Dec 152023

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20. Post Malone — Them Bones (Alice in Chains cover)

I’m always up for a new take on Alice in Chains, particularly if it’s not a strictly metal rendition. Post Malone’s cover of “Them Bones” is exactly the kind of thing I want more of: Alice in Chains unleashed from its usual confines, arranged with some imagination. Post plays it straight, for the most part. He jettisons the guitar solo, but the deletion adds something to the remake, or concentrates it. He has the vocal horsepower to channel Layne Staley with apparent ease. A vocal choir delivers the harmony and otherwise alters the vibe and gives this version its unique flavor. Good call by host Howard Stern to ask the choir to sing the chorus one more time with Post on mute–the afterthought is kinda the best part of the show. One last desperate “Ah!” would’ve been almost too good. — Tom McDonald

19. Ghost — Jesus He Knows Me (Genesis cover)

1992’s “Jesus He Knows Me,” the infectious skewering of megachurches and showman evangelists, is one of the best tunes to emerge from the polarizing, pop-ified latter-day era of Genesis. Hearing Phil Collins in the role of “hypocritical reverend,” singing about how his wife “doesn’t know about my girlfriend or the man I met last night” is never gonna get old.

Sweden’s endlessly lovable, earnestly evil, melodic-metal mavens Ghost are kind of hard to explain. Led by vocalist-visionary Tobias Forge, their history is so complex, I couldn’t possibly do it justice here. All I’ll tell you is that it involves fictitious personas, lawsuits, interminable inter-band sniping, and Satan. The most important thing to know though, is that, despite their convoluted backstory, Ghost rule. In addition to their multitude of headbanging yet tuneful studio LPs, they’ve released a couple of fabulously eclectic and ass-kicking cover EPs, the second of which was released in 2023. Phantomime is full of rousing, riotous covers of tracks by Television, The Stranglers, Iron Maiden, and Tina Turner. But the best of the bunch is the band’s glossy, bombastic version of “Jesus He Knows Me.” It is slathered in, let’s just call it “extreme heaviosity,” yet somehow sounds like an AOR/Arena Rock song that was recorded in 1982. This “Jesus” is equal parts charming, insidious, and hilariously beautiful. — Hope Silverman

18. John Francis Flynn — Dirty Old Town (Ewan MacColl cover)

I guess one certain other version may be getting a further round of revisits this last week, what with the death of Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan, it may be some surprise that the writer, Ewan MacColl (father of Kirsty – yes, a further connection to Shane), wrote it about Manchester. But Flynn takes it further to the bosom of Dublin with this version, which manages an eccentric mix of sounds and sources that, together, still seem unmistakably Irish, if with abstention of the obvious or overt cliches so easily roused. “No paddywhackery” is Flynn’s MO, and his lugubrious croon floats over a slightly distorting guitar, before the brass chimes in. The impression is of a sepia photo, if viewed through a prism. He makes the slightly over-known versions, gracing many an anodyne open mike session, seem as distant as so too had the Pogues. But if their version was an aggressive tirade, Flynn imbues it with a restless sense of inevitability. — Seuras Og

17. The Reds, Pinks & Purples — Did you know that there’s a Tunnel under Ocean Blvd (Lana Del Rey cover)

This cover is less dreamy and more beach-rock, but there is still that hazy sound in the guitar lines and in some of the verse’s vocals to remind you of Lana Del Rey’s signature sound. The more upbeat approach to this cover makes it more of an anthem than a mournful elegy, placing less emphasis on the “when’s it gonna be my turn” pining and focusing more on the “don’t forget me” command. That line is more triumphant here, a sonic fist in the air, more in the spirit of “don’t you forget about me”. — Sara Stoudt

16. Eartheater — Chop Suey (System of a Down cover)

Alexandra Drewchin, aka Eartheater, throws us a curveball with this cover of a song famous for its dynamics. For its first half, she pairs clipped acoustic guitar with her almost mumbly vocals and looped backing vocals. It sounds like it’s designed to alienate fans of the original. But stick with it as right before the two-minute mark, Drewchin begins to reveal the full power of her voice. And then she slowly builds her version to the climax everyone is waiting for, when a whole band kicks in. It’s super-idiosyncratic and you’re not likely to mistake it for anyone else’s System of a Down cover. — Riley Harris

