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.
In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!
It’s March of 1995, and by this point in time it has been firmly established that Annie Lennox doesn’t make bad albums. From her earliest days in The Tourists, through her incredible partnership with Dave Stewart in Eurythmics, to her glorious 1992 solo debut Diva, the quality level has been ridiculously high. Every album to the last has contained multiple soaringly wonderful evergreen pop classics, most of which are justifiably worshipped and treasured to this very day. But of course, if there’s one thing we know for certain about pop music, it’s that it’s a cruel, fickle beast, and critical favor can turn on a dime. And so, after a pretty consistent outpouring of acclaim, maybe it was inevitable that by 1995 the jar of journalistic goodwill was empty. Annie’s second solo album Medusa featured a perfectly sung and slickly produced selection of cover songs, and the time had finally come; the critics hated it.
While its brilliant, theatrical first single “No More I Love You’s” was a worldwide hit and the LP itself sold by the truckload, music journalists were pretty much across the board unimpressed (even here at Cover Me). One review in a big culture magazine at the time amusingly referred to the album as “a muff,” described Annie’s attempts at certain songs as “belly-flops,” and declared the overall sound to be “microwaved.”
So whose assessment of Medusa was “right,” the fans’ or the critics’? Well, truth be told, both. Put simply, it was an immaculately sung, pristinely produced, cleverly chosen selection of covers, with nary a rough edge to be seen. And while the overall sound could be characterized as chilly and/or mechanical in spots, it was still home to some pretty gloriously heartfelt and powerful song interpretations. Case in point: a broodingly beautiful take of Neil Young’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down,” as well as a grandly dramatic reading of Procol Harum’s epic “Whiter Shade of Pale.” And of course, the aforementioned “No More…” was a brilliant pop song by any standard.
But here’s the thing: Despite its renown, Medusa shouldn’t be looked at as the final word on Annie Lennox’s ability to reinvent and breathe new life into old songs. Over the years, she has proven herself to be an exceptionally gifted interpreter… and the majority of her finest cover work has come in the form of free-standing one-offs. With that in mind, let’s put Medusa to the side for a minute and turn a spotlight on the heart-clutchingly wonderful stuff around the edges, the live, the rare, and the underrated. Let’s venture into the depths of Annie’s truly exceptional cover canon, wherein lay a whole lotta treasures…
Bjork‘s “Army of Me” is one of her most iconic songs of the ’90s, thanks in part to the Michel Gondry-directed video. The song deviates a little bit from her normal trip hop sound, to something closer to industrial pop. The song is about Bjork’s difficult relationship with her brother and how he needs to get his act together.
The Gay Agenda is a self-described “homo riot hardcore punk” band with extremely provocative imagery inspired by street artist Homo Riot, among others. Their version of “Army of Me” leans much more into metalcore than hardcore, with rumbling bass recalling the original’s pulsating bass keyboard, pummeling metal guitars, and screaming/growling vocals that fall somewhere on the spectrum between metalcore and black metal. It’s intense.
It’s a strange circumstance: What has been awful for humanity at large has been pretty good for the world of cover songs. Even we would say that’s a terrible trade-off!
Nevertheless, we’ve been grateful that so many musicians have taken to Facebook, Instagram, etc to share their music and, in many cases, cover favorite songs that are helping get them through. So, for the fourth time and certainly not the last, we’re rounding up some of the best we’ve seen recently and encouraging you to add your own below.
One note: There are some obvious names you won’t see here. John Prine. Bill Withers. Adam Schlesinger. Kenny Rogers. So many wonderful covers are emerging to pay tribute to artists no longer with them that we’ll be rounding them up separately. We did the first set for Prine here.
Beyoncé – Before I Let Go (Maze cover)
Last week, Beyoncé surprised-dropped her live album Homecoming. It accompanied the Netflix film of the same name, which immortalized her lionized 2018 Coachella performance. The biggest surprise of all was the bonus track: a cover of Maze’s 1981 “Before I Let Go.” The original song wasn’t a huge hit when it first came out, but has grown to be referred to sometimes as the “black national anthem.” Beyoncé brings it right up to the present with a big production including marching band, new rap verse, and a sample of New Orleans bounce artist DJ Jubilee.
‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.
Mick Jagger turns 75 today, three decades past his famous 1975 benchmark: “I’d rather be dead than sing ‘Satisfaction’ when I’m 45.” Mick’s still singing “Satisfaction” today – and so are a lot of other people. So what better way to celebrate his birthday than with a countdown of the best covers of Rolling Stones songs of all time?
It’s not that we haven’t posted plenty before. They’re actually our fifth most-posted band, after Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, and Neil Young (a little surprised about that one, but as of this post, Neil’s only ahead by one). We’ve shared our favorite covers of “Ruby Tuesday,” “Honky Tonk Woman,” “Wild Horses,” “Paint It Black,” and “Back Street Girl.” We’ve posted covers of every track on Sticky Fingers, Beggars Banquet, and – in case those weren’t long enough – Exile on Main St. And it’s not just covers of the band we adore either; the Stones’ recent album of blues covers ascended to the very short list of albums we’ve awarded five stars.
But we’ve never pulled it all in one place until today. Just as we did for Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, Beyoncé, and Talking Heads, we’re counting down the best covers of Rolling Stones songs ever. The length beats Floyd’s forty-song record; we’ve got fifty Stones covers, from A (Albert King) to Z (Zydeco, Buckwheat). The Stones have been covered in all eras, all genres, and by all sorts of people. By the time you read this, the next all-time-great Stones cover might well have landed.
You can’t always get what you want, as the man once said – but if you click on, you just might get what you need.