Sep 112023

‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

best covers of 2000s

Following the 1990s last week — and, before that, the 1950s, the 1960s, the 1970s, and the 1980s — our series on covers of great One Hit Wonders concludes today with a look at the 2000s. Meaning, the first decade of the 2000s. At this point, it’d be premature to conclude that an artist who had their first hit in 2022 will be a one hit wonder! (And, again, it’s not us concluding it anyway — it’s Wikipedia).

In general on these lists, we try to avoid having the same song pop up multiple times. But some 2000s One Hit Wonders are just too ubiquitous. “Teenage Dirtbag” by Wheatus first among them. It seems every week there’s a new cover of that one. “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley (pictured above) and “I Believe In A Thing Called Love” by The Darkness not far behind. “Stacy’s Mom” gets covered less than you think, partially because while Fountains of Wayne may be technically a One Hit Wonder, power-pop fans (or just discerning listeners in general) have long since realized there’s a rich catalog there. The broaded public that didn’t make their other songs hits missed out.

That’s the thing with One Hit Wonders. The masses who decide which song is a hit and which isn’t are, fairly often, wrong. So we’re not critiquing or making fun of any of these bands. We’re celebrating them. As are the artists covering their one big song. And, honestly, the 2000s aren’t that long ago. Some of these bands have broken up, but maybe, just maybe, one or two of these bands still has a second big hit up their sleeve.

A quick disclaimer: It’s fun to argue about what constitutes a one-hit wonder. We do it too! But for these purposes, we just followed Wikipedia, whose page on U.S. one-hit wonders compiles a bunch of newspaper and blog lists in one place. If you have gripes with what songs get included — and there are some legitimate gripes to be had, for sure — take it up with Wikipedia. Our goal is to focus more on sharing some killer covers rather than relitigate whether Men Without Hats’ “Pop Goes the World” was a big enough chart success to disqualify them.

20. Girls Aloud — Teenage Dirtbag (Wheatus cover)

It would be fair to say that both “Boybands” and then “Girlbands” were never deemed cool enough for the average introverted music nerd, genre snobbery an essential part of the non-mainstream hardcore obsessive. Whether Wheatus were cool, outside their narrow and age-defined fanbase, is debatable, but this song so firmly encapsulated the woe of being too young for your dreams. So much so that older generations could admire and respect the craftsmanship of it. And enjoy it. Girls Aloud, by contrast, are a manufactured group, created out of spare contestants in a TV pop talent show. They were desperately naff, if hugely successful. So, for them to cover this song of teenage angst was a master stroke, suddenly giving them that crossover into the dark side, the haters and avoiders. – Seuras Og

19. Bleed the Rads — I Hope You Dance (Lee Ann Womack cover)

When I listened to the original track ahead of the cover for this piece, I was intrigued to work out where Bleed the Rads was going to take this very standard (but extremely popular) piece of country pop. So my surprise was compounded when I found it to be a full acapella version, with the only flourishes being some double/triple tracked vocals. At first it’s a little cheesy, but when you lean in fully, it’s ethereal experience, one that’s well worth returning to. – Brendan Shanahan

18. Suburban Downfall — Where’d You Go (Fort Minor cover)

From the opening “where’d you go” to when the instruments first kick in, you are instantly transported to your favorite pop punk sounds of your youth. Everything about this cover is worthy of the best “pop goes punk” album, from the wailing electric guitar to the frenetic drums. The original rap is turned into more of a spoken word, a heartfelt pining delivered unselfconsciously. You can’t help but feel the loss right along with Suburban Downfall. – Sara Stoudt

17. Ray LaMontagne — Crazy (Gnarls Barkley cover)

Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” has become the most covered song from 2006, garnering attention from artists like Shawn Colvin, Bettye LaVette, and the Violent Femmes. With nothing more than his acoustic guitar behind him, LaMontagne delivers a version wrapped in velvety pain, barbed and broken, unafraid to be adrift in its gray cloud of melancholia. – Patrick Robbins

