Dec 152023

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50. Lenny Kravitz — How Long Have You Been Blind (Harry Belafonte cover)

The loss of Harry Belafonte was keenly felt by many across the world, and in the highest places. A musical pioneer, he had near universal respect from his fellow musicians, as this amazing clip from the USA For Africa recordings demonstrates. His vigorous support of progressive causes won him many friends and admirers and, one assumes, some detractors. His band from the ‘80s was a large, tight soul unit with a Nuyorican flavor, and a staple part of their set was this song. Originally written by Floyd Red Crow Western, of the Sioux nation, “How Long Have You Been Blind” talks about willful blindness to the ugliness and unfairness that can be around you. Belafonte’s friend Lenny Kravitz delivered this tour de force version as a tribute in the spring. The music and vocals are as vigorous and lithe as Kravitz himself, who covers the iconic bass, rhythm guitar, percussion and keyboard parts himself, with his collaborator Craig Ross providing lead guitar. Poignant, energetic and true, this is a fitting way to mark a legend. — Mike Tobyn

49. Juliana Hatfield — Don’t Bring Me Down (ELO cover)

One of two “Best Cover” blurbs that I’m writing about that (sort of) brings me back to my high school days. Technically, “Don’t Bring Me Down” was released on ELO’s Discovery album in mid-1979, at the end of my freshman year in college. Although I had been a big ELO fan in high school, between the increasing disco influences on this album, and having one semester as a college radio DJ under my belt, I no longer really paid attention to the band. But over the years, it became hard to avoid “Don’t Bring Me Down,” the band’s highest-charting single in the US, and a staple of rock radio. It’s a good tune, and there’s the whole “groos” lyric thing. Juliana Hatfield included the song on her latest artist tribute album, Juliana Hatfield Sings ELO, and it hews pretty closely to the original’s template, if maybe a bit more upbeat. — Jordan Becker

48. Oteil Burbridge — Stella Blue (Grateful Dead cover)

Bass virtuoso Oteil Burbridge is practically royalty in the jamband universe. He has served as bassist for the Allman Brothers Band, the Tedeschi Trucks Band, Vida Blue (with Phish’s Page McConnell) and, most recently, for the touring juggernaut Dead & Company. Shortly after the latter played its “final” show, Burbidge released Lovely View of Heaven, an album of Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter covers. The opening track and lead single is a cover of the Dead’s “Stella Blue.” Originally released on 1973’s Wake of the Flood, it is a slow, dreamlike song telling the story of a weary road musician. It’s a topic with which Burbridge is deeply familiar, given his musical pedigree. Burbridge recorded the song as a soft, string-laden ballad, which showcases his soulful, high-pitched voice. An ideal arrangement for this chilling tale of “broken dreams.” Listening to him sing, you wonder why he hasn’t been a frontman all along. — Curtis Zimmermann

47. Smoking Popes ft. Sincere Engineer — Don’t You Want Me (Human League cover)

When a really good pop punk cover comes out, it really lends credence to our old defense of those Punk Goes X covers album. It helps when the band in question are veterans (Smoking Popes have been jamming since 1991) who know how to craft a damn fine sounding song and invite a cool contrasting voice in Deanna Belos of Sincere Engineer. The vocals are great, the chugging guitars are relentless, and the song has enough variation to avoid sounding repetitive. And don’t sleep on that outro; those last harmonies will stick in your head long after the song is over. You might have to just start it up again. — Mike Misch

46. Fontaines D.C. — Cello Song (Nick Drake cover)

The intent of Jeremy Lascelles, who curated The Endless Coloured Ways, an eclectic collection of Nick Drake covers, was that the artists concerned should be unaware of (or at least not listen again to) the originals. Possibly too much a stretch for many of those involved, but this rowdy post-punk Dublin band tackle “Cello Song” entirely in that spirit. A terrific transformation, with any spectral remnant of folk cast to the four winds, it becoming a psychedelic rock masterpiece, the psychedelia mainly courtesy the idea of actually having a droning cello feature in the song. Singer Grian Chatten, has never sounded mellower, his tones sounding a mix of Syd Barrett and Wreckless Eric. The highpoint of an album that features highly in our album chart, it will have introduced folkies to the Fontaines and, maybe, their audience to folk. — Seuras Og

