Country superstar Chris Stapleton wrote or co-wrote most of the songs on his new album Starting Over. Listeners might not even realize they’re not all his unless they read the fine print of the credits. He picked three extremely deep cuts to cover, and they fit right in with his own compositions. Two are by the great singer-songwriter Guy Clark, who passed away a few years ago (Steve Earle recorded an entire tribute album). And one is a later solo song by John Fogerty.
When COVID-19 hit this spring, musician Emel Mathlouthi was visiting her family in Tunisia to celebrate her father’s 85th birthday. As everything shut down, she found herself trapped there as a short trip unexpectedly stretched to months. She wrote in the announcement:
I was separated from my husband, my band, my collaborators, and all my equipment. But I was immersed in a feeling of nostalgia and memory, surrounded by the blossoming wildflowers, tweeting birds, and blue skies of my hometown. Also, thankfully I was sheltered in with two of my favorite people in the world. Together we were three generations under the same roof – free from school, work, and from outside world distractions.
Larry “Ratso” Sloman has worked with famous musicians for decades, from embedding with Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder tour in 1975 to co-writing Red Hot Chili Pepper Anthony Kiedis’s memoir in 2004. But, until recently, he’s never been a musician himself. Last year, at age 69, he changed that with his debut album Stubborn Heart.
It includes a duet with his longtime friend Nick Cave, who in a forthcoming documentary calls Ratso “a very strange, exotic creature that walks backstage looking like no one you’ve ever met.” Now Ratso’s returned with a cover of Cave’s own “Skeleton Tree”:
Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.
While going back through the hundreds of new covers I’ve amassed in preparation for our upcoming Best Covers of 2020 list, I noticed a micro-trend: Heavy metal covers of Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down a Trend” were big this year. So let’s rank three of ’em.
The Don’t Sleep cover is good.
The Two Minutes to Late Night cover is better.
The Inter Arma cover is best.
“Covering the Hits” looks at covers of a randomly-selected #1 hit from the past sixty-odd years.
The three most prominent “Mo Money Mo Problems” covers aren’t really covers at all. But they’re at least cover-adjacent, so we’ll start there.
On Friday, we published a massive list of the 50 best cover songs from the year 2000. Some were emblematic of that year’s musical trends, but most could just as easily have come out yesterday.
So today, a postscript: Covers that came out that year that just scream “2000.” If you were paying attention to music then, you will recognize many of these trends. There’s the ska revival. There’s rap-rock. There are, of course, boy bands.
Smash Mouth and Aaron Carter both make appearances. So do the Vengaboys. Madonna covers “American Pie”; Fred Durst covers Public Enemy. Someone sings a ska cover of “Take On Me” while sitting on the toilet. It was just that sort of year.
To be fair, these covers are not all terrible…but most are. Many were also among the year’s biggest hits, proving that people in the year 2000 exhibited no better taste in music than they did picking a president. And a few you probably didn’t even know were covers in the first place.
Relive your most traumatic memories of music back then below. Bonus hall-of-shame points if the cover has a music video featuring bleached tips or JNCOs.