Aug 252022

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40. The Muffs – No Action

The Muffs, a pop-punk band from the 90s-early 2000s, never had the commercial success to match their critical accolades. They only released seven studio albums over 25 years, the last of which in 2019, shortly after lead singer and guitarist Kim Shattuck passed away from ALS. Their cover of “No Action,” a song about the end of a relationship, was originally included on a Lookout! Records sampler album in 1997, and later as a single from the Muffs’ compilation album Hamburger in 2000. It is suitably angsty and intense, but lacks a little of the impact of the original, which, as the opening track of This Year’s Model, served to introduce much of the world to The Attractions. — Jordan Becker

39. Christy Moore – Deportees Club

When Christy Moore covers an artist, it tends to be great. “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” appeared on our Best Pink Floyd Covers Ever list. “The Magdalene Laundries” appeared on Best Joni Mitchell Covers. And “Blackjack County Chains” was going to be on Best Willie Nelson Covers until we decided to include only songs Willie originally wrote (Red Lane wrote that one, though Willie recorded the hit). So no surprise Moore’s “Deportees Club,” from his 1989 album Voyage, lands here. You might expect a folk singer to have done the Woody Guthrie standard “Deportee” rather than Elvis – and he’s done that too – but Moore always digs deeper.— Ray Padgett

38. Alison Brown & Sam Bush – Everyday I Write the Book

In my book, it’s worth listening when two of the biggest names in bluegrass take on one of Costello’s most popular classics. This appears on Alison Brown’s album Fair Weather, but mandolinist Sam Bush sings the lead. The whole album is star-studded. I hope they are working on a sequel. — Tom McDonald

37. The Knack – Girls Talk

The Knack’s arrangement of “Girls Talk” owes more to Dave Edmunds’ take than song author Costello’s, but without Edmunds’ rockabilly twang. In 1998, the Knack (now featuring superb drummer Terry Bozzio, who had played with Zappa, U.K., and Missing Persons) released an album called Zoom, which received generally good reviews from the press and little attention from the music-buying public. It was released a few years later as Re-Zoom with three bonus tracks, including “Girls Talk.” — Jordan Becker

36. My Darling Clementine – I Felt the Chill Before the Winter Came

Country music is and has aways been close to Costello’s heart, and it was a brainwave of My Darling Clementine, the husband/wife team of Michael Weston Smith and Lou Dalgleish, already well versed in country weepy duets through their own material, to gather together a selection of such of his songs. The genius was then to bring on board one Steve Nieve, EC’s own keyboards maestro. Find their take on “I Felt the Chill Before the Winter Came” on Country Darkness, reviewed here. King and Dalgleish find the full George and Tammy in this exquisitely put together version. (And yes, the same Lou Dalgleish as the one at #45 in this list, whose university thesis was on the songs of one Elvis Costello.) — Seuras Og

35. Carter USM – Peace in Our Time

The aforementioned (#42) 1993 compilation Peace Together raised money for the youth of Northern Ireland. It featured a bunch of interesting covers, from My Bloody Valentine tackling the Bond theme “We Have All The Time In The World” to Lou Reed aiding U2 on their version of “Satellite Of Love.” It’s funny that a do-gooder CD like this, one benefiting kids no less, would feature a group called Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine (they were unsurprisingly billed simply as Carter USM on the front). But, adults-only name aside, they bring the heat on this version of Goodbye Cruel World deep-ish cut “Peace in Our Time,” an appropriate choice for an album called Peace Together.— Ray Padgett

34. June Tabor – All This Useless Beauty

Costello is on record as to his opinion of June Tabor, the doyenne of frosty British folksong. “If you don’t like June Tabor,” he said, “you should stop listening to music.” Indeed, this was a song he wrote specifically for her; all of that selfsame titled Costello and the Attractions album had been designed around songs he had written with other singers in mind. Tabor was one of the few who picked up the baton. If the writer’s own version is bleak, Tabor’s is positively barren, a frozen void of controlled hauteur, a chill missile of mass destruction. Terrifically stark, Tabor has returned to Costello frequently. Her version of “Shipbuilding” also bears a listen. — Seuras Og

33. Lydia Loveless – Alison

Lydia Loveless’s version of “Alison” feels both earnest and acerbic — a declaration of pure love, delivered with the biting passion of a kiss-off number. Released as a 7-inch B-side in 2012, her version features only electric guitar and solo vocals. But unlike some of the other more delicate covers of “Alison” still to come on this list, Loveless has no trouble filling up the void. Her cover manages to feel huge and quaking with just these two charged sonic elements, casting a big impression from a focused source, like massive shadows thrown, giant-sized, against a dark and barren wall. — Ben Easton

32. Kristin Cothron – Town Cryer

Singer-songwriter Kristen Cothron loves Elvis Costello, so much so that she included no less than three EC covers on her 2012 album Show Me Where the Edge Is. Her version of Imperial Bedroom‘s “Town Cryer” is not as shiny and wrought as the original, but it is no less handsome. It twangs with genuine warmth and passion, and Cothron’s vocal performance is a stunner. — Hope Silverman

31. Tasmin Archer – Deep Dark Truthful Mirror

You’ll likely know Tasmin Archer as the singer who sang soulfully in 1992 of “the dream that died with the Eagles’ flights,” and humanity’s confinement to a dying world despite the moon landings (yep, that old chestnut). But there’s more to the Yorkshire-born vocalist than “Sleeping Satellite,” not least her take on “Deep Dark Truthful Mirror.” She did a sensitive job on three other Costello tracks on her 1994 Shipbuilding EP, but her spin on the hard-hitting Spike track really stands out. She goes bluesier than Costello did with the Dirty Brass Band, her silky voice in perfect harmony with a swirling Hammond organ. She also puts her all into the hallucinogenic lyrics that deal in all manner of self-delusion, self-loathing, drunkenness, and confusion. “A stripping puppet on a liquid stick”? “A butterfly feeds on a dead monkey’s hand”? Archer takes us melodiously into deeply disturbed psychological terrain, indeed. — Adam Mason


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  5 Responses to “The 50 Best Elvis Costello Covers Ever”

Comments (5)
  1. JHFC Billy Joel was not on that list. Never ever. He was pop for older people. That’s ridiculous.

  2. You forgot the Like covering “You Belong to Me”

  3. Also For Real “covering” “Unwanted Number”

  4. A very worthy #1 – it really had to be the top choice. A stunning and powerful cover. The whole list has made for an excellent listen today. Big thanks to all contributors. And that Angel Ruiz and the Q-Arts Ensemble is a real find!

  5. A lot of repetition in the songs covered, and yet you missed out one of the best covers in my opinion ever, Mathilde Santing’s version of “Hand in Hand.”

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