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

The list begins on Page 2.

Aug 292020
 

Blackbirds LaVettejenn champion the blue albumIt is hard to believe Bettye LaVette is 74… actually, scratch that: it is only too easy, what with her raggedly powerful voice etched deep with the experience of hard knocks. In what she laughingly now calls her 5th career, the fact she is here at all demonstrates the quiet determination and self belief that has seen her drag herself up onto her uppers, clawing her way into the limelight some decades after she was carelessly and callously dumped by the industry she had dedicated her life to. And still does, as her new album Blackbirds demonstrates.

Like many, I first heard of her in the noughties, on the background of a disc of shelved recordings making its way to Gilles Petard, a French soul music aficionado who re-released those 1973 tapes, Child of the Seventies, as Souvenirs a full 23 years later. Avid ears liked what they heard and she was off. Many of those ears to appreciate that LaVette had had her first hit single in 1963, and was a running mate alongside all the soul greats–Aretha, Otis, Marvin–if less willing to play the party line, preferring her own counsel.

Since then, LaVette has produced a regular stream of releases. Not a major songwriter, she has always styled her work as re-interpretation, specializing in the rock and pop acts of the ’60s through ’80s, rather than the Motown and Stax staples you might expect of her. The term cover version is arguably insulting of her talent; she refuses to simply echo the originals, blitzing both Laurel Canyon hippiesque and British Invasion bombast into a raw R’n’B screw-you. Her last album, 2018’s Things Have Changed, consisted entirely of Bob Dylan covers. She has scooped up awards and kept active to the astonishment of many of her initial peers: her 2012 book, A Woman Like Me, is a roller coaster read, outlining her unchanged approach to life then and now. Your mother would probably not like her.

Her new release Blackbirds is slightly different, taking a wider perspective and is to celebrate the songs of, largely, her peers, black women singers with something to say and who made damn sure they did. (Black birds, yes?) So she covers the likes of Nina Simone, Dinah Washington, and Leonard Cohen’s longtime writing partner and backing singer, Sharon Robinson. Tipping a more overtly jazz and blues hat than her usual rock’n’soul style, there is also a timely take on Billie Holiday’s chilling “Strange Fruit.” Plus a slightly surprising closing track. Backed by a slick quartet, led by album producer Steve Jordan on drums, the overall feel is of a single set piece, the backing as tight as LaVette’s voice is loosely compelling.
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May 012020
 

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

john prine covers

Are there any bad John Prine covers?

I mean, sure, there are bad covers of anyone worth covering. But it struck me going through the many candidates for this list that they mostly ranged from transcendent on the high end to pretty good on the low. “Pretty good” was about as bad as it got! I don’t think you could say that for anyone else we’ve featured in this series. Continue reading »

Sep 232019
 

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

bruce springsteen covers

To quote a Bruce song, this list has been a long time comin’. After all, twelve years ago we borrowed one of his song titles to name this site (a song that, surprisingly, doesn’t actually get covered very often). And over those twelve years, we’ve posted hundreds, maybe thousands, of Bruce covers: “Full Albums” tributes to Born in the U.S.A., Darkness at the Edge of Town, and Tunnel of Love; tributes to the tributes, honoring several classic Boss tribute records; a spotlight on the best “Born to Run” covers; and a million news posts. It’s time to pull it all together.

Appropriately enough for a man whose concerts routinely top three hours, this list is long. Fifty covers long, and even then we still found ourselves left with dozens of killer bonus tracks for our Patreon supporters. The hits are all here, of course, but Bruce’s catalog runs deep. This list includes many covers of lesser-known cuts and more recent songs – even one from his just-released solo album Western Stars. Though he turns 70 today, the man is not slowing down, and neither are the artists paying tribute to him. As Bruce famously sang, he learned more from a three-minute record than ever learned in school. Well, here are fifty artists who learned something from his three-minute records.

The list starts on Page 2.

Sep 132019
 

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

Oh Mercy

Oh Mercy characteristically pops up in lists of later Dylan records deemed decent. Sure, everything he produces is briefly heralded as a return to form – if, that is, he has written any of the songs, which takes away anything really recent – but a couple of listens and most are back down in the crate alongside Shot of Love and Planet Waves. But Oh Mercy has stuck, at least with me, arguably hindered no little by the typically crickets and crayfish production of Daniel Lanois. So, then, guess, how old is it? Ten, fifteen years? Nope. Thirty years. As in, THIRTY YEARS!!! How can that be, it’s half a life, well half mine, but, there you have it, it is.
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Jul 012019
 

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

best elton john covers

The first big film to to emerge in the post-Bohemian Rhapsody biopic boom is Rocketman. Compared to the Queen movie, critics like Rocketman better (somewhat), fact-checkers call it more accurate (somewhat), and LGBT advocates praise it for more honestly addressing the star’s sexuality (somewhat). Also – and hopefully this is unrelated – it has fared worse at the box office. Again, somewhat worse; it’s done fine, but does not seem to be the smash Bohemian Rhapsody was.

Unlike Queen, though, Elton John didn’t really need a mega-blockbuster to return to the public eye. He never left (after all, it’s hard to look away from clothes that sparkly). The farewell tour he launched last year will take him through 2020, and 2018 also saw two tribute albums featuring megawatt performers: from Lady Gaga to Ed Sheeran on the pop one, Miranda Lambert to Willie Nelson on the country one. For Elton, the Rocketman biopic is just the latest tribute in a career full of them.

And nowhere has tribute been paid more often than in the world of cover songs. From his second, self-titled album onward (no one covers songs off his 1969 debut), Elton’s songs have been covered constantly. Hell, Three Dog Night released their cover of that second album’s “Your Song” a month before John’s original even came out. Though artists inevitably gravitate towards the huge hits, John’s songbook boasts a long tail, with even some relative deep cuts generating classic covers. So this month we count down the thirty best Elton John covers ever.

Best so far, at least. At the rate he earns tributes, it won’t be long before the next batch lands.