Sixty years ago this month, The Beatles played on the Ed Sullivan Show. You don’t need us to tell you what a momentous occasion this was; entirebooks have been written on the subject. Suffice to say we’re using the anniversary as our excuse to finally devote a Best Covers Ever to perhaps the biggest band of them all. We’ve done Dylan. We’ve done the Stones. We’ve done Dolly and Springsteen and Prince. But there was one last giant remaining.
Though it’s difficult to measure this precisely, The Beatles are the most-covered artist of all time according to the two biggest covers databases on the internet (SecondHandSongs, WhoSampled). And that certainly feels right. “Yesterday” is often cited as the most-covered song of all time, though that needs qualifiers (a ton of Christmas standards would beat it). But, again, it feels right. The Beatles were ubiquitous in their day, and they’ve been ubiquitous ever since. They just had a chart-topping single last month, the A.I.-assisted “Now and Then,” which was duly covered widely. If “Carnival of Light” ever surfaces, no doubt a carnival of covers will soon follow.Continue reading »
I like to think that badass lady in the artwork up there (done by our own Hope Silverman!) embodies the spirit of this year’s list. Not that they’re all CBGB-style punk songs—though there are a couple—but in her devil-may-care attitude. “Who says I shouldn’t do a hardcore cover of the Cranberries? A post-punk cover of Nick Drake? A hip-hop cover of The Highwaymen? Screw that!”
As with most good covers, the 50 covers we pulled out among the thousands we listened to bring a healthy blend of reverence and irreverence. Reverence because the artists love the source material. Irreverence because they’re not afraid to warp it, bend it, mold it in their own image. A few of the songs below are fairly obscure, but most you probably already know. Just not like this.
Some of the albums on our list were obvious home runs. Cat Power singing a tribute to a 1966 Bob Dylan concert? You know that’s gonna be great (and it is). A bunch of punk and psychobilly bands blasting through Cramps covers? Pretty much a guaranteed blast. 90-year-old Willie Nelson in the twilight of his career paying tribute to one of his personal songwriting heroes? Good luck not being moved.
Others were more surprising. Reggae David Bowie could go either way. So could free-jazz Harry Styles or indie-rock ELO. And maybe the biggest surprise of all: T-Pain covers Sam Cooke and Black Sabbath…and it’s not terrible??
As always, big names mix with some albums we guarantee you’ve never heard of. To use one of the clichéd words we see constantly in cover-album titles, uncover some new favorites below.
25. Various Artists — Stuff Your Fridge!
Stuff Your Fridge! features 30 tracks, recorded by underground bands you’ve probably never heard, covering all aspects of the Grateful Dead songbook. The covers can be at times both brilliant and/or cringeworthy. The tracks that fare the best are the ones that stray the furthest from the original recordings, such as a goth version of “Cold Rain and Snow” by Delay 77 and a prog metal rendition of “Fire on the Mountain” by Buck Pool. But the compilers saved the oddest for last. That distinction goes to “Attics of My Life” by Holey Hell. It’s a keyboard-driven instrumental, arranged as if written for the soundtrack to a first-generation ‘80s Nintendo game. One can only imagine what they would have done with Drums and Space. – Curtis Zimmermann
24. Amos Lee — Honeysuckle Switches: The Songs of Lucinda Williams
Lucinda Williams seems like a solitary artist despite a steady flow of collaborations with (and covers by) her many admirers–country stars, jazz giants, and arena rockers alike. So it’s a warming surprise to have a full album tribute from an artist like Amos Lee, one who has made his own sizable mark as a songwriter and who is a generation or two younger than Lucinda.