45. Della Mae — Ohio (Neil Young cover)

Who’d have thought bluegrass would be the standout sound of political protest in 2023, born of a hippy anthem from 1970? That’s how it was, though, when Chicks-inspired female string band Della Mae successfully reworked Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s remarkably undiminished and powerful “Ohio.” Lead vocalist Celia Woodsmith, ever ready to address American flashpoints in song, justified an ominous double-bass intro by singing as if the Kent State shootings of May 4, 1970 happened only yesterday. She’s impassioned, enraged, mournful, and the perfect mouthpiece for Neil Young’s horror-struck lyrical reaction to the news of Ohio National Guard officers, under Nixon, shooting and killing four students during a protest against the Vietnam War. She’s also effectively accompanied by Kimber Ludiker’s somber fiddle playing, making the whole song sound like a warning bell in our current political climate, alerting us to governments in the UK and the US who are sanctioning increasingly heavy-handed police tactics against increasingly desperate protestors, this time from the Just Stop Oil, Extinction Rebellion, and Black Lives Matter movements. — Adam Mason

44. Sunstroke — Salvation (The Cranberries cover)

“Salvation” is one of The Cranberries’ punkiest songs. No surprise, then, that a Philly hardcore punk band would cover this song, among all Cranberries songs. Sunstroke basically just make “Salvation” a melodic hardcore song, with shouted vocals, distorted guitars, overloaded bass. In the chorus there’s a clean melodic guitar line, as you would expect, and Food Ellis of DC ska band Kill Lincoln joins on saxophone to ape the horns of the original. It’s one of those covers that seems obvious but it wasn’t obvious until someone did it. And that’s what Sunstroke did. They found the hidden melodic hardcore song in The Cranberries discography. — Riley Haas

43. Up Around the Sun — History Lesson Part II (Minutemen cover)

“Our band could be your life” has become a clarion call for ’80s indie-punk, thanks to Michael Azerrad using the line as the title of his book on the subject. It’s the opening line in the Minutemen song “History Lesson Part II,” an autobiographical tune that doubles as a superhero origin story. Up Around the Sun’s cover keeps the original lyrics, but they shift the song’s focus to the line “Punk rock changed our lives.” It means no less for the change, and the banjo the song now sports rings just as true. — Patrick Robbins

42. The Regrettes — Dancing on My Own (Robyn cover)

The essential elements of a “Dancing On My Own” cover are vocals that make you really feel the lyrics, the yearning, the angst, and the accompanying instrumentals that give the perfect crying in the club ambiance. From the opening old-school airplane propeller-style guitar loop to the proudly, marching drum beat, we can already picture The Regrettes in the corner lamenting their fate as the ones not being taken home. By the “so far away” break, we get an emotional breather, accompanied by a more acoustic-style guitar, but just as we catch our breath, a drum solo brings us right back to the bittersweetness of dancing on our own. — Sara Stoudt

41. Alabama 3 — The Road Goes On Forever (The Highwaymen cover)

The Alabama 3 are a whole lot more than the country techno mash-up they sometimes get loosely labelled as, the Sopranos-soundtrack hitmakers having a whole lot more fingered pies than that, encapsulating many more musical styles and themes. However, from time to time it sums up best what they offer. “The Road Goes On Forever,” written by Robert Earl Keen and popularized by the Highwaymen conglomerate of Willie, Johnny, Waylon and Kris, is (obviously) country, and this version is, if not techno, certainly electronica/dance. With lyrics that might epitomize the alleged lifestyle choices of the band, it shows also the genuine love the band have for this style of music. So much so, in the cut and thrust of the parent album, it sounds an outlier. But play it as a stand alone and suddenly it transforms, becoming a piece of exquisite celebration, their delivery touched with a tang of wistful realization that it may indeed be the truth, their truth. — Seuras Og


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  10 Responses to “The 50 Best Cover Songs of 2023”

Comments (10)
  1. I’m always leery of any year-end lists, but I look forward to the CoverMe Best every year. Always fun to find new covers to enjoy. Heading for the top 10, I assumed they missed the best cover of the year – but there it was, exactly where it should be – at #1. Ride the Pony indeed.

    Great job team! Confirmation bias for the win.

  2. My #2 at your #1 (and really it’s my #1B). As we have determined over at Cover Lover, the best compliment we can give to Slothrust’s version, is “this song fucks.”

  3. What a lot of crap covers in this list . . . and not even a mention of Lenny Kaye’s all-star band covering the Nuggets album?? That’s just for starters . . . what a depressing end-of-year list.

  4. Or . . . looking forward to some really good covers. They’re out there.

  5. “Fast Car” a song of hope?


    I suppose you also think “The Future’s So Bright (I Got to Wear Shades)” is a song praising ambitious young MBAs too.

  6. Love the covers by Slothrust and Sunny War!

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