16. Hayseed Dixie — I Believe In A Thing Called Love (The Darkness cover)

Arguably where the whole rock-goes-bluegrass movement exploded, Hayseed Dixie, if not the first to play with the concept, took it into a greater spotlight than had anyone ever before. The inspired conceit was a crew of landlocked hillbillies, trapped deep in Appalachia, with a repertoire of songs they first heard in the cassette player of a crashed car. The Darkness, still going, always seemed anyway to be a spoof, their hair, sequins and spandex only ever a whisper away from being tongue in cheek, and this song prime evidence, so it seemed spoof-on-spoof to cover it. More fun than a jar of moonshine, the Dixies romp through it, from the opening strummed acoustic and rollick of banjo. The vocals are as hokey as a hill of beans, and the instrumental breaks are as pretty as a peach. But the single transformative moment comes at 1:28, with the impassioned holler “BANJO!” from singer Barley Scotch, possibly not his birth name. – Seuras Og

15. The Pikers — Stacy’s Mom (Fountains of Wayne cover)

The epitome of nerd rock, this Fountains of Wayne song is almost impossibly catchy and as dumb as the floorspace under a teenager’s bed. Not since “Mrs. Robinson” had there been such a paean to, for lack of a classier term, MILFs. I generally can’t stand choirs, school choirs especially, the idea of all that enthusiasm falling flat on my cynical ears. But, by bringing together a group of all those who would likely be in thrall to Stacy’s mom, and probably Stacy too, it is a work of some genius, making the imagination of the songwriters come vividly to life. The choir, from Washington University, may be a little old for such feelings, but they don’t look it, and they have the goofy stoner personas inhabited to a T. – Seuras Og

14. Max Raabe & Palast Orchester — Around the World (La La La) (ATC cover)

“Around the World (La La La)” — can’t forget that parenthetical — is the sort of Eurodance track mocked in this summer’s viral hit “Planet of the Bass.” That song featured hilarious inspirational/partying lyrics that don’t make any sense or even sound like someone who speaks fluent English (“Heaven is a time today,” “Women are my favorite guy”). They’re honestly not any more ridiculous than the not-a-parody “Around the World.” The first line is “The kisses of the sun were sweet, I didn’t blink,” and it only goes on from there. Novelty orchestra conductor Max Raabe is clearly taking the piss with this cover. But the song is catchy as hell (there’s a reason it was a hit), and remains so even when it sounds like something from Beethoven’s era. With a heavy electro-bass beat. – Ray Padgett

13. Harold Mabern Trio — Don’t Know Why (Norah Jones cover)

Norah Jones’ smash single “Don’t Know Why” came out in 2002 on the Blue Note jazz label, but it’s strictly a pop piece. The verse-chorus-verse simplicity makes it a strange choice for a jazz legend like Harold Mabern to take on as an instrumental, but he did so in 2003 when the song still felt new. With an ace bass/drum combo simmering behind him, Mabern cooks along at a spritely pace. Forget the original’s melancholic mood–the trio brings an upbeat bounce to their treatment, while staying true to the melody and form. Mabern must have been happy with the result, since he titled the album “Don’t Know Why.” Jones and Mabern went on to collaborate years later, with Jones guesting as vocalist on Mabern’s 2015 Afro Blue recording. – Tom McDonald

12. He Said — Another Dumb Blonde (Hoku cover)

A Legally Blonde bubblegum anthem gets extra edge in the hands of He Said. This cover lives in the world of Elle Woods having her Avril Lavigne phase; a punk attitude rebrands the sing-songy nature of the original into a mix of a taunting and a liberation. Layered vocals strengthen the independent narrative, with parts of the chorus punctuated by just the faintest echo of a scream. A new percussion stutter step also appears in the first chorus and continues in the second verse. The drums continue to play a major role and get heaviest towards the end of the song, entwining with the rock guitar to close things out, leaving the listener with no misconceptions about the IQ of the band. – Sara Stoudt

