Aug 252022

Go back to the beginning

30. Tasmin Archer – New Amsterdam

Indeed, whatever did happen to aforementioned Tasmin Archer? Great Expectations and its lead single “Sleeping Satellites” were such a smash, and the second album Bloom, while less well received, sounded better to my ears. The Shipbuilding EP she released between the two is one that I return to frequently, and not just for its four Costello covers; I commend looking it out. Here is Archer’s take on “New Amsterdam,” originally an outtake in the Costello canon, a demo from Armed Forces that later appeared on Get Happy. As with #31, the tone of the original is totally overturned, the bleary vocal and swirling organ here replaced by a much cheerier vocal and a tinklier keyboard style. Still a fairground, but think merry-go-round over chamber of horrors. — Seuras Og

29. Hot Chocolate – Green Shirt

I was surprised as all get-out to learn that Hot Chocolate did a cover of “Green Shirt.” Really? This paean to paranoia and mind control sung by the people who brought you “You Sexy Thing”? Yes, indeed, and they keep the sense of foreboding intact, with moody synths and strings supporting an excellent spooked vocal by Errol Brown. There’s no release in this cover; it’s all tension, and all the better for it. — Patrick Robbins

28. Lotte Kestner – I Want You

“I Want You” oozes jealousy from its every pore. In fact, EC’s whispery, sneery vocals make it sound downright menacing at points. Even its guitar line is bitter. Singer-songwriter Lotte Kestner is a pretty masterful interpreter who has recorded a multitude of exceptional covers by everyone from Nick Drake to Midlake. Her 2020 cover of “I Want You” is a much quieter affair than the original and has a subtle, almost Nico-ish vibe. In other words, it is as heartbreakingly harrowing as ever but in the place of the menace is some just plain beautiful world-weary heartache. — Hope Silverman

27. Laura Cantrell – Indoor Fireworks

Costello may have recorded a whole album of country covers in 1981, and scored a hit with George Jones’ “Good Year for the Roses” the same year, but he wanted to prove his mettle as a songwriter by penning a country standard himself. He came up with “Indoor Fireworks,” which he gave to Nick Lowe to record in 1985 with his Cowboy Outfit. Good job! He then recorded a version himself in 1986 for his King of America album. But he really hit his mark when Nashville-born country singer Laura Cantrell, with a voice like Kitty Wells, adopted the song in 2003, as she basked in the critical acclaim of her first two albums, Not the Tremblin’ Kind and When the Roses Bloom Again.

Her cover was akin to Gram Parsons covering the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” back in 1970, Cantrell being entirely at home with a country ballad full of heartbreak, pain, and raw feeling that she might well have written herself. She performed it with conviction at Chicago’s Schubas Tavern in 2003 with New York indie-folk band The Schramms, as can be heard on her Live At Schubas album of 2004. In fact, she brought us the most stark and intimate version of the song imaginable, drawing out the vivid details of a relationship hitting the rocks through visions of love, hope, madness, joy, and bitter disappointment. — Adam Mason

26. Bangles – Tear Off Your Own Head (It’s a Doll Revolution)

On their 2003 cover of Elvis Costello’s “Tear Off Your Own Head (It’s a Doll Revolution),” the Bangles effectively went home again, home being their ‘80s heyday. Though Costello released the track in 2002, the power-pop fueled cover could have easily been a hit for the Bangles in the early days of MTV. — Curtis Zimmermann

25. Thea Gilmore – The St. Stephen’s Day Murders

Elvis Costello hasn’t written any Christmas songs. The closest he came was this, written about the day after Christmas, December 26, for Irish icons The Chieftans’ 1991 album The Bells of Dublin. It’s close enough to Christmas that Thea Gilmore included it on her 2009 holiday album Strange Communion, alongside other non-traditional Christmas carols like Lucinda Williams’ “Drunken Angel” and Yoko Ono’s “Listen, The Snow Is Falling.” The Guardian wrote that her version, a duet with BBC host Mark Radcliffe, would “in a just universe, supplant ‘Fairytale of New York’ as everyone’s favorite Yuletide drinking song.”— Ray Padgett

24. Mudhoney – Pump It Up

Having survived the debauchery that was the 1977 Stiffs Live Tour, Costello wrote “Pump It Up,” satirizing the excess and debauchery of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. Filled with his trademark wordplay and venom, the song was influenced by Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” and features an appropriate pounding beat. Mudhoney, the early Seattle grunge band, covered the song for the 1994 movie PCU, a poorly-received satire of college political correctness. If anything, their version is less satirical and more celebratory of the debauchery, and (if possible) even snottier than Costello’s. — Jordan Becker

23. Brian King – Beyond Belief

If you’re a Gil Scott-Heron fan, you’re really going to like Brian King’s cover of “Beyond Belief.” Over a near-amelodic backing track of pumping organ, honking sax, and skittering percussion, King rattles of the lyrics like they’re a part of the nightly news. The revolution may or may not be televised, but if it is, this will be on the soundtrack. — Patrick Robbins

22. Holly Cole – Alison

It is strange how many Costello songs suit so well a female voice. Like Tom Waits and Neil Young, whose lyrics are also clearly from a man’s perspective, they just sound good with the contrasting timbre. Holly Cole is a Canadian, occupying the hinterland between jazz and rock, starting in the latter territory and moving just a little to the side, and this version shows Costello had well developed jazz bones even back then, however well disguised. The backing on her cover of “Alison” is exquisite, and her icy vocal delivers harsher candor to the lyric than Elvis ever did himself. Suddenly the song’s title makes absolute sense. — Seuras Og

21. Wendy James – London’s Brilliant

Confusingly, “London’s Brilliant” is an entirely different song than “London’s Brilliant Parade.” The latter was released as a single to promote 1994’s Brutal Young. But Elvis’ version of this one only came out on side B of a 12” version of said single. It was in fact written a couple years earlier for Transvision Vamp singer Wendy James when she went solo; Costello wrote all of her 1993 album Now Ain’t The Time For Your Tears, much of it with his then-wife Cait O’Riordan of The Pogues. It rocks far harder even in his own demo version than “London’s Brilliant Parade,” but James punks it up the rest of the way. If you hear touches of the Clash musically, that’s no accident; it namechecks Joe Strummer and Mick Jones while the guitar riff nods at their song “Clash City Rockers.”— Ray Padgett


Cover Me is now on Patreon! If you love cover songs, we hope you will consider supporting us there with a small monthly subscription. There are a bunch of exclusive perks only for patrons: playlists, newsletters, downloads, discussions, polls - hell, tell us what song you would like to hear covered and we will make it happen. Learn more at Patreon.

  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.”

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>