We’ve posted a million Katy Perry covers over the years. But they all tend to be of songs from that early-2010s window when it seemed Perry couldn’t miss: “California Gurls,” “Teenage Dream, “Firework,” etc (those were all on the same album!). But on her new covers EP Pensive Pop, Amythyst Kiah digs a little deeper. True, “Chained to the Rhythm” isn’t exactly some obscure B-side – it was a single and a modest hit. But for Perry, “modest hit” at that point felt like a flop. While we still get new covers of those Teenage Dream-era hits regularly (VÉRITÉ dropped a good one a few months back), no one is covering “Chained To The Rhythm.” Until now!
Brett Eldredge – Cold Heart (Elton John, Dua Lipa cover)
Against all odds for a rocker of his generation, Elton John had a genuine hit with a single he released just last year, at age 74: “Cold Heart.” It topped the chart in the UK – his first song to do so in 16 years. It did nearly as well in the States, reaching number 7 and topping a number of secondary charts. Having current pop hitmaker Dua Lipa on board no doubt helped, as did releasing it as a remix by Pnau (“Hot Dance/Electronic Songs” was one of those secondary U.S. charts). It also fairly shameless incorporates bits of earlier hit singles “Rocket Man” and “Sacrifice” as well as deeper Elton cuts “Kiss the Bride” and “Where’s the Shoorah?” In country star Brett Eldridge’s live cover, though, it all blends together seamlessly.
“Hitchin’ a Ride” is the forgotten single from Green Day‘s 1997 album, Nimrod. Though it was a pretty big hit at the time, it was absolutely dwarfed by their next single, “Good Riddance,” a song which never topped the charts but outsold all their other singles. Sort of rockabilly by way of alternative rock, rather than their usual pop punk, “Hitchin’ a Ride” is one of their heavier hits and stands out in their singles catalogue.
Butcher Brown ft. Alex Isley – Best Friend (Brandy cover)
Virginia jazz collective Butcher Brown throws it back to ’90s R&B with this cover of Brandy’s 1994 slow jam “Best Friend.” Though it’s a little out of their usual wheelhouse – for one, it has a singer, Ernie Isley’s daughter no less – they ably blend their own leanings with the retro soul-pop feel. If you like this, don’t miss their rooftop NPR Tiny Desk Concert.
Kate Clover – These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ (Nancy Sinatra cover)
“If Suicide produced a Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood song” is a hell of a tag line, and Kate Clover’s “These Boots” delivers on that premise. The menacing guitar seems pulled straight from “Frankie Teardrop,” while Clover’s vocals channel Sinatra’s swagger. Bonus points for the fun Twin Peaks-esque video.
For non-fans, “Love Will Tear Us Apart” is the only Joy Division song. Released well after lead singer Ian Curtis’ suicide, it was their first single to make the main UK chart and any US chart and so it is, for most people, Joy Division’s one hit. (Unless you live in New Zealand.) Fairly uncharacteristic of their sound (it sounds more like New Order), its success is the kind of thing that annoys fans of influential cult bands who have one mainstream hit. But it’s their hit and so it is Joy Division’s most-covered song many times over.
With origins dating back to the Reconstruction era, the epic tale of John Henry has been told countless times. In its many forms, the legend tells of a large black man working on the railroad who goes toe-to-toe with a machine to determine who could hammer the most steel into solid rock. Henry wins the battle, but loses his life in the process.
Many singers have taken on this struggle between man and machine, with versions crossing over boundaries of race, genre, language and recording technology. “‘John Henry’ has become an American song,” historian Scott Reynolds Nelson wrote in his book Ain’t Nothing But A Man: My Quest to Find the Real John Henry. “And every group that sings it leaves traces in the lines and the verses they add.”