15. Bob Dylan — Dance Me to the End of Love (Leonard Cohen cover)

For most of what his fans call the Never Ending Tour (his stated distaste for that term did little to dissuade us), Bob Dylan was known to switch up his setlists from night to night. He’s largely stopped that practice—the man is 82, after all—with one exception: covers. This year, he debuted over a dozen new covers, songs he’s never sung before. Many were tied to where he was playing. “Kansas City” in Kansas City. “Born in Chicago” in Chicago. “South of Cincinnati” in…you get the idea. The most moving of all came in Montreal, where he paid tribute to the city’s favorite son, Leonard Cohen. Dylan recognized the genius of “Hallelujah” before anyone else, covering it in 1988 when it was still an obscure album cut. All these years later, hearing him do “Dance Me to the End of Love” was a profound and moving experience. Trust me. I was there.Ray Padgett

14. Junn — Trains and Boats and Planes (Dionne Warwick cover)

“Trains and Boats and Planes” is, at this writing, a year and a half from turning sixty years old. What’s most remarkable about that is how timeless it continues to sound, no matter the finery. Junn’s cover is like a calm lake, teeming with life beneath its placid surface. The backing feels exotic and mystical, while the vocal has both a gossamer light beauty and the firm backbone of elegance. — Patrick Robbins

13. Sunny War — Baby Bitch (Ween cover)

Sunny War wrote every song on her album American Gospel except one: “Baby Bitch,” by Ween. For a million reasons, it seems like a surprising choice for a Black female singer-songwriter to cover. Ween? A song called “Baby Bitch”? But it’s not a gag or a goof. “‘Baby Bitch’ is one of my favorite Ween songs,” she said. “It’s pretty and also petty as hell. I first heard Ween’s Chocolate And Cheese album when I was 8 or 9. My mom and stepdad were really into Ween at the time. Throughout the years I’ve found myself returning to ‘Baby Bitch’ every time I end up angry with someone I once loved. I used to play the cover while busking on the Venice Boardwalk and am happy to have finally recorded it. I think the children singing the choruses makes it just a little more petty.” — Ray Padgett

12. Billy Strings & Molly Tuttle — Listen to the Radio (Nanci Griffith cover)

Molly Tuttle and Billy Strings join their formidable forces on Nanci Griffith’s “Listen to the Radio,” and it is the most popular track on More than a Whisper, the star-studded tribute to the late, great singer-songwriter. Acoustic music lovers can’t seem to get enough of Tuttle and Strings as individual artists. Here they blend voices beautifully as Tuttle takes the lead, and they trade guitar solos in a smooth, conversational style. There’s not a lot of showiness, just exceptional talent modestly serving the song itself, perfectly in the spirit of Nanci Griffith. — Tom McDonald

11. Adam Miller — Everybody’s Been Burned (The Byrds cover)

There was always something dammed eerie about the David Crosby-penned Byrd’s song “Everybody’s Been Burned,” connected, somehow, to Roger McGuinn’s creeping Rickenbacker arpeggios, the jazzy chordal structure, the bossa nova rhythm, and, oh yes, Crosby’s downbeat vocals on the subject of hiding behind a “bitter wall of blue” and “dying inside” should you choose to go on loving someone. Guitarist Adam Miller, once of electronic Portland band the Chromatics, knows this all too well, with the 1967 song having been one of his favorites since he was a teenager. He takes its morbid vibe and melody to the next level, in fact, by bringing a haunting synth ambience, a pulsating electro bassline, and a rare moment (for him) of melancholy singing, before he lets rip on a ringing guitar solo. And if you think he even sounds a little bit gothy and Cureish here, that’s because original Cure drummer/keyboardist Lol Tolhurst is on hand to apply his considerable sense of drama to proceedings. — Adam Mason


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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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