Sixty years ago this month, The Beatles played on the Ed Sullivan Show. You don’t need us to tell you what a momentous occasion this was; entirebooks have been written on the subject. Suffice to say we’re using the anniversary as our excuse to finally devote a Best Covers Ever to perhaps the biggest band of them all. We’ve done Dylan. We’ve done the Stones. We’ve done Dolly and Springsteen and Prince. But there was one last giant remaining.
Though it’s difficult to measure this precisely, The Beatles are the most-covered artist of all time according to the two biggest covers databases on the internet (SecondHandSongs, WhoSampled). And that certainly feels right. “Yesterday” is often cited as the most-covered song of all time, though that needs qualifiers (a ton of Christmas standards would beat it). But, again, it feels right. The Beatles were ubiquitous in their day, and they’ve been ubiquitous ever since. They just had a chart-topping single last month, the A.I.-assisted “Now and Then,” which was duly covered widely. If “Carnival of Light” ever surfaces, no doubt a carnival of covers will soon follow.Continue reading »
I like to think that badass lady in the artwork up there (done by our own Hope Silverman!) embodies the spirit of this year’s list. Not that they’re all CBGB-style punk songs—though there are a couple—but in her devil-may-care attitude. “Who says I shouldn’t do a hardcore cover of the Cranberries? A post-punk cover of Nick Drake? A hip-hop cover of The Highwaymen? Screw that!”
As with most good covers, the 50 covers we pulled out among the thousands we listened to bring a healthy blend of reverence and irreverence. Reverence because the artists love the source material. Irreverence because they’re not afraid to warp it, bend it, mold it in their own image. A few of the songs below are fairly obscure, but most you probably already know. Just not like this.
Some of the albums on our list were obvious home runs. Cat Power singing a tribute to a 1966 Bob Dylan concert? You know that’s gonna be great (and it is). A bunch of punk and psychobilly bands blasting through Cramps covers? Pretty much a guaranteed blast. 90-year-old Willie Nelson in the twilight of his career paying tribute to one of his personal songwriting heroes? Good luck not being moved.
Others were more surprising. Reggae David Bowie could go either way. So could free-jazz Harry Styles or indie-rock ELO. And maybe the biggest surprise of all: T-Pain covers Sam Cooke and Black Sabbath…and it’s not terrible??
As always, big names mix with some albums we guarantee you’ve never heard of. To use one of the clichéd words we see constantly in cover-album titles, uncover some new favorites below.
25. Various Artists — Stuff Your Fridge!
Stuff Your Fridge! features 30 tracks, recorded by underground bands you’ve probably never heard, covering all aspects of the Grateful Dead songbook. The covers can be at times both brilliant and/or cringeworthy. The tracks that fare the best are the ones that stray the furthest from the original recordings, such as a goth version of “Cold Rain and Snow” by Delay 77 and a prog metal rendition of “Fire on the Mountain” by Buck Pool. But the compilers saved the oddest for last. That distinction goes to “Attics of My Life” by Holey Hell. It’s a keyboard-driven instrumental, arranged as if written for the soundtrack to a first-generation ‘80s Nintendo game. One can only imagine what they would have done with Drums and Space. – Curtis Zimmermann
24. Amos Lee — Honeysuckle Switches: The Songs of Lucinda Williams
Lucinda Williams seems like a solitary artist despite a steady flow of collaborations with (and covers by) her many admirers–country stars, jazz giants, and arena rockers alike. So it’s a warming surprise to have a full album tribute from an artist like Amos Lee, one who has made his own sizable mark as a songwriter and who is a generation or two younger than Lucinda.
Drawing from all phases of Williams’ discography, Lee keeps mostly on the bare bones side of things, with acoustic guitar or piano supporting his soulful vocals. Certain takes may miss the emotional core of the originals, while on other tracks he brings life to songs that may have felt too downbeat in Lucinda’s delivery of them. Or not–each listener’s mileage will vary. And anyway, Honeysuckle Switches may well find an unbiased audience in Amos Lee fans who haven’t yet known the pleasure of the songs of Lucinda Williams. – Tom McDonald
23. T-Pain — On Top of The Covers
In 2019, Auto-Tune pioneer T-Pain joined the first cast of The Masked Singer in 2019, a television show where celebrities hide their identities behind costumes and sing. T-Pain ended up revealing himself at the very end, by winning, and surprising the judges. T-Pain’s cover album maintains a similar spirit, whether he is still searching for redemption after the death of Auto-Tune or finally at peace asserting his raw talent. He has chosen each song on the album to show off his vocal range and power, spanning from old standards to hits through the ages. You will hear plenty of vocal runs that assert “listen to what I can do,” but they do so without an overbearing bravado, just confidence. Instead of relying on a computer to back him up, T-Pain layers his own voice intricately throughout the entire album. You can hear it in the Glee-like chorus accompaniment in “Don’t Stop Believin’.” His choosing “Don’t Stop Believin’” in the first place makes me think T-Pain is not taking himself too seriously with this cover album. It’s a guilty pleasure song, and perhaps not one that would first come to mind for someone whose brand is “Hard&B”. – Sara Stoudt
22. Various Artists — Dead Formats Vol. 2
Pure Noise Records’ second volume of (primarily) indie rock and alternative covers is just as fun as their first edition (which was our 16th best covers album of 2022). 15 artists tackle 15 tracks, as far back in time as Elton John from the ’70s, and there are a few tracks from the ’80s and ’90s, but most are covers from the aughts. Most of the covers are straightforward, high energy performances filtered through the lens of pop punk, but a few really stand out stylistically. Less Than Jake really lean into the vaguely Caribbean air of The Kinks’ “Come Dancing,” going full ska. Lavalove appear to treat Nirvana’s “Lithium” as pop punk, but then, on the bridges, they get really playful, alternately vamping and then embracing an aesthetic similar to Nirvana at their nosiest. Mint Green slow down Incubus’ “Drive” and though they don’t deviate much from the arrangement, the female harmonies stand out from the rest of the collection. (The Linkin Park and Slipknot covers also stand out, but only because they are faithful and the only nu-metal covers here.) – Riley Haas
21. Teddy Thompson — My Love of Country
Anyone not already convinced of Teddy Thompson’s mastery of country music need only waltz into his joy of an eighth album, appropriately titled My Love of Country. It’s here that the singer (hailing from London rather than Nashville, lest you should wonder) revitalizes a trove of country standards from the ’50s and ’60s. And it’s here that he channels his 23 years of professional dalliance in the genre into one immensely satisfying, 27-minute whole.
