Jul 222022

Go back to the beginning

10. Anderson .Paak – Seven Nation Army

You might not think that this rather militant song could work as a funky slow jam, but Anderson .Paak easily transforms it into a soulful song for a hot summer night with its syncopated take on the main riff and funk guitar flairs. This cover is part of an EP of covers released before Anderson .Paak’s debut album that was made to make a particular statement. By remaking rock and folk songs in a more R&B style, Anderson .Paak reversed the legacy of white artists remaking songs from black artists in the ‘50s, the road from blues and R&B to rock and roll travelled in reverse. – Sara Stoudt

9. Bigga Haitian – My Doorbell

Bigga Haitian makes a big-hearted reggae party of “My Doorbell,” the 2nd single from 2005’s Get Behind Me Satan. Though the original recording feels like it’s captured in a heated single take, Bigga Haitian follows all of the song’s most spontaneous turns impressively down to the letter. A reggae take on “My Doorbell” wouldn’t be complete without a proper toast too — the cover’s final two minutes ascend to an epic dub remix of the song’s normally-brief breakdown, featuring the strains of saxophonist Craig Dryer, to send it all home. – Ben Easton

8. Jack Johnson – We’re Going to Be Friends

In 2006, Jack Johnson rode to the top of the album charts on the back of a little brown monkey with his album Sing-A-Longs and Lullabies for the Film “Curious George.” The album included several originals and a few covers, including this take on “We’re Going to Be Friends.” It’s a wistful song about two young kids meeting for the first time, so perfect for a kid-targeted album. Johnson plays the track in the same breezy, easy-going, acoustic, singer/songwriter style that defines the rest of his work (and the album). The track is a fun cover to sing-along to whether the kids are in the back seat or you’re riding solo. – Curtis Zimmermann

7. Tracey Thorn – In The Cold, Cold Night

This comes from Tracey’s 2012 Christmas album Tinsel and Lights, where she tackles a range of styles and structures often far removed from the moody electronica or mannered jazz hues of her earlier work with Massive Attack or her own band Everything But The Girl. Many find her timbre errs on the chilly side, which is absolutely fine by me. On this track, Thorn excises most the naïf charm offered by the untutored Meg White, without destroying the overall mood, which is harder than it sounds. Many a “good” singer would ruin the song under such a circumstance; imagine, say, Joss Stone or Annie Lennox giving it some. I guess it needs that chill factor I allude to. Now I’d like to hear it with swathes of synth and ponderous programmed beats, rather than lively guitars. I wonder if that would work? – Seuras Og

6. The Chicks – Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn

“Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn” is so ridiculously well-suited to The Chicks’ sound, skill, and vibe, it literally sounds like one of their own songs. That said, this live take from 2013 isn’t the foot-stomping singalong you might expect. This cover is a slow-moving locomotive that churns with quiet urgency …until the coda, that is, when Martie Maguire turns up her fiddle and turns the song into an ass-kicking tornado. – Hope Silverman

5. C.W. Stoneking – Seven Nation Army

If Tom Waits recorded 78s back in the 1920s… well, knowing him, he probably managed to pull that off one way or another. But until the evidence shows up, we’ll just have to listen to C.W. Stoneking to know how that might sound. Stoneking brings the heritage of music to “Seven Nation Army,” dressing the song in threads shabby yet museum-worthy. Jack White had Stoneking deliver the spoken word piece “Abulia and Akrasia” on his 2018 album Boarding House Reach, so it’s safe to say he’s a fan too. – Patrick Robbins

4. Lettercamp – The Denial Twist

From the opening high-pitched entry of Liz Wittman’s vocals, it’s clear this is not your typical White Stripes cover. Lettercamp deliver a groove-filled track ready for the dance floor. The slick vocal effects and crunchy keyboards will have you bobbing your head, if not up out of your seat dancing. – Mike Misch

3. Cat Power – I Want to Be The Girl To Warm Your Mother’s Heart

Chan Marshall, aka Cat Power, has been covering “I Want to Be the Boy to Warm Your Mother’s Heart” on and off for going on two decades. In her 2022 live version, she forsakes the raucous sundown flavoring of the Stripes original and gently leads “I Want To Be” into the muted and dimly lit Mazzy Star lounge. Switching the pronoun here and marrying the song to her own track, “Good Woman,” she lustrously reshapes “I Want” into an ethereal, downbeat, and surprisingly sensuous slow-burner. Chan’s “I Want To Be…” is not merely a cover song; it is an actual living and breathing mood. – Hope Silverman

2. Chris Thile & The How To Grow A Band – Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground

Polymath mandolinist-songwriter Chris Thile is so omnipresent these days—Live from Here MC, Telluride Bluegrass elder statesman, MacArthur Genius—that it’s easy to take his vast, varied work for granted. But back in 2006, Thile’s unbound approach (and genre-blind cover picks) weren’t necessarily a given; his focus was still solely with Sara and Sean Watkins on their longtime project, Nickel Creek. Thile’s debut solo album, How To Grow A Woman From the Ground, was seemingly a chance to make his own big noise for the first time. He couldn’t have picked a more fittingly adventurous and punchy lead-off than “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” remade anew as an unruly bluegrass stomp. Though How to Grow a Woman from the Ground uses traditional string band instrumentation, covering “Dead Leaves” was far from canon and of a much more recent vintage, his version released just three years after Elephant. “Dead Leaves” feels like a line in the sand for Thile, a benchmark of the kind of restless creative energy that would define his succeeding years. Sung with unhinged intensity as if around one live mic, Thile and the How to Grow a Band (to be rechristened Punch Brothers just a few years down the line) transform “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” into a new and wild kind of pickin’ party. – Ben Easton

1. The Dynamics – Seven Nation Army

The descending notes of that opening riff are there, signaling another cover of “Seven Nation Army” to take or leave. But wait – is that an organ? Am I listening to reggae? When did this song come out? You’ll swear you’re listening to a track that just missed making it onto the The Harder They Come soundtrack. The Dynamics bring old-school soul to their old-school reggae, and when they bring that sound to the White Stripes, one has to wonder why nobody thought to mix them all together like this before. – Patrick Robbins

Check out more installments in our monthly ‘Best Covers Ever’ series, including Radiohead, Bob Dylan, Pixies, The Rolling Stones, and more.

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