Dec 182020
 

Follow all our Best of 2020 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.

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.

– Ray Padgett, Editor-in-Chief

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Nov 232020
 

Kindred Spirits Larkin PoeThis should have been a belter.

True, in places Kindred Spirits shines, and it’s everything one could have expected from this talented pair of sisters.

But?

Let’s first set the scene. Larkin Poe are Megan and Rebecca Lovell, two sisters from Tennessee, deeply ingrained with the sounds of “the South Will Rise Again,” i.e. the Allmans and all who knelt before them. Indeed, their publicity touts them as little sisters of the Allman Brothers (although the Black Keys, for me, is a better reference, sonically speaking). Kick-ass slide and sassy vocals are their calling cards, and since 2014 they have produced a run of well-received records, usually with an added rhythm section adding woomph to their twin guitars and vocals. In recent years they have seemed glued to the side of Elvis Costello, notably on his solo tours to support the autobiography, acting as his support band and accompanists. Frankly, at times, they were better than their employer.

A lighter side of their work has been the slew of YouTube recordings put up, looking all very ad-hoc, in hotel rooms, maybe whilst touring, and a delight they are.Kindred Spirits is in that style, just the the two of them.
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Mar 312020
 

Check out the best covers of past months here.

best cover songs march 2020
Adam Green – All Hell Breaks Loose (Misfits cover)

Misfits go mariachi! Adam Green, best known as one half of the Moldy Peaches, plays “All Hell Breaks Loose” like it was “Ring of Fire.” He writes: “In The Misfits and in his glorious solo work, Danzig bridged punk and metal with the blue-eyed soul music of the mid-1960’s like The Righteous Brothers and The Walker Brothers. I’d had an idea for a while to do a Scott Walker / John Franz style production at punk speeds, and the Misfits song ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’ seemed like the perfect vessel for the experiment.” Continue reading »

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.

Mar 262019
 

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!

the zombies cover songs

Few Americans born after the decade might know it, but the British Invasion of the mid-1960s was a watershed. If it was sparked by a single musical appearance—the Beatles’ epochal performance on The Ed Sullivan Show on the evening of February 9, 1964—it was much more than a mere moment of mass hysteria. Long before there was an internet to shrink the globe down to seeming pocket size, and years before the term “underground” would become a marketing angle, the British Invasion was an atomic thunderclap, linking the youth cultures of the US and the UK and stoking what would become a global furnace of musical and cultural ferment.

The Beatles may have initiated the British Invasion, but they were far from the only game in town. The Zombies may have been one of the least-known bands of the British Invasion, but in their afterlife they would grow to become one of the best-loved.

This year, at long last, the Zombies will be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Though their latter-day fame largely rests upon their final LP, Odessey and Oracle, long before its release they learned their trade the old-fashioned way: By covering other artists’ songs.
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Feb 272018
 

elise legrow playing chessChess Records, considered by many ears to be the redheaded step-child to the Motown and Stax labels and immortalized in the movie Cadillac Records, was the preeminent blues record label of the 1950s and ’60s. At the forefront of the birth of Rock and Roll with the release of “Rocket 88” by Ike Turner and His Delta Cats, the label was the musical den of inequity for Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Chuck Berry, Etta James and many others. And now, at last, with definitely a particular place to go, Elise LeGrow has released a tribute to the denizens of 2120 South Michigan Avenue: Playing Chess.

Having now spent several listening sessions with this gem, it looks like, to borrow some Olympics imagery, a spot on the “Covers Albums of the Year” medal stand should be reserved for this one. Bronze at least. Certainly not taking the easy approach, LeGrow has meticulously researched and curated every song that she presents. Take the relatively obscure Sugar Pie DeSanto tune “Going Back Where I Belong”; the even more esoteric “Searching for My Love,” a hot 100 hit for Bobby Moore and the Rhythm Aces’ or album-closer “Sincerely,” the last single for The Moonglows. Every song will have you cranking up the way-back machine to search out the original versions. Continue reading »