Dec 152023

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10. Sabrina Carpenter — I Knew You Were Trouble (Taylor Swift cover)

Taylor Swift owned pop culture in 2023. Just saying her name conjures images of her sold-out Eras tours, her three-hour concert film, her chart-topping hit “Cruel Summer,” her album re-releases and her click-generating relationship with Jason Kelce’s brother (Go Birds!). Given the extreme nature of her celebrity, it’s no surprise her songs are already inspiring a deluge of cover songs. One of the standouts from 2023 was this cover of “I Knew You Were Trouble” by Sabrina Carpenter, a former Disney channel star with her own impressive resume of stage, screen, television and music credits. The original fused elements of guitar rock on the verses, with a thunderous bit of pop overload on the chorus. Dropping the bombast of the original, Carpenter sings it as an echoey, acoustic ballad, delivering a haunting new take on Swift’s story of a relationship gone bad. — Curtis Zimmermann

9. Dolly Parton — The Last Thing on My Mind (Doc Watson cover)

Dolly Parton released an entire album of rock covers, and while there were some gems I think it’s no surprise her best cover this year was a folk song from a tribute to Doc Watson. Although Parton’s voice is the start, it’s worth noting how cozy the guitars are in this version of Tom Paxton’s original: the picking skills are almost enough to distract from the vocal fireworks that are happening throughout. Parton’s voice is soothing during the verses and rousing during the choruses. By the time the third chorus comes around she is fully belting the words supported by goosebump inducing harmonies. It’s not Parton’s first time releasing this song (in 1967 her duet with Porter Wagoner hit #7 on Billboard’s Hot Country Singles), but it’s the best. — Mike Misch

8. Alex Lahey — Make Your Own Kind of Music (Mama Cass cover)

“Mama Cass” Elliot’s “Make Your Own Kind of Music” was an efficient pop hit. The 1969 smash clocked in at just over two minutes. With its lush arrangement, which included contributions from the session musicians known as the Wrecking Crew, it felt like a mini-symphony. Australian singer/songwriter Alex Lahey built on this concept with her cover, adding in extra strings, and also lengthening the song. She includes a spoken word interlude to explain to listeners that the tune is about inclusivity, and reminds them that it contains a key change. After the song’s finale, she sings one additional slower chorus, to make sure her message hits home. — Curtis Zimmermann

7. Alexandra Kay — Dammit (Blink 182 cover)

Alexandra Kay finds the hidden country lament in Blink-182’s first hit single in this cover from February. She plays the song completely straight and earnest and finds emotional depth in lyrics from a band who nearly always have tongue firmly planted in cheek. The arrangement is note-perfect, with ringing acoustic guitar, haunting pedal steel and classic modern country harmony vocals. It’s kind of amazing how much Kay makes this song sound like it was written for country singers. — Riley Harris

6. King Hannah — Like a Prayer [Extended Version] (Madonna cover)

King Hannah released two versions of this Madonna cover this year, but it’s the full-length version of “Like a Prayer” that really stands out. Hannah Merrick begins singing over a mechanical keyboard pulse, with a little bit of echo. The mix gets subtly denser, adding instrument after instrument as the pulse propels the song forward. This continues for about three minutes and then the full band shifts into a little bit more of a groove. Soon everything but Merrick’s voice and the pulse drop out setting the stage for an epic climax featuring a distorted guitar solo. It’s a surprising and unique transformation. — Riley Harris

5. Night Club — Cities In Dust (Siouxsie and the Banshees cover)

From goth pop in 1985 to dark disco in 2023. That’s the trajectory of Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Cities in Dust” since it served as the lead single for the post-punk band’s glorious 1986 album Tinderbox, having been inspired by the destruction of Roman settlements Pompeii and Herculaneum by Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. It’s LA synth duo Night Club, AKA Mark Brooks and Emily Kavanaugh, who color it dark disco, being one of the acts on the wonderfully eclectic Spellbound: A Tribute To Siouxsie & The Banshees. They don’t go for industrial-style reimagining in the way Garbage did earlier in the year (impressively), but they do apply a big synth bassline, a seductive vocal, and some monster beats. Time, then, to apply some purple eyeshadow and to dance moodily to an electronic banger in the gloomily dramatic club atmosphere of strobe lights and smoke machines. Or just listen to it at home. — Adam Mason

4. Luke Combs — Fast Car (Tracy Chapman cover)

Luke Combs’ “Fast Car” is easily the most popular cover of 2023, generating more than 300 million listens on Spotify alone. The track is also one of the unlikeliest hit songs of the year. It was originally released by singer/songwriter Tracy Chapman in 1988. Though the song had already inspired more than 90 covers, Combs took it to the top of the country charts. As a result, Chapman earned the distinction of being the first African-American woman to write a number one country hit. Combs didn’t change much with his recording. He just sung it in his own style, adding a bit more twang, and a few more instruments to the arrangement. The song’s message of hope in hard times is as powerful today as it was in 1988. From the moment it first hit the cassette racks, “Fast Car” was an instant classic. Combs simply introduced it to a generation of streamers who, like their parents and grandparents, are still wishing that “things will get better.” In so doing, he added new chapters to the history of the song, Chapman’s musical legacy and country music itself. Now that’s the mark of a great cover. — Curtis Zimmermann

3. Damien Rice — Nothing Compares 2 U (Sinéad O’Connor [via Prince] cover)

Let’s be honest: This list could have been entirely Sinéad O’Connor covers. So many poured forth after her sudden passing. The most moving of all, though, was one that wasn’t planned. In the above video, you can see her fellow Irish singer Damien Rice find out about her passing in real time, from audience shouts while he’s performing. He doesn’t know what to say. Instead, he starts gently fiddling around with some chords. Finally, live on stage in front of an audience, he starts playing “Nothing Compares 2 U,” a song he’s never performed before. His gorgeous falsetto brings all the ache and emotion out of the song, formerly about a lover but now about Sinéad herself. When he doesn’t remember all the words, the audience loudly joins in to help him out. That may be the most moving moment of all. — Ray Padgett

2. Joshua Ray Walker — Halo (Beyoncé cover)

In this country-western version of “Halo” fit for the Wild West, the driving bass, the devil-may-care fiddle, and jaunty banjo provide a twang that doesn’t take away from the earnestness of the song’s message. There’s a lot of instrumental elements to keep track of in this song, but Walker’s rich and resonant voice rises above the fray to deliver Beyoncé’s original message of awe and gratefulness. — Sara Stoudt

1. Slothrust — Pony (Ginuwine cover)

There are so many different aspects to consider when judging and appreciating a great cover song. Does the song take the original in a new direction, either in musical style or lyrical interpretation? Is there an interesting juxtaposition between the source and the new version? Did the cover artist reference elements from the song that pay tribute to the original artist? Is the new version fun to listen to and skillfully played? For Slothrust’s cover of Ginuwine’s “Pony,” the answer to all of the above is a resounding “YES!” While there were so many amazing covers this year, none were able to rise to the challenge like Slothrust’s Leah Wellbaum and Will Gorin. First of all, the novelty of the genre change from 90s R&B to a heavy rock song while maintaining the “burp” bass sound is noteworthy. On repeat listens, however, the novelty is less the point and the musicianship stars. The song is heavy, but still has a sultriness to it. Between the killer riffs and solo Wellbaum lays down and the drum breaks from Gorin, this goes hard and is worthy of the top spot for the year. — Mike Misch

Don’t miss The Best Cover and Tribute Albums of 2023 and the Best Cover EPs of 2023 (Patreon exclusive).

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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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