Feb 262021
 

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

willie nelson covers

Today, Willie Nelson releases his 71st – yes, you read that right, 71st – album. It’s a set of Frank Sinatra covers called That’s Life. We’ll have a review of it next week.

But while we prepare to hear more covers by Willie Nelson, we thought it was a good chance to look at covers of Willie Nelson. Because those 71 albums include hundreds and hundreds of songs Willie wrote himself, from classics like “Crazy” and “On the Road Again” to a plethora of deep cut gems just waiting to be discovered. And you can’t spell “discover” without “cover,” so we’ve put together thirty ways for you to discover some songs you don’t know and new interpretations of some songs everyone knows.

Because Willie’s discography is so deep and times convoluted, we set a few ground rules for this list:

  • We only included covers of songs Willie himself wrote, rather than songs he just popularized. That knocks out a few of his big hits: “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” and “Always on My Mind” among them.
  • The first recording of a Willie song doesn’t count as the cover – even if that first recording wasn’t by Willie himself. Remember that before you get mad that Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” is not on this list. Subsequent versions of those songs are of course fair game.
  • An artist can’t cover themselves. That normally goes without saying, but Willie’s recorded in so many different bands and configurations, the same songs sometimes come up repeatedly. So The Highwaymen singing an older Willie song doesn’t qualify as a cover.

Okay, caveats and disclaimers behind us, let’s dive in! Click onward for the 30 best Willie Nelson covers ever…

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Jan 292021
 

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

pixies covers

In a 1994 interview with Rolling Stone, here’s how Kurt Cobain described the genesis of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

“I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies. I have to admit it. When I heard the Pixies for the first time, I connected with that band so heavily that I should have been in that band—or at least a Pixies cover band. We used their sense of dynamics, being soft and quiet and then loud and hard.”

Surprisingly, the Pixies’ most famous superfan – the man who said he should be in a Pixies cover band – never covered the Pixies. Nirvana were rarely shy about covering their influences, from the Vaselines to the Velvet Underground, but maybe the Pixies were just too obvious. Every Nirvana song, Kurt might have thought, was just a Pixies cover a few degrees removed.

That line of thinking didn’t stop many other artists, though. Pixies covers abound, both from obvious acolytes in the ’90s alt-rock scene to musician fans in other genres who found a way to make Pixies songs sound like bossa nova or doo-wop. We’ve narrowed it down to the best thirty for our list, below. We hope you la la love it.

PS. The artist for this month’s list was selected by our Patreon supporters. To have a say in who we tackle next, sign up for our Patreon here.

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Nov 062020
 

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

depeche mode covers

Way back in January, we polled our Patreon supporters to see which 2020 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee they wanted to see get the “Best Covers Ever” treatment. Depeche Mode won, so we started planning our schedule to get it ready in advance of the big induction ceremony on March 24.

Then…you know.

Tomorrow, many months later, the Rock Hall is finally hosting some sort of ceremony – remotely, of course – and we’ve been honoring each artist all week with covers features: Whitney Houston, Notorious B.I.G., The Doobie Brothers, T. Rex, and Nine Inch Nails. Now, many months after we expected to post it, the grand finale: The 25 Best Depeche Mode Covers Ever. Continue reading »

Oct 052020
 
best tribute albums

Over our time tracking cover songs (13 years this month!), we’ve written about hundreds of new tribute albums, across reviews, news stories, and, when they’re good enough, our best-of-the-year lists. We also have looked back on plenty of great tribute albums from the past in our Cover Classics series. But we’ve never pulled it all together – until now. Continue reading »

Sep 032020
 

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

best leonard cohen covers

Last week, Donald Trump gave his headlining speech at the Republican National Convention. Right after, fireworks exploded over the Washington Monument, soundtracked by a cover of “Hallelujah.” A few minutes later, a second singer covered “Hallelujah” while the entire Trump family watched. Both covers were unauthorized, and Leonard Cohen’s estate quickly said they are exploring legal action. (It must also be said that the covers weren’t very good – you won’t find either one on this list.)

Though hardly a shining moment in the history of Cohen covers, this event speaks to the cultural ubiquity of his work, and of “Hallelujah” in particular. For an artist who never sold that many records, Cohen has become about as iconic as icons get. Humble to the end, he would no doubt object – politely, of course – to that statement. But it’s true. His songs transcend his albums, they transcend his performances, they even transcend Leonard Cohen himself.

There’s never a bad time to talk about Leonard Cohen covers, but they’ve really been on my mind the past couple years. Why? Because I’ve been writing an entire book on the subject, which is out today. It’s in the 33 1/3 series of small books on specific albums. The album I selected? The 1991 tribute album I’m Your Fan: The Songs of Leonard Cohen. Without it, you probably wouldn’t even know “Hallelujah”… but we’ll get to that later.

In the book, I explore not just that one tribute album, but the entire history of Leonard Cohen covers generally. It’s a long and fascinating story, but suffice to say here that Cohen wouldn’t have had anywhere near the reach he did without others covering his songs. Covers gave him his start – Judy Collins’s, in particular – and resurrected his career more than once.

There are far too many great Cohen covers to fit in a list like this (and our Patreon supporters will soon get a bonus list of 100 more of them). But we all dug deep to pull the highlights, both the best of the totemic covers as well as brilliant but lesser-known interpretations. The covers span his entire catalog too. Plenty of “Hallelujah”s, of course, and versions of the ’60s songs that made him famous, but also covers of deeper cuts from albums throughout his recording career, up to and including his very last. We hope you’ll discover some new favorites, and maybe be able to listen to the classics you already know in a fresh light.

– Ray Padgett, Editor-in-Chief

Buy I’m Your Fan: The Songs of Leonard Cohen here:
Bloomsbury | Amazon | IndieBound | Barnes and Noble | Bookshop

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Jul 292020
 

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

bee gees covers

Despite the fact that Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb have sold upwards of 120 million records, they can sometimes seem oddly underrated. They aren’t regarded with the reverence afforded to other artists that emerged during roughly the same era, like The Rolling Stones or The Who. They haven’t generated the same level of dramatic intrigue as Elton John or Queen. And discovering their music was never part of some traditional teenage rite of passage like Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin. But while they don’t seem to receive near the same level of acclaim as the aforementioned artists, their music has remained as utterly ubiquitous as just about all of them. There are few other artists as essential to documenting the sound of an era as The Bee Gees were to the late ’70s.

Throw the Here At Last…Bee Gees… Live album from 1977 on the turntable or queue up the stream. You will be confronted with a veritable assembly line of perfectly constructed, exquisitely performed pop songs. Take a step back and really listen. The outlandish songwriting gift on display is nothing short of mind-blowing, You might think, how is it even possible to have written this many incredible songs? And those are just 20 or so selected tracks Barry, Robin, and Maurice had done up to that point – before Saturday Night Fever! There were dozens more to come.

We were overwhelmed by the number of incredible covers of both Bee Gees classics and deep cuts and their glorious diversity. But we really shouldn’t have been surprised. Despite the band itself not always getting its due, the Bee Gees’ songs remain for everyone and forever.

Hope Silverman

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