11. Curved Air — Chasing Cars (Snow Patrol cover)

This song demanded attention in this list from the start, even ahead of hearing. Why, ask US readers? Some background might be that the venerable 60s-into-70s band Curved Air would themselves surely top any UK one-hit-wonders list, their 1971 “Back Street Luv” becoming a number 4 smash that year. It made no impression anywhere else in the world, but is much loved and remembered by British gentlemen of a certain age. “Chasing Cars,” of course, is the song that made Snow Patrol, and it is still the only one that most casual listeners will know. The idea that a one hit wonder from last century should tackle one from this was eminently appealing. Of course, I was amazed the band still exist, a onetime powerhouse for prog-rock violin, but they do, or did in 2014, and still with omnipresent singer Sonja Kristina, and with their extravagantly named original drummer, Florian Pilkington-Miksa, back in the fold. Whether it is any good is almost irrelevant, but actually it is. Kristina channels a smoky jazz club vibe into her delivery, as string bass and tinkling piano offer a minimalist background. – Seuras Og

10. The Local Band — Untouched (The Veronicas Cover)

The inauspiciously-named Local Band turn out to be, per Wikipedia, a Finnish hard rock supergroup formed in 2013. Admittedly, if you’re not Finnish, the members might not seem that “super”: Children of Bodom’s Alexi Laiho, The 69 Eyes’ Jussi 69, Reckless Love’s Olli Herman, Santa Cruz’s Archie Cruz. I guess “big in Finland” is the new “big in Japan.” Nevertheless, their only release is the 2013 covers EP Locals Only – Dark Edition, which features this very loud and very fun take on The Veronicas’ pop-punk (though more pop than punk) bit hit. – Ray Padgett

9. RYAN Playground — Teenage Dirtbag (Wheatus cover)

In direct contrast to the petulant, lusty stomp of the original, the best covers of “Teenage Dirtbag” are not of the loud, fat stadium variety. And pointedly, they are not sung by boys. Our countdown features not one, but two such interpretations, different to be sure, but both hymnal and wondrous. The first is by Ryan Playground, whose real name is Genevieve Ryan Martel, but who is currently performing under the name TDJ ( short for “Terrain de jeu,” which is French for, yes, “playground”). She creates stuff in a trance-dance style these days but prior to that, she was focused on a more alternative-electronic type sound (which is when this cover dates back to). The Playground take is the polar opposite of the original. It is “Dirtbag” in space, an ethereal, muted, quiet-loud-quiet lullaby that sounds best when spilling through headphones. She drives the woozy, delicacy home by completely forsaking the “Oh yeah! Dirtbag!” bridge and the whole thing is so good, you don’t even know what you’re missin’. – Hope Silverman

8. Karissa Ella — Who I Am (Jessica Andrews cover)

I think the best part of this cover is the fact that while the track is well within the same genre as the original, better choices have been made here. Both sit well within the ‘country-pop’ sphere, but while the original headed for a mainstream ‘radio’ sound, with crying guitars and atmospheric drumming, Ella’s cover opts for a more folksy approach. The introduction of a violin for the main guitar line, and stripped back to the raw power of Ella’s voice and an acoustic guitar, elevates this from a radio friendly one hit wonder into a powerful song of affirmation. – Brendan Shanahan

7. Branches — I Believe In a Thing Called Love (The Darkness cover)

A gloriously dumb celebration of ’70s excess, The Darkness’ third single and only US hit felt like it was from another dimension in 2003, when so many other rock bands were doing everything they could to sound “authentic” and “real.” Justin Hawkins’ over-the-top delivery and absurd vocal range just wore down any skeptics and helped make the song ubiquitous in certain corners of the world. California indie rock band Branches want us to take the song seriously. Their mostly acoustic version dials back the excess entirely and treats it as a sincere declaration. They solve the problem of Hawkins’ inimitable vocal by making the song a duet, toning down the theatrics and reducing the range, but they still manage to deliver an impressive vocal performance. – Riley Haas

