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Jan 282022
 

‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

best smiths covers

Who was the first band you felt truly understood you? The one who seemed to verbalize your every inexpressible thought with such pinpoint precision, who from the moment you first heard them made every other band that previously occupied your heart cease to matter? If you happened to have come of age in the ’80s, there was only one band in the entire universe that truly understood your pining and suffering. They were called The Smiths, and they totally got you.

The Smiths weren’t like the other (’80s) boys whose blonde highlights, synthesizers, and colorfully androgynous sartorial choices were dominating the pop charts and MTV. While Duran Duran and Wham! swanned on glamorous beaches and aimed themselves straight at your, uh, parts, The Smiths actively avoided the sun and made a beeline for your heart, mind, and bookcase. They didn’t care to make silly videos to promote their wares. Their metaphorical MTV was the music press and Morrissey’s eminently quotable interviews were the key pieces of catnip used to promote the band.

Of course, for all the intellect on display in the magazines, Morrissey was still an immaculately-coiffed heartthrob who knew how to work it in the pictures (Did I write him an unanswered fan letter in 1984 to tell him I loved him? Yes). But the music required no hard selling. Morrissey’s lyrics were revelatory, a magical mix of misery, humor, bitterness, and the embarrassing truth. Who among us hasn’t suffered at some point from “a shyness that is criminally vulgar” or had a “murderous desire for love” or wanted to “hang the DJ”? The union of Morrissey’s immaculate words with Johnny Marr’s chiming guitar melodies made rejection, frustration, and self-loathing sound positively majestic.

Over the years, The Smiths have become something of a code word used to describe the first band that became your friend, the first that looked you straight in your misty eyes, clutched both your hands to their chest, and said “I feel the same way.” This is why the band continues to be covered at such a relentless clip by artists old and new. And it’s why the songs being chosen to cover aren’t confined to the usual cluster of greatest hits. When it comes to The Smiths, it’s just a little more personal.

The Smiths are never, ever getting back together. The years of inter-band sniping far exceed the number that the band was actually together. Hell, as we were finalizing this list this week yet another Moz-Marr dustup occurred. But that’s okay. We don’t need more than they’ve already given. Let’s just celebrate the good times. We now present the 40 most triumphant and charming Smiths covers in the universe. Ready, handsome devils? Let us begin…

– Hope Silverman

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Dec 172021
 

Follow all our Best of 2021 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.

best cover songs of 2021

To come up with our year-end list, we listened to thousands of covers.

That’s not an exaggeration, or loosely throwing around “thousands” for effect. My iTunes tells me I personally listened to and rated 1,120 new covers in 2021. And I’m just one of a dozen people here. Many of those thousands of covers were very good! But “very good” isn’t good enough for our annual year-end Best Cover Songs list. So when we say these 50 are the cream of the crop, we mean it.

They, as usual, have little in common with each other. A few tie into current events: Artists we lost, social justice concerns, live music’s fitful return. Most don’t. But does a doom metal cover of Donna Summer really need a reason to exist? How about African blues Bob Dylan, New Orleans bounce Lady Gaga, or organ ballad Fleetwood Mac? Nah. We’re just glad they’re here.

So dive into our countdown below – and, if you want us to send you a couple hundred Honorable Mentions culled from those thousands, join the Cover Me Patreon.

– Ray Padgett, Editor in Chief

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Dec 102021
 

Follow all our Best of 2021 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.

best tribute albums 2021

It feels like a cliché these days to start one of these year-end lists writing about “the times we live in,” but, as you read and listen to our picks, you’ll find the specter of the coronavirus and lockdown pretty unavoidable.

One of these albums is titled Songs from Isolation; another is Awesome Quarantine Mix-Tape. Even on some albums where it’s so blindingly obvious, it’s there. Aoife Plays Nebraska is a recording of a quarantine livestream she gave. Los Lobos envisioned Native Sons as a balm for being stuck at home, unable to tour. And then there’s the tribute to John Prine, the long-awaited sequel to 2010’s Broken Hearts and Dirty Windows, inspired by his death from the coronavirus last year.

But many of these albums recall better times too. Two are belated releases of in-real-life, pre-pandemic tribute concerts, one to Leonard Cohen and the other to Eric Clapton’s Derek and the Dominoes (well, I guess both of those subject are kind of bummers, in different ways…). Tributes abound to other recent deaths – Andy Gibb, Justin Townes Earle, Roky Erickson – but we have plenty to artists still with us too, like Nick Cave, Peter Gabriel, and a host of underground psych-rock bands you’ve never heard of.

Then there are those that don’t fit any narrative. An artist felt inspired by an unconnected bunch of songs, decided to cover ’em, and brought them all together into a cohesive record. What do Vampire Weekend and The Supremes have in common? Lauren O’Connell’s beatifully intimate imaginings. How about Allen Toussaint and Calexico? Robert Plant and Alison Krauss harmonizing all over ’em. Whether it’s a quote-unquote “lockdown record” or just someone saying, “hell, why not get a bunch of folkie weirdos to play Phish tunes?,” every album on this list brought something meaningful to – ugh – the times we live in.