Teddy has the voice for it, of course, which is as strong, deep, rich, and emotive an instrument as it’s ever been. He also has the necessary conviction to deliver tracks previously made famous by George Jones, Buck Owens, and Ray Charles, as well as the skill to forge a magnificent country cut out of a whiskey-soaked number penned by his famous folky dad, Richard, in 1974: “I’ll Regret It All in the Morning.” He further has the help of an impeccable range of musicians to bring the fine period detail, including Charlie Drayton (drums), Byron Isaacs (bass), Jon Cowherd (piano), and producer David Mansfield (violin/accordion/pedal steel/most other things). That’s not to mention sublime harmony singers in the vein of Logan Ledger. But the ultimate reason Thompson makes “A Picture of Me Without You,” “Cryin’ Time,” and “You Don’t Know Me” sound so heartfelt and effortless is from having been immersed in these songs for much of his life. “That’s the real key,” he says, “having them in your body for a long time.” Amen to that. – Adam Mason
There is something happening, but you don’t know what it is, as someone once said, and they may well say it again, following this daring further adventure in the wonder of Ms. Chan Marshall, aka Cat Power. Despite a healthy and reliable back catalog of her own material. she has become quite the regular on these pages, care of her regular re-interpretations scattered liberally about her output. Sure, she has “done” Dylan before, but she has never, nor anyone else to my knowledge, taken on quite such a doughty challenge as she has on Cat Power Sings Dylan: The 1966 Royal Albert Hall Concert.
A legendary recording, initially only available on bootleg, Bob Dylan’s “Royal Albert Hall” concert (ask your hep uncle why that’s in quotes) has passed into the annals of not only Dylan mythology, but of the whole development of 20th century music. Few would ever risk such an endeavor as recreating, let alone in a live setting, let alone in the same live setting as the original. (OK, as the original claimed to be, the Dylan program actually coming from a concert at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall. Plus, given that Manchester venue is now a Radisson hotel, it would be tricky.) But, ever the free spirit, this is what Cat Power did. And here we have the evidence. Continue reading »
It’s been 15 years since the last Al Green album. Does “Perfect Day” signal the beginning of his comeback? Unclear — I thought so after his last single, another cover, and that was five years ago. But we can hope. “I loved Lou’s original ‘Perfect Day’—the song immediately puts you in a good mood,” Green explained. “We wanted to preserve that spirit, while adding our own sauce and style.”Continue reading »
In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.
When news spread on September 2nd that Jimmy Buffett had passed away at age 76, Parrotheads everywhere were consoled by Radio Margaritaville, the popular SiriusXM channel created by Buffett 18 years ago. Caller tributes and recent live concerts continued through Labor Day weekend to celebrate the remarkable career of the Son of a Son of a Sailor who left port for the last time to parts unknown.
Buffett leaves behind a legacy that began as a vibe and evolved into a billion-dollar entertainment and business empire built over five decades. The legendary songwriting-singer and tireless concert performer created an amazing body of work blessed with commercial success. Over 30 studio albums (17 going gold, platinum, or multiplatinum) were produced, along with another 30 compilation, live, or specialty albums, and 67 singles. Covers, in their various forms, were a significant part of Buffett’s repertoire; nearly 100 of them are listed on SecondHandSongs.com, the popular website that keeps track of such things.
Buffett, along with his Coral Reefer Band, successfully developed the “Gulf & Western” island-influenced musical genre into its own casual lifestyle brand. While not always critically admired, the music’s popularity is undeniable.
Let’s raise a mast and look out over the horizon at Buffett’s most interesting cover choices from his storied career… Continue reading »