6. Taylor Acorn — Here (In Your Arms) (Hellogoodbye cover)

There are no techno sounds needed for this cover. Instead, we get a singer-songwriter style, simple but emotionally resonant nonetheless. What can get lost in all the upbeat energy of the original is a fundamental calm in closeness. Taylor Acorn celebrates that closeness, elevating what might on first glance seem like a relic of middle school to a full blown love song. – Sara Stoudt

5. Alice Ivy — American Boy (Estelle cover)

If you thought the original track was cool – wait until you hear this version with a brass section. While Estelle’s version had smooth vocals sitting across a punchy electro pop beat and bass line, Alice Ivy opt to include a small brass section and strip back the electronic elements. The electro is still there, coming back into focus after Miss Blank’s rap verse, but when combined with the brass section, reduces the harshness of the track into an almost summertime bop. – Brendan Shanahan

4. Elle King — My Neck, My Back (Khia cover)

There is nothing like a country/rap crossover cover, and this one is a stand out for its unabashed, instruction manual choice of song. Elle King and her spunk can take on this NSFW content without coming off cheesy or cringy. There is a simple guitar and bass strum, an unrushed drum back beat, and a playful keyboard part, but King does not hide behind heavy instrumentation. Each lyric is clearly enunciated along with the flow of the music, each line its own percussive element itself. – Sara Stoudt

3. Shawn Colvin — Crazy (Gnarls Barkley cover)

It’s hard to believe “Crazy” is a one-hit wonder. Gnarls Barkley, the collaboration between CeeLo Green and Danger Mouse, had so much hype at the time, on top of plenty of individual attention for both musicians, that it feels they must have had more radio hits. In any case, “Crazy” has spawned quite a few covers, but Shawn Colvin’s rises to the top. Colvin’s version, with its country-tinged guitar and shuffling drums, marches forward like it’s the theme song to an old Wild West film opening on a lone rider. That background sets up Colvin’s vocals perfectly, and her voice and delivery are what set this cover apart from so many others. She’s singing about being crazy but she sounds confident and turns this song into something completely different than the original. – Mike Misch

2. Phoebe Bridgers — Teenage Dirtbag (Wheatus cover)

Phoebe Bridgers, indie-pop rock megastar and one of the three kingpins of fab supergroup boygenius, isn’t doing anything fancy on her “Dirtbag” cover. It is the height of simplicity, just vocals and acoustic guitar. But Bridgers absolutely nails the emotional vibe, capturing both the song’s crushed-out desire and frustrated disgust thanks to her supremely handsome vocal performance. Her low-key, sneery delivery of the song’s classic observational truth bomb, “her boyfriend’s a dick” is freakin’ perfect, and gotta give piles of extra points for the fabulous wailing on the closing verse. Keds and tube socks forever. – Hope Silverman

1. Carolina Chocolate Drops — Hit ‘Em up Style (Blu Cantrell cover)

The Carolina Chocolate Drops specialized in African-American roots music from the Piedmont region of the Carolinas. Mostly they played traditional songs, but they mixed in a range of covers of more modern material on their albums and in their live performances, including songs by Bob Dylan and Tom Waits. Their performance of Blu Cantrell’s revenge anthem transports it to another time, driven by Rhiannon Giddens’ fiddle solos and Don Flemons’ banjo. A touch of modernity is added by Justin Robinson’s beatboxing and Giddens’ powerful lead vocal, whose clarity is a little closer to modern R&B than the instruments. They drop the backing vocals and the “Oops!” entirely. It’s a stunning transformation of a song so closely associated with turn-of-the-century R&B in sound and substance. But the theme is universal and seems perfectly suited to the old-timey-meets-modern sound of the Carolina Chocolate Drops on this cover. – Riley Haas

Check our complete One Hit Wonders covers series here!

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