Anyone who was paying attention to cover songs a decade ago will remember The A.V. Club’s “Undercover” series. In the vein of the BBC Live Lounge and Triple J Like a Version, the entertainment web site would bring bands into their Chicago offices to cover a song. The concept, though, was the site started with a masters list of songs and the band had to pick one. The later they came in, the fewer song choices remained. It went on for years and the covers were ubiquitous (we must have posted a million of ’em). Practically every indie band of the era stopped by (many several times), and they often delivered something great.
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.
Ashley O [Miley Cyrus] – Right Where I Belong (Nine Inch Nails cover)
The second-most-bonkers cover of the month (just wait ’til we get to “Spicy”) comes from – who else – Miley Cyrus. On a new episode of Black Mirror, she covers/parodies angsty Nine Inch Nails songs as the most insipid of pop jams. Trent Reznor, for one, says he is very much on board (given the lyric changes, these covers required his legal approval). Miley’s songs in character as Ashley O are outrageous and borderline offensive, which is kind of the point. “On a Roll” (FKA “Head Like a Hole”) has gotten most of the attention, but “Right Where I Belong” is more listenable. Marginally.
They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with covers of his or her songs. Let someone else do the work for a while. Happy birthday!
You would think Dwight Yoakam is as country as they come – he scored his first number-one single off an album called Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room. And when expressing excitement over his recent bluegrass album, he says (and sounds right saying), “Wee doggies!” How country is Dwight Yoakam? When he came caroling on Nashville’s doorstep in the late 1970s, Nashville basically pretended it wasn’t home. The genre was leaning more and more in the direction of pop-country, and here was someone who sounded like Merle Haggard. And Buck Owens (with whom Yoakam would collaborate). And Johnny Cash (who would call Yoakam his “favorite male artist”).
Still, there’s a reason Time once referred to Dwight Yoakam as a renaissance man. While his guitar arrangements and twang are country the core, the man himself represents a bounty of styles. After all, he didn’t give up when Nashville wasn’t receptive; he headed to LA. There, he played hillbilly music in punk and rock clubs – attracting, in part, a demographic of fans affectionately known as cowpunks – and it’s clear some osmosis of the scene took place.
The counterintuitive influence runs both ways. Just as punk and rock color his song selection, presentation, and interests (asked what he was listening to in a 2005 interview, he answered Green Day and Jack White), his rustic sound speaks to those far outside genre bounds. The compliments accompanying his music videos encompass dyed-in-the-wool Hank Williams fans and metalheads alike. This stylistic versatility of his coupled with a loyalty to roots helps explain the success he’s experienced in covering songs that, well, you’re not supposed to cover.
Follow all our Best of 2017 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.
Year-end lists are a time to look back. That’s something we’ve been doing a lot of this year.
See, we turned ten years old in 2017 – practically ancient in internet-blog terms – so we’ve indulged in what we feel is well-earned nostalgia. At the beginning of the year, each of our writers picked the ten most important covers in their life (see them here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). We even listed the ten most important covers in Cover Me‘s life, from the song that inspired the site to our very first Best of the Year winner.
Then, to cap things off, in October we commissioned a 25-track tribute to the cover song itself – which you can still download for free. We love the covers everyone contributed so much, incidentally, that we didn’t consider them for this list. It’d be like picking favorite children – if you had 25 of ’em.
Oh, and have I mentioned I wrote a book? … What’s that you say? I mentioned that constantly? Well, I’m quite proud of it. It’s called Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time and it makes a great Christmas gift and – ok, ok, I’ll stop. You can find plenty more about it elsewhere.
Suffice to say, there’s been a lot of looking back this year. And we hope you’ll indulge us this one last glance rearward before we leap into 2018. Because if it’s been a hell of a year for us, it’s certainly also been a hell of a year for the cover song in general. Some of this year’s list ranks among the best covers we’ve ever heard, period. So dig in, and thanks for your support this past decade.
– Ray Padgett
Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me” has traveled a varied path, covered by Letters to Cleo, Dwight Yoakam, and Chris Isaak, to name a few notables. This stripped-down version, however, is a far cry from the many incarnations of the song – starting with the fact that it is sung by a clown.
Throughout its cover evolution, “I Want You to Want Me” has stayed decidedly upbeat, with full bands, peppy harmonies, and an overall pop feel. Consider for a moment, however, the lyrics to the song:
Feelin’ all alone without a friend
You know you feel like dyin’
Oh, didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I
See you cryin’
Which begs the question: why is this an upbeat pop song in the first place? It sounds more like a lover’s lament, which is exactly what Puddles Pity Party finds in his version. The tempo is slowed down to a rate where you can really let those lyrics sink into your bones. His voice oozes over the notes with a clear, affecting tone. A guitar is the sole accompaniment.