In July of 1958, a Prince was created. That was the month Charles became Prince of Wales. Earlier this month he was officially crowned King.
In June of 1958, another Prince was created. He died seven years before Charles’ coronation, but he had long before passed beyond the arena of royalty into the field of the celestial.
Prince was, if not a god, a divine presence, more felt than understood. That he was a musical genius was almost taken for granted; his prolific recording, his tremendous work ethic, his mysterious appearances where you least expected him (On Muppets Tonight?? Making fun of Hee Haw???)–all served to make him more myth than man, and now he’s less man than legend.
Prince famously told George Lopez that “covering the music means your version doesn’t exist anymore,” but that’s not quite so. Prince may not (or may) be immortal, but his music definitely is, and the covers that continue to roll in are all the proof you need. This post offers some of the evidence. (Certainly not all of it – more nominations missed the cut than made it, and the great majority of them were very worthy.)
Before we begin: to qualify, a Prince song needed to have been officially released before the cover version. Sadly, this means the Bangles’ “Manic Monday,” Sheila E’s “The Belle of St. Mark,” Celine Dion’s “With This Tear,” and others didn’t get considered.
And now for our selections. And don’t worry, Charles–it’s good to be King. It’s just more magical to be Prince.
Last week we kicked off our new One Hit Wonders series with ten covers of big 1950s hits, and today we continue it with 20 covers of 1960s smashes.
Some classic songs getting covered in here, in some cases by artists that should have had many more hits just as big. So it goes in pop music. We’ll probably never be able to do a The 40 Best Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs Covers Ever list, though, so we celebrate them here with a few fun reimaginings of their early 1960 chart-topper “Stay.”Continue reading »
What do all of those “B” artists have in common? Not much, except for this: They all have a lot of different songs that get covered by a lot of different people.
But there are some artists who will likely never get their own list here. Why not? Maybe they just don’t get covered enough. Or maybe they get covered often — but people mostly just cover a single song. These are the artists we colloquially call One Hit Wonders. And in a special series starting today, we’re celebrating covers of their songs.Continue reading »
“Downtown Train.” “Ol ’55.” “Jersey Girl.” These are just three of the Tom Waits songs better known for their covers (respectively: Rod, Eagles, Bruce) than for Waits’ own performances.
It probably doesn’t need saying that Tom’s recordings are, in the best way possible, idiosyncratic. So it makes sense that, like Dylan, like Cohen, his songs often become more popular when more “traditional” voices sing them. Many of the best covers, though, keep some of that strangeness. No, they don’t do “the Tom Waits voice” – most people wouldn’t be able to talk for a week after attempting that. But they don’t sand off the strangeness.
Tom’s debut album Closing Time came out 50 years ago this month; he’s doing a reissue to celebrate. It, and its successor The Heart of Saturday Night, are in some ways his least representative albums, though. The songwriting is already strong on these, but it comes in – if you can believe it – a fairly conventional package. His voice hasn’t revealed its true character (to pick one among many memorable descriptions: “a voice like it was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over with a car”), and he hadn’t discovered that hitting a dumpster with a two-by-four makes great percussion.
Some of those very early songs get covered in our list below. But his later, weirder, songs abound, too. Tom’s wife Kathleen Brennan, his musical co-conspirator for decades now, said her husband has two types of songs: “Grim Reapers” and “Grand Weepers”. On his Orphans box set, Tom divided them up another way: Brawlers, Ballers, and Bastards. You’ll find some of all flavors below. (And, if you want more new writing on Tom Waits music, subscribe to a newsletter called Every Tom Waits Song that – full disclosure – I also run).
– Ray Padgett
PS. Find Spotify and Apple Music playlists of this list, and all our other monthly Best Covers Ever lists, at Patreon.
In the winter of 1998, the Spice Girls were the biggest pop act in the universe. Their movie Spice World, released on Boxing Day ‘97 in the U.K. and in late January in the U.S, brought in more than $100 million worldwide. On February 24, 25 years ago last week, the group launched its first-ever world tour in Dublin, Ireland.
It was both the best of times and the beginning of the end. Just a few months later, on the eve of their American tour, Geri Halliwell (aka Ginger Spice) would depart the group. Though they continued as a quartet and released Forever in 2000, they would never rule the pop cultural zeitgeist in the same way.
