I know what you’re thinking right now. Upon hearing about Higher Than A Mountain: The Songs Of Andy Gibb, even I, who worshipped the late Andy Gibb as a child–straight-up poster-on-the-wall, scrapbook-keeping loved him–even I questioned the need for an entire tribute album. Not only did Andy release just three studio albums in his lifetime, he was unquestionably a singles artist, meaning those tracks were always the outright best songs on his full-lengths. I remember being actively disappointed by this fact after I’d spent several weeks of hard-earned allowance to buy his debut LP. So the question is unavoidable: are there enough great Gibb tracks to justify a cover compilation?
Typically, the world of cover songs does not change that much year-to-year. You can point to big shifts across decades, sure, but the difference between cover songs in 2018 and 2019, broadly speaking? Negligible. But 2020 was – in this as in everything else – very different.
As concerts ground to a sudden halt, musicians turned to live-from-quarantine home performances, first on their social media, then, once some kind of business model got built up, on various paid platforms. And cover songs were a big part of that. Some musicians did themed covers nights, like Ben Gibbard on YouTube early on or Lucinda Williams’ more produced Lu’s Jukebox series more recently. Others just felt the freedom in such an intimate environment to try things out, spontaneously covering influences, inspirations, or even songs they only half knew. We collected dozens of those early home covers in our Quarantine Covers series, and still only hit a small fraction.
Musicians eventually settled in, and productions got a little more elaborate than the staring-at-your-iPhone-camera look. Witness the heavy metal comedy series Two Minutes to Late Night, which transitioned from a long-running live show in New York City to a series of YouTube covers with dozens of metal-scene ringers covering songs from their couches, corpse paint and all. Witness Miley Cyrus’s endless series of killer cover locales, from a fire pit to an empty Whisky a Go Go. Or witness long-running radio covers series like BBC’s Live Lounge or Triple J’s Like a Version – often the source of a song or two on these lists. First they had musicians tape special covers from home, then, in the BBC’s case, they moved to a giant warehouse studio for suitable social distancing. (Triple J’s pretty much back to post-coronavirus business as usual – sure, Australia, rub it in.)
There’s one other major way covers reflected 2020, and it’s almost too painful to think about, so I’ll just list their names. John Prine. Adam Schlesinger. Hal Willner. Charley Pride. So many musicians taken by this virus, many reflected in some of these covers (Pride’s death happened after our list was finalized, but tributes are already rolling in). In a year filled with tragedies, covers offered one place for musicians and fans to find solace.
Many of the songs on our year-end list reflect this terrible year in one way or another. But you know what? Many don’t. Because covers can also offer a fun respite from all the stress. Doom metal Doobie Brothers? Post Malone on mandolin? A viral TikTok hit by a guy who calls himself Ritt Momney? Those have nothing to do with anything! But they’re what we live for.
Cover Me began in 2007 and we did our first year-end list in 2008, so 2000 isn’t that long before we were following this stuff in real time. But, in music eras, 2007 and 2000 seem eons apart. 2000 was nü-metal and Napster, Smash Mouth and the ska revival. Beyoncé was in the quartet Destiny’s Child; Justin Timberlake only had a one-in-five chance of being your favorite member of N’Sync (or maybe one-in-four…sorry Joey). By the time this site started seven years later, all this seemed like ancient history.
There were a lot of extremely prominent covers in 2000. “Prominent,” of course, doesn’t necessarily meaning “good.” This was the year that Madonna covered “American Pie” (not to be outdone, Britney Spears then took a stab at “Satisfaction”). It was the year a Jim Carrey movie soundtrack inexplicably asked bands like Smash Mouth and Brian Setzer Orchestra to cover Steely Dan. It was the year of “Who Let the Dogs Out?” Bet you didn’t even know that one was a cover (unless you’re a faithful Cover Me reader).
None of those are on this list (though, if you want more dated trainwrecks like those, stay tuned Monday for a bonus list I’m calling the “The Most Extremely ‘2000’ Covers of the Year 2000”). But 2000 offered a wealth of wonderful covers, often flying just under the mainstream radar. Some of them still seem of the time – anything ska, basically – but most could have come out decades earlier. Or yesterday.
YouTube was still a few years away, as was streaming more generally, so covers still mostly came out through “traditional” avenues: on albums, as the b-sides to singles, etc. As I wrote in my new book, tribute albums were big business by this time too, which means that many 2000 covers emerged through that format. Even narrowing this list down to 50 was hard, which is why Cover Me’s Patreon supporters will get a batch of 150 Honorable Mentions.
Check out the list starting on Page 2, and stay tuned for the best covers of this year coming in December.
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).
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.
Last night, UK singer-songwriter David Ford took his long-running annual charity concert “Milk and Cookies” to the internet. One feature of the show is covering songs he says he has no business covering, and the evening featured many, from an amazing looped-instruments version of Lizzo’s “Good As Hell” to songs by the Bee Gees and John Lennon chosen at random from a UK-number-ones sheet music book (the randomizer first tried to assign him R. Kelly, which he wisely vetoed).
But perhaps the high point was one of the most unlikely covers. It’s not that this song doesn’t get covered much – far from it, it’s in every wedding band’s repertoire. But, Ford explained, he wanted to find the happiest song he possibly could and make it a bummer:Continue reading »