Drawing from all phases of Williams’ discography, Lee keeps mostly on the bare bones side of things, with acoustic guitar or piano supporting his soulful vocals. Certain takes may miss the emotional core of the originals, while on other tracks he brings life to songs that may have felt too downbeat in Lucinda’s delivery of them. Or not–each listener’s mileage will vary. And anyway, Honeysuckle Switches may well find an unbiased audience in Amos Lee fans who haven’t yet known the pleasure of the songs of Lucinda Williams. – Tom McDonald
23. T-Pain — On Top of The Covers
In 2019, Auto-Tune pioneer T-Pain joined the first cast of The Masked Singer in 2019, a television show where celebrities hide their identities behind costumes and sing. T-Pain ended up revealing himself at the very end, by winning, and surprising the judges. T-Pain’s cover album maintains a similar spirit, whether he is still searching for redemption after the death of Auto-Tune or finally at peace asserting his raw talent. He has chosen each song on the album to show off his vocal range and power, spanning from old standards to hits through the ages. You will hear plenty of vocal runs that assert “listen to what I can do,” but they do so without an overbearing bravado, just confidence. Instead of relying on a computer to back him up, T-Pain layers his own voice intricately throughout the entire album. You can hear it in the Glee-like chorus accompaniment in “Don’t Stop Believin’.” His choosing “Don’t Stop Believin’” in the first place makes me think T-Pain is not taking himself too seriously with this cover album. It’s a guilty pleasure song, and perhaps not one that would first come to mind for someone whose brand is “Hard&B”. – Sara Stoudt
22. Various Artists — Dead Formats Vol. 2
Pure Noise Records’ second volume of (primarily) indie rock and alternative covers is just as fun as their first edition (which was our 16th best covers album of 2022). 15 artists tackle 15 tracks, as far back in time as Elton John from the ’70s, and there are a few tracks from the ’80s and ’90s, but most are covers from the aughts. Most of the covers are straightforward, high energy performances filtered through the lens of pop punk, but a few really stand out stylistically. Less Than Jake really lean into the vaguely Caribbean air of The Kinks’ “Come Dancing,” going full ska. Lavalove appear to treat Nirvana’s “Lithium” as pop punk, but then, on the bridges, they get really playful, alternately vamping and then embracing an aesthetic similar to Nirvana at their nosiest. Mint Green slow down Incubus’ “Drive” and though they don’t deviate much from the arrangement, the female harmonies stand out from the rest of the collection. (The Linkin Park and Slipknot covers also stand out, but only because they are faithful and the only nu-metal covers here.) – Riley Haas
21. Teddy Thompson — My Love of Country
Anyone not already convinced of Teddy Thompson’s mastery of country music need only waltz into his joy of an eighth album, appropriately titled My Love of Country. It’s here that the singer (hailing from London rather than Nashville, lest you should wonder) revitalizes a trove of country standards from the ’50s and ’60s. And it’s here that he channels his 23 years of professional dalliance in the genre into one immensely satisfying, 27-minute whole.
Teddy has the voice for it, of course, which is as strong, deep, rich, and emotive an instrument as it’s ever been. He also has the necessary conviction to deliver tracks previously made famous by George Jones, Buck Owens, and Ray Charles, as well as the skill to forge a magnificent country cut out of a whiskey-soaked number penned by his famous folky dad, Richard, in 1974: “I’ll Regret It All in the Morning.” He further has the help of an impeccable range of musicians to bring the fine period detail, including Charlie Drayton (drums), Byron Isaacs (bass), Jon Cowherd (piano), and producer David Mansfield (violin/accordion/pedal steel/most other things). That’s not to mention sublime harmony singers in the vein of Logan Ledger. But the ultimate reason Thompson makes “A Picture of Me Without You,” “Cryin’ Time,” and “You Don’t Know Me” sound so heartfelt and effortless is from having been immersed in these songs for much of his life. “That’s the real key,” he says, “having them in your body for a long time.” Amen to that. – Adam Mason
In June of 2022, Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” was used to soundtrack the Netflix series Stranger Things. Upon exposure to the 37-year-old tune, a shockingly huge portion of the world’s teenage population, who seemingly hadn’t known of Bush’s existence prior to this, went absolutely, uncontrollably berserk. Their sudden, overwhelmingly intense lust for “RUTH” (let’s just call it) propelled the song to the top of the pop charts the whole world over and led to the track being streamed over a billion times (and counting). A billion! And just like that, Kate Bush, one of pop’s most popular cult artists, became a global phenomenon.