– Ray Padgett, Editor-in-Chief

The list starts on the next page…

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Oct 282021
 

‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

metallica covers

It all started forty years ago today. On October 28, 1981, in Los Angeles, a Danish tennis player turned drummer by the name of Lars Ulrich met with guitarist James Hetfield for the first time. The two formed the basis for the band that would become Metallica.

In the ‘80s, the thrash metal quartet released four of arguably the greatest metal albums of all time: Kill ‘Em All, Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets, and …And Justice for All. That was just a warmup.

In 1991, the band released a self-titled album that would change their entire destiny, not to mention the history of metal. Dubbed simply Metallica, but otherwise known as The Black Album, the record became one of the best-selling hard rock albums in history. The record earned the band legions of new fans. It also triggered countless old ones, who were perturbed that the ultimate purveyors of thrash had gone “soft.” The record transformed Metallica into one of the biggest rock bands in the world. It’s a moniker they’ve carried ever since, even if their pace of album releases has slowed considerably.

Over the years, the band’s music has inspired numerous cover songs across multiple genres. Jazz, pop, rock, country, bluegrass, and numerous classical artists (not to mention countless metal bands) have taken on Metallica’s tracks. Adding more fuel to the proverbial cover fire, this year, to mark the 30th anniversary of The Black Album, the band commissioned an extensive tribute record dubbed The Metallica Blacklist. The album features cover songs by the likes of Elton John, Yo-Yo Ma, Darius Rucker, Miley Cyrus, My Morning Jacket, and Kamasi Washington.

So why has Metallica’s music inspired so many covers? Underneath the layers of distortion, hard-pounding double bass drums, and barbaric yowls, the band’s music and songwriting are strikingly complex. Listening to their original recordings, one can hear classical-style melodies, virtuosic guitar solos, and extended jams, as well as elements of classic, punk, and prog rock.

With the lyrics, one finds the band tapping into a deeper universe as well, exploring the lines between life, death, and spirituality. Their songs are filled with numerous biblical and religious references. Perhaps most famously, on “Enter Sandman,” the band quotes the prayer “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep,” turning a child’s plea for salvation into a rumination on the horrors of the night.

Since their inception, Metallica has always been striving for something more profound. Many artists have heard the bells of inspiration toll. Here’s a list of 40 of the best Metallica covers from the last 40 years. – Curtis Zimmermann

The list begins on Page 2.

Oct 132021
 

‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

best paul simon covers

“I usually come in second to Dylan,” Paul Simon once said, “and I don’t like coming in second.” Indeed, he’s had to deal with it literally ever since he was born, in 1941. We already celebrated Bob Dylan’s 80th birthday in May, and today we turn to the man Dylan has called “one of the preeminent songwriters of the times,” Paul Simon, as he hits his own 80th. Simon’s in the rarified air of someone whose songs get covered almost as much as Dylan’s (ugh – second place again), so for this month’s Best Covers Ever, we’re diving into covers of the entire Paul Simon catalog, both solo and with Simon and Garfunkel.

Another thing Dylan once said about Simon, in relation to his own music, is this: “I’m not Paul Simon. I can’t do that. My songs come out of folk music and early rock n’ roll, and that’s it. I’m not a classical lyricist, I’m not a meticulous lyricist. I don’t write melodies that are clever or catchy.”

False modesty aside, Dylan hits on some of what makes Simon’s work so beloved by other musicians. His melodies are clever and catchy. His lyrics are meticulous. In both words and music, Simon can use a little to say a lot. His songs have strong cores, but leave a lot of space for other artists to play around with. So it’s no surprise that the list below spans genres from punk, dance music, gospel, and more. You’ll hear every sound except one: Silence (sorry). No matter how afield the songs roam, though, they still sound like Paul Simon.

So enough talk about Simon being a perennial silver medal winner. His craft and his talent have earned him and his songs a place at the top of the medal podium, and these fifty covers prove it.

The list begins on Page 2.

Sep 032021
 

‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

lady gaga covers

There was a time in this blog’s lifespan where a shocking percentage of the covers landing in our inbox and RSS feeds were of Lady Gaga songs. It only lasted a couple years, but for a minute there Gaga was doing Beatles numbers. Hell, even relatively minor singles like “Marry the Night” would dominate the covers world for weeks after people heard them.

As Gaga’s entered the Vegas-residency stage of her career, her new songs don’t get covered as often. But even still, there seems to be a respect from other musicians not afforded all her pop-star peers. A Katy Perry chart flop will get ignored. A Gaga chart flop will still likely land a few interesting covers.

Though the songs were never as weird as the outfits were, there was always some unexpected twist for other musicians to play with, from the rolled r’s of “Bad Romance” to the goofy theatricality of “Alejandro” to the best stuttering since “My Generation” (“pa-pa-pa-pokerface,” “stop telephoning me-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh”). Plus, even after a few years in the wilderness, everyone knew any minute she could return with a “Shallow.”

In our list of 30 covers below, all those big hits show up plenty. But even the more recent songs and album cuts make appearances. Lady Gaga’s songs are sturdy enough to remain infectious whether they’re performed as gothic metal or throwback rockabilly. See for yourself below.

The list begins on Page 2.