Dec 152023

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30. Van Morrison — You Are My Sunshine (Jimmie Davis cover)

Van Morrison loves music, adores it, and it clearly brings him great joy whenever he is playing it on his own terms. The music industry he likes less. The music press, probably least of all. If the industry wants him to produce “new” product every year, he will do it, and play it at concerts, and may play the misanthrope for the press. Even if he tells the gig goers at the start, “If you’re expecting It’s Too Late To Stop Now you’re going to be disappointed.” Morrison’s enthusiasm, at 78, for the music of his childhood has been a great boon to his post-pandemic legacy. Locked away from the stifling fans and the press for a period, he released two excellent albums this year, one of rock and roll (and its roots) and another of skiffle. From the former comes this slice of joy. A taut band and exuberant vocals make the bliss of music evident in every note, along with a love of others that does not always shine through in other aspects of his life. — Mike Tobyn

29. The Ophelias — Hanging on the Telephone (Nerves/Blondie cover)

The Nerves’ original and Blondie’s definitive version are both known for their punky energy. The Ophelias turn down the energy to start, slow the pace to a crawl and add a string section. Lead singer Spencer Peppet’s performance doesn’t lack for emotion, however, and her intensity increases as the cover progresses. Though they play it primarily as a slow, acoustic ballad, The Ophelias still bring the song to a powerful emotional peak. — Riley Harris

28. Budjerah & WILSN — Better Be Home Soon (Crowded House cover)

Oh yes, this is my type of cover. One that somehow manages to keep the same tune as the original, but changes the entire style to find a hidden groove that the original somehow kept secret. Aussie artists Budjerah and WILSN are in perfect harmony on this jazzy version of the Crowded House classic. The funky beat and pitch-perfect horns mean that this version is bound to get stuck in your head. — Brendan Shanahan

27. Elisapie — Isumagijunnaitaungituq [The Unforgiven] (Metallica cover)

Elisapie’s inuktitut cover of “The Unforgiven” is a gorgeous folk ballad with a dense backing track on the chorus that sends the listener into another world. For the verses, she sings the lyrics at a slightly slower pace, in the Inuktitut language, with relatively minimal accompaniment (guitar and drums). But for the chorus, she combines percussion, banjo, throat-singing and some unidentifiable noises to approximate the sonic force of Metallica while still somehow sounding like folk music. Sometimes covers in different languages just change the words, but Elisapie transforms the entire song. — Riley Harris

26. Madison Cunningham — What’s Love Got to Do with It (Tina Turner cover)

It’s hard to say which is the more remarkable part of Madison Cunningham’s performance of “What’s Love Got to Do With It”: her guitar playing, soft, steady, and clear, or her vocal, lost in a quiet place of regret, revealing the song never really had the fight Tina Turner imbued the song with forty years ago. Nothing about Cunningham’s cover reveals a second-hand emotion. — Patrick Robbins

25. Powerwolf — Poison (Alice Cooper cover)

Alice Cooper’s “Poison” was a comeback of sorts for the shock rocker. Released in 1989, the track introduced him to a new generation of young headbangers (like me). To this day, it remains his top track on Spotify, earning more plays than all of his ‘70s hits like “School’s Out” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy.” The German metal band Powerwolf, who seem to have updated Cooper’s shock rock for the new millennium, released a cover of “Poison.” The band keeps the iconic guitar riffs from the original intact, but lead vocalist Karsten Brill delivers the lyrics in a more raspy style than Cooper. Underlying the arrangement is a haunting organ track, giving the song an even more sinister feel than the original. What better way to pay tribute to Cooper. — Curtis Zimmermann

24. Sacha — Gotta Be Somebody (Nickelback cover)

This cover may convert even the most die-hard Nickelback haters. It’s a song of searching, a song of hope, of reaching out into the void. Sacha’s version starts with a lonesome zither-family instrument and her vocals joining in with minimal backing. That ethereal twang hovers in the background throughout the entire song, even as guitars join in. As the song progresses, the energy kicks up, Sacha’s delivery stubbornly hopeful. That same zither takes on the role of an electric guitar solo towards the end, bridging the country style of this cover and the rock style of the original. — Sara Stoudt

23. Brothertiger — Take a Picture (Filter cover)

John Jagos, aka Brothertiger, didn’t have to make too huge a leap to turn this radio-friendly hit from late-‘90s industrial band Filter into an electronic synth jam. This was Filter at their most accessible and the song’s guitars and vocals were heavily produced to the point that it already had an electronica feel to it. Jagos takes this a step further, his vocals soothingly drifting over a chillout synth version of the Filter riffs. The execution is flawless: it feels like this could have been the radio hit Filter could have had in an alternate universe. — Mike Misch

22. Trevor Horn ft. Lady Blackbird — Slave To The Rhythm (Grace Jones cover)

Trevor Horn’s album Echoes: Ancient and Modern showcased a number of songs, many previously produced by Horn himself in different guises. It is a marvelous collection and the star wattage (Iggy Pop, Tori Amos, Seal) present is a tribute to someone who has been at the center of pop music for nearly 50 years. By far the least well known collaborator on the album is Lady Blackbird. The moniker relates to a persona developed by soul and jazz singer Marley Monroe, to actively channel progressive themes with virtuoso vocals. Nina Simone is the model, but some have described her as “The Grace Jones of Jazz.” Which is a great place to start for “Slave to the Rhythm.” The tone is less, shall we say, frenetic than Studio 54 New York City. However, as Blackbird moves through her astonishing vocal gears, all Horn’s experience as an arranger comes into play. He needs to build and build to match what Blackbird is providing up front. Fortunately he is able to do so, building towards a crescendo that has rarely been matched in pop or jazz. An impresario and a singer at the apogee of achievement. — Mike Tobyn

21. Olivia Jean — Orinoco Flow (Enya cover)

Who in their right mind would elect to cover the new agey whimsy of Enya with a prime slice of new wave power-poppery? Answer: Olivia Jean, and it is a wonder to behear! The main theme careers along in a muted thrash of guitars, the singer breathlessly reciting the words. As the organ kicks in, it becomes like the Stranglers on helium, which, I think we can all agree, sounds a wonderful idea. It will make you smile and it will make you laugh, and then make you play it again and again and again. Olivia Jean is a 33 year old guitarist from Nashville, via Detroit, inspired by the B-52s. She also happens to be the current Mrs. Jack White. It strikes me there is precious little fun in the charts these days, possibly precious little in the world. This is fun, fun, fun, by anyone’s standards, which gives me an idea of another cover she should tackle. — 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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