Jun 212024

Head back to the beginning.

50. Nellie McKay — Sunny Afternoon

Nellie McKay was born in the 1980s, but she digs the music of the ’60s — see her My Weekly Reader album, a collection of ’60s covers. But she likes older time-periods even more, and the more theatrical the better; Cole Porter, Doris Day, and Kurt Weill are some of the artists she loves. In Ray Davies, who is famously backwards-gazing and theatrical, McKay must see a kindred spirit. With “Sunny Afternoon,” Davies was calling back the Music Hall genre circa 1900 or so. McKay probably liked the politically-charged message in the song too (with its shades of “Taxman”) and admired Davies’ choice to make the song’s narrator thoroughly unsympathetic. McKay is herself something of an outspoken activist and prankster, in addition to being a supremely gifted composer/musician/performer. – Tom McDonald

49. Colin Meloy — Do You Remember Walter?

“Do You Remember Walter?” is a peppy power-pop song supplemented with faint echoes of baroque pop that laments how people drift apart and how children rarely grow up to live their childhood dreams. The Decemberists’ Colin Meloy strips everything down to just his voice and two acoustic guitars, with none of the pounding piano or muscular electric guitar. He adopts a similar vocal approach to Ray Davies’ original, but with maybe a little more ambiguity to his performance. The spare arrangement puts the lyrics in sharper relief and gives Meloy’s performance more of a somber feel. Davies can come off sounding a little judgy of Walter, but Meloy seems to understand both have changed. – Riley Haas

48. The Format — Apeman

The Format, a band fronted by Nate Ruess before he briefly conquered the pop music world as the lead singer of fun., released a cover of “Apeman” as a single in 2006. The song was written by Ray Davies in 1970 as a call for a simpler life and a return to nature—and maybe a bit of a parody of hippies—and was performed in a calypso style, with Davies affecting a faux-Caribbean accent (years before Sting). Ruess and his bandmate Sam Means basically replicated the feel of the original, including the revving engine intro, with a stripped-down arrangement and only a hint of a fake accent. But the catchiness of the song, and Ruess’ extraordinary voice, make the cover worth checking out. – Jordan Becker

47. Françoise Hardy — Who’ll Be The Next In Line

By coincidence, Françoise Hardy passed away this month, also at the age of 80. She released this cover way back in 1968, on the album En Anglais. Which, as you Francophiles will know, means In English. It was her second English album, after several in her native tongue. The accent comes through regardless, and touches of chanson too, even in the context of this lightly psychedelic, and heavily orchestral, bubblegum-pop cover. – Jane Callaway

46. Mirah w/ Golden Bears — Til Death Do Us Part

This goofy confection was apparently meant to be used as the closing theme of a film based on the eponymous British TV series (which, as an aside, was the blueprint for the U.S. TV juggernaut-of-a-sitcom All In the Family). Oozing with syrupy charm, beloved singer-songwriter Mirah’s cover is also goofy. But the sweet silliness of its “lalala” harmonies and muted horn punctuations is offset by Mirah’s breathy, lowdown, downright Harry Nilsson-esque vocalizing, which is mighty fine. – Hope Silverman

45. Mo Kenney — I’m Not Like Everybody Else

In 2021, Nova Scotia singer-songwriter Mo Kenney released the simply-titled but excellent album Covers. It included spare and melancholy takes on songs by everyone from Tom Petty to Patti Page. The penultimate track was this haunting organ-driven dirge. “I don’t want to fall apart,” she sings, sounding like someone who’s doing just that. – Ray Padgett

44. Ripe — Lola

Ah yes, the first of several “Lola” covers, the timeless song about a man out on the town with his lady—who turned out to actually be a trans man. Now enter Ripe, the funk/alt/pop band. The group’s debut album Joy in the Wild Unknown took this Kinks song and ran with it.

“Lola” already had gravity, but Robbie Wulfsohn’s dynamic voice took it to the next level. Gritty at times, and round and dark at others, Wulfson’s versatility is extremely impressive. And between the clean production, in-your-face ska wailing horns, and new vocal harmonies, “Lola” has now been entirely reinvented. It’s funky, fun, and extremely energetic. As the song crescendos, the trumpets go wild with a repeated sixteenth-note motif. They end on a sunny note, the third of the scale, making it feel like we aren’t quite finished yet. – Aleah Fitzwater

43. Elliott Smith & Jon Brion — Waterloo Sunset

I thought it strange that Elliott Smith would cover “Waterloo Sunset.” But his treatment–or, really, his poignant voice–brings out the essential sorrowful isolation in the song. It makes sense to me now that the man who wrote songs like “Alameda” would embrace “Waterloo Sunset.” This live take with producer Jon Brion in a supporting role has a moving tenderness about it—their occasional flubs only enhance the performance. – Tom McDonald

42. Golden Smog — Strangers

We are here to celebrate Ray Davies’ 80th birthday, but younger brother Dave has been there for almost all of those four-score years, and they have had a productive and creative collaboration for more than 60 of them. However, like most siblings, they have had their differences, detailed and laid out in sometimes excruciating detail in books and articles. “Strangers” is very much a Dave tune, and tells a tale close to him, that of losing a friend to drugs. That is an all too present story at the moment, and alt-country supergroup Golden Smog were presenting their work in 2006, during the start of the opioid crisis. Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy leads on a faithful version with the poignancy of a war in progress. – Mike Tobyn

41. The Black Keys — Act Nice And Gentle

Back before they were arena-filling superstars, and then arena-not-filling mediumstars, the Black Keys were a scrappy garage-blues duo from Akron. This comes off their best-remembered album from that pre-fame period, 2004’s Rubber Factory, released on Fat Possum (doesn’t get cooler and more blues-cred than that). With just scrappy electric guitar and even-scrappier drums, they make this extreme deep cut sound like it’s being played by a bluesman named Junior or Blind on a porch somewhere in the south. – Ray Padgett


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  One Response to “The 50 Best Kinks Covers Ever”

Comments (1)
  1. Thanks for the wonderful Kinks covers great work So many good artists and great versions

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