Still, in their short run at the top of the charts, they made a colossal impact on music history. In the U.S., the Spice Girls cut a wedge right through the heart of ‘90s music. Before they hit, pop music was serious business for long-haired dudes with guitars and rappers who felt they were too cool to be parodied by “Weird Al.” But the Spice Girls gave us what we wanted, what we really really wanted, whether we knew it or not. They made it okay for pop music to be brash, fun and unapologetically commercial again. The group opened the door for the countless pop acts who led music into the new millennium, such as Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC.
The Spice Girls were never highly regarded by critics or music snobs, who tend to scoff anything that appeals to young girls. Though they’re now eligible for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, I can’t imagine they’ll ever get nominated. Yet the Spice Girls’ music, image and legacy have endured surprisingly well in the ensuing decades. The group performed at the closing ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics in London and just the mention of a possible reunion tour is enough to set the press into a frenzy. Not convinced? Try listening to Spice or Spiceworld. From the hits to the deep cuts, the albums are consistent listens throughout, as they both feature brilliantly crafted pop tunes that are catchy and easy to sing along to.
Despite being the best-selling female pop group of all time, the Spice Girls haven’t been covered that extensively. One has to go deeper than the usual suspects to find great covers. Whether it’s an acoustic rendition of “Stop,” a jazzy cover of “Wannabe” or countless takes on their deep cuts, the music has lived on through many different voices, just not in the voices that were used to seeing and hearing. Perhaps it takes an artist with less to lose to take a chance and deliver an original take on such pop classics. More than 25 years after their world dominance, “Girl Power” in all its awesomeness shows no signs of letting up. One just has to know where to look.
– Curtis Zimmermann
25. Zebrahead – Wannabe
Pop-punk covers in the early 2000s were unavoidable. Napster (or Limewire or Kazaa) ballooned music libraries and saturated the market with power chords and nasally vocals. It was glorious. There’s something about this cover that calls back to that time of downloading yet another song to the library; it didn’t matter if it was labeled wrong or it wasn’t the version you expected. It was catchy and would work great on your next burned CD. In their power-punk version of “Wannabe,” Zebrahead find the right mix of goofy and uplifting, just like the original. – Mike Misch
24. Shakey Graves & Begonia – Too Much
This song makes a perhaps surprisingly great duet, and this pair really sells it. Hearing the song played live can also help you really appreciate the soulful guitar lines. The soulfulness continues as they trade off lines, eye to eye, bar for bar. Around the 4:30 mark, they really take the “give it a try” line literally, repeating the refrain over and over in different ways: from monster-mash depths to falsetto heights. As much as they are having fun with this nostalgic cover, they bring back the more somber mood for the closing. – Sara Stoudt
23. The Moon Loungers – Say You’ll Be There
The Moon Loungers specialize in performing acoustic covers of songs from across the pop spectrum. The band has an extensive discography of “unplugged” recordings of tracks ranging from Taylor Swift to Jefferson Starship. The group transformed the Spice Girls’ iconic dance track into a mellow acoustic tune. The track features some heavy guitar strumming and harmonies reminiscent of ‘70s mellow rockers America and Seals & Crofts. No boomerangs or karate kicks are required for this cover. The group lets their voices and guitars do all the work. – Curtis Zimmermann
22. Sitti – 2 Become 1
“2 Become 1” was the Spice Girls’ third straight UK number 1, a romantic ballad that took the time to advocate safe sex (“Be a little bit wiser, baby / Put it on, put it on”). Philippine bossa nova singer Sitti covered it on her 2007 album My Bossa Nova, but you’ll be hard pressed to blame it on that genre. Instead, it’s a jazz sound with none of the original’s flash. That’s not a knock – when you’re in a room with quiet and candlelight, sometimes a soft warm glow is exactly what you need to hear and feel. – Patrick Robbins
21. My Sun and Stars – Wannabe
The opening ukulele might make you think that this cover is all sugar and no spice, but even with the angelic high vocals and that cheery ukulele strum, this “Wannabe” cover still has a little kick. The lyrics are doled out patiently, unrushed, matter-of-factly telling the listener how it is. That snap of the hand on the body of the ukulele and the more clipped strumming changes the tone a bit, signaling some seriousness. There’s no “here’s the story” and no bodies winding all around, but friendship remains never-ending. – Sara Stoudt
Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.
Here at Cover Me Q&A, we’ll be taking questions about cover songs and giving as many different answers as we can. This will give us a chance to hold forth on covers we might not otherwise get to talk about, to give Cover Me readers a chance to learn more about individual staffers’ tastes and writing styles, and to provide an opportunity for some back-and-forth, as we’ll be taking requests (learn how to do so at feature’s end).