This was a mixed blessing for the hardcore Kate Bush fanbase. On the one hand, they were happy for their girl Kate (who herself was thrilled that teenagers were hyperventilating over “Running Up That Hill”). But at the same time, as evidenced by multitudes of posts on social media, they also felt a sense of proprietary “ownership” over the Bush legacy and didn’t care for this flaky, flighty fandom and how it came to be.
The “old fan vs new fan”/ “we were here first” argument is silly and petty…but with Kate Bush, it was also oddly understandable. Part of what made her special was that some people didn’t get it, that regular folk found her songs a little too eccentric and “out there” and thought her voice was weird. Those previously existing Kate fans didn’t quite know how to take this newfound popularity. Because to them, Kate Bush was not merely one song; she was a magnificently mad, beautiful, all-consuming pop religion. Trip-hop hero and unabashed Kate fan, Tricky, alluded to this feeling in an interview with MOJO magazine back in 2003:
“Some of the greatest singers in the world…you can spot their influences. But Kate Bush has no mother or father. I’d be an average musician, like everyone else if it wasn’t for her. I don’t believe in God, but if I did, her music would be my bible. Her music sounds religious to me. She should be treasured more than The Beatles”.
Kate Bush made adventurous, beautiful, funny, weird, and heartbreaking music that sounded like no one else’s, all while delivering a hard kick to the nuts of musical convention. She celebrated her most personal, idiosyncratic obsessions and shared them proudly and loudly with everyone. From shockingly illicit kisses to sensuous snowmen. From rain-making machines to being lost at sea. From washing machines to Joan of Arc. She didn’t chase airplay, she just followed her cast of muses wherever they led and surrounded their stories with a staggering sense of melody.
We have arrived at a point where a pretty fine “30 Best RUTH Covers Ever” feature could be assembled. The story of its unlikely, incredible ascent has become a truly iconic, modern-day pop tale and will be recounted for years to come. And as cynical as it seems, it’s clear that the “RUTH” phenomenon was a deciding factor when it came to Kate Bush’s induction this weekend into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But Kate Bush the artist was not born in June of 2022. Her career has spanned six decades during which she’s released ten studio albums that house multitudes of wondrous tunes. (By the way, if you wanna read a completely deranged breakdown of Kate’s LPs, I wrote one here.)
Within our list of “The Best Kate Covers Ever” you will not only discover several head-turning, heart-squeezing “Running Up That Hill” covers (of course), but a plethora of equally fabulous deep cuts, b-sides, and cult classics. “It’s in the trees! It’s coming!”
On October 27, 2013, ten years ago today, Lou Reed died. I happened to be in New York City at the time, and his passing was a lead story on the 11 o’clock news. It was as though a part of the city itself had died. Which, inescapably, it had. Reed embodied NYC, from its seedy back rooms to its secret heart, in a way few other people, let alone musicians, ever did.
While Reed’s solo career is highly and deservingly accoladed, it still got overshadowed by the Velvet Underground. Reed’s first band featured Welsh musician John Cale, guitarist Sterling Morrison, and drummer Maureen Tucker, with Nico singing on the first album and Doug Yule replacing Cale in 1968. The band’s four studio albums started ripples that turned into tsunamis; they went from secret-handshake status to Hall of Fame giants, their influence right up there with the Beatles.
We’re honoring Lou and Company with this collection of covers. Some covers couldn’t hold a candle to the original (you’ll find no “Heroin” here), but many of the originals were receptive to another artist’s distinctive stamp. Whether you prefer the first or what followed, you’ll hear the sound of immortality as it opens yet another path of discovery.
Following the 1990s last week — and, before that, the 1950s, the 1960s, the 1970s, and the 1980s — our series on covers of great One Hit Wonders concludes today with a look at the 2000s. Meaning, the first decade of the 2000s. At this point, it’d be premature to conclude that an artist who had their first hit in 2022 will be a one hit wonder! (And, again, it’s not us concluding it anyway — it’s Wikipedia).Continue reading »