempo version landed the hit status (despite a displeased Berry Gordy shelving it for a year before reluctantly releasing it). But spare a thought for the Temptations’ take, which retained the slow ballad arrangement of the original and featured Paul Williams doing a show-stopping vocal, never better than in the TCB television special with the Supremes in 1968. – Patrick Robbins
37. Livingston Taylor – Isn’t She Lovely
If Livingston’s last name was anything but Taylor, his career would be considered admirable, and reasonably successful—about 20 albums released, a handful of charted singles, TV appearances, even some books. Unfortunately, he’s pretty much always been overshadowed by big brother James, who he also sounds like. In 1997, Taylor recorded an album, Ink, mostly of R&B and soul covers, including a beautiful, folky cover of “Isn’t She Lovely,” a song that Wonder wrote about the birth of his daughter Aisha. Both versions are filled with the incredible joy that new fatherhood brings, even if they are stylistically different. – Jordan Becker
36. Jackson 5 – I Was Made to Love Her
Motown was notorious for shelving hundreds of tracks, some by their biggest stars. Just as a for-instance, there’s a whole series of recordings that came out in the past decade for copyright extension purposes, under the title Motown Unreleased, and they have some true gold on them. One that came out a little earlier was 1986’s Looking Back to Yesterday, a collection of songs from the vaults meant to capitalize on Michael Jackson’s Thriller success. It featured a 1969 outtake of “I Was Made to Love Her,” which slows down Stevie Wonder’s upbeat arrangement. Recorded six years after Wonder released The 12 Year Old Genius, this cover features an 11 year old genius; Michael’s vocal truly belies his age. – Patrick Robbins
35. Yesterdays New Quintet & Madlib – I Am Singing
Replacing Stevie’s vocals with a keyboard sounds like a losing proposition, but somehow hip-hop producer Madlib manages to pull it off and even jazz up this track from Songs in the Key of Life. The effervescent keys are backed by a relentless drum track (or an incredible rendered live beat) that threatens to steal the show. About three minutes in, the track fades out. When it comes back in we get a bonus cover of Wonder’s “As.” It’s only about a minute long, but it’s a pretty nice little outro. – Mike Misch
34. King Curtis – Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours
King Curtis’s take on “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” finds the legendary saxophonist at a career high, not just as an instrumentalist, but as a bandleader in his own right. Curtis’s cut was put to tape live at the Fillmore West on March 5th, 1971, the start of a three-day span that bore a pair of iconic live albums from both Curtis himself as well as from Aretha Franklin (for whom Curtis was musical director). Curtis properly ascends to Stevie’s higher ground with these Fillmore sets, particularly on the set highlight of “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.” He offers up an arrangement that’s giddy and white-hot, a perfect fusion of the joys of classic R&B and the jammy frenzy of early ‘70s San Francisco. – Ben Easton
33. Darol Anger & The American Fiddle Ensemble – Higher Ground
You might find it a little spooky that Stevie Wonder wrote and recorded “Higher Ground,” a song about reincarnation, not long before being in a serious car accident that left him in a coma. But even if you don’t buy into the mystic, you can appreciate the funkiness of the song, for which Wonder recorded every instrument, including the distinctive “wah-wah clavinet.” Darol Anger, a veteran fiddler, and his band Republic of Strings (featuring, among others, then-teenage fiddler and future Princeton University Marching Band alumna Brittany Haas), takes a more folk/bluegrass approach to the song, with beautiful guest vocals from Nickel Creek’s Sara Watkins. – Jordan Becker
32. Cyndi Lauper – Until You Come Back to Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do)
People forget that Stevie Wonder co-wrote and recorded this song years before Aretha Franklin’s 1974 version. (Wonder’s recording remained unreleased until the late 70s.) Lauper lets the song come back to its composer by including a harmonica solo that calls back vintage Stevie Wonder circa 1966. In fact, it is Stevie, sounding very youthful some four decades after developing his trademark harp sound. It’s just one of the touches that clears the way for hearing the song in a new way. Another is the percussion-driven intro, which sets the listener onto a vibe very different from Aretha’s or Stevie’s version. – Tom McDonald
31. Phish – Boogie on Reggae Woman
Phish’s loose, fun-loving cover of “Boogie On Reggae Woman” had its live debut back in 1987, featured initially in a performance at a University of Vermont gymnasium and, later that year, in a pair of casual sets at Nectar’s, the band’s favorite local haunt in Burlington. Since then, “Boogie” has become a proper live staple for the band, being performed nearly 90 times in far larger venues, and across all decades of the quartet’s existence. The cover has gone through many rock-skewing permutations, often following Phish’s own musical mood swings and phase shifts; from version to version, Phish’s take on “Boogie” can range from taut novelty pick to extended jam vehicle. Coming in right in the middle, both chronologically and vibe-wise, is this solid performance from 1998, recorded at Virginia’s Hampton Coliseum and featured on Phish’s classic six-disc live record Hampton Comes Alive. – Ben Easton
Excellent list! I got some new ones here to buy.
I would add Art Garfunkel’s version of “I Believe When I Fall In Love” too – it’s lush, over the top, and awesome.
The Brand New Heavies 2006 cover of “I Don’t Know Why (I Love You)” should be on this list!
How could you miss O’bryan’s version of You and I?