Cover Genres takes a look at cover songs in a very specific musical style.
We begin with a bow to Seuras Og and his genre-expansive post earlier this year about banjo covers. We can’t leave the banjo hanging–or getting the last word, either. So: Let us now praise the mandolin. Continue reading »
Dolly Parton is a singer and a songwriter. I mention that obvious truth because these days it tends to get overshadowed by her other titles: Icon. Inspiration. National Treasure. The Only Human Being Alive Everyone Agrees On (Radiolab produced an entire nine-part radio series based on that premise). And she is all those things, but first and foremost she’s a working 9-to-5 musician who has been perfecting her craft for seven decades.
Parton says she wrote her first song as a five year-old in 1952. She hasn’t stopped writing songs since. She once estimated she’s amassed 10,000. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but the verifiable numbers speak for themselves: 52 studio albums, 25 Number One songs, 100 million records sold worldwide. Just as important a tribute to her gifts, though, are how often her songs get covered. Not just the obvious ones, the “Jolene”s and “I Will Always Love You”s (though plenty of those, lord knows), but the album cuts, the singles that didn’t top the charts, and the songs she didn’t write herself but made into Dolly Parton songs anyway.
Some of the below covers sound a little bit like Dolly’s own music. Most do not. She considers herself straight country, not, as she made clear when first nominated for the Rock Hall earlier this year, rock and roll. But, in this list, she is rock and roll. And folk and pop and hip-hop and soul and a whole host of other genres. Dolly Parton may indeed be the only human being everyone agrees on. What a way to make a living.
The always prolific Jack White releases his second album of 2022 today. So it felt time to look back at his most iconic musical project: Goober & the Peas.
Okay, okay – we’re of course talking about The White Stripes. Though by this point Jack’s released more solo and side-project music than the Stripes’ entire six-album discography, his and Meg’s music still gets covered far more than the rest. Part of that is because that band had actual hits; I doubt there’s anything on his new album that’s gonna do “Seven Nation Army” numbers. But part of it also reflects the stripped-down nature of that band’s work. With just two pieces, combining rudimentary guitar riffs from Jack and cavewoman drumming from Meg, the band’s output leaves plenty of open space to welcome in other interpretations.
So no surprise our list below includes a wide variety of genres, from orchestral bowers to soul belters, bluegrass pickers to reggae toasters. By the band’s end, the Stripes were bringing in genres beyond their beloved blues and garage-rock (see the cabaret of “The Nurse” or mariachi of their Patti Page cover “Conquest”), but these artists take their songs even further afield. They dig deeper into the catalog than you might expect too. The most-common song on our list won’t surprise you (all together now: dunnn, dun-DUN-dun, dun, dunnn, dunnnnnn), but just how obscure some of the others are might, hits and deep cuts from their first album to their last. Fall in love with a cover, below.
When Joe Biden was bidding for POTUS, Jason Isbell declared his support by tweeting a promise. If the state of Georgia, his home state, went blue (Democrat), a possibility hitherto deemed impossible, he would record a cover album of Georgia-related songs for charity, “and damn is that gonna be fun.” As Isbell would later say, he had been looking for an excuse to record such a record for some time, but this now offered the ideal opportunity.
Well, Georgia went blue, against the odds and expectations, and with the release of Georgia Blue, three organizations are the better off for it, with all the album’s proceeds going toward Black Voters Matter, Georgia Stand-Up and Fair Fight. Continue reading »
In a new video, Nickel Creek’s Chris Thile performs Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “God Is Alive Magic Is Afoot” solo on mandolin. It’s a song he recorded on his new album Laysongs, and in a way it’s a cover of a cover, as Sainte-Marie adapted it from a Leonard Cohen poem back in 1969. Thile doesn’t have her distinctive singing voice – few do – so he makes it his own.Continue reading »
When we began our Best Covers Ever series a little over three years ago, Bob Dylan was about the first artist who came to mind. But we held off. We needed to work our way up to it. So we started with smaller artists to get our feet wet. You know, up-and-comers like The Rolling Stones and Nirvana, Beyoncé and Pink Floyd, Madonna and Queen.
We kid, obviously, but there’s a kernel of truth there. All those artists have been covered a million times, but in none of their stories do cover songs loom quote as large as they do in Bob Dylan’s. Every time one of his songs has topped the charts, it’s been via a cover. Most of his best-known songs, from “All Along the Watchtower” to “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” didn’t get that way because of his recordings. In some cases fans of the songs don’t even realize they are Bob Dylan songs. That’s been happening since Peter, Paul, and Mary sang “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and it’s still happening almost sixty years later – just look at the number of YouTube videos titled “Make You Feel My Love (cover of Adele)”.
So needless to say, there was a lot of competition for this list. We finally narrowed it down to 100 covers – our biggest list ever, but still only a drop in the bucket of rain. Many of the most famous Dylan covers are on here. Many of them aren’t. The only criteria for inclusion was, whether iconic or obscure, whether the cover reinvented, reimagined, and reinterpreted a Dylan song in a new voice.
With a list like this, and maybe especially with this list in particular, there’s an incentive to jump straight to number one. If you need to do that to assuage your curiosity, fine. But then come back to the start. Even the 100th best Dylan cover is superlative. Making it on this list at all marks a hell of a feat considering the competition. (In fact, Patreon supporters will get several hundred bonus covers, the honorable mentions it killed us to cut.)
In a 2006 interview with Jonathan Lethem, Dylan himself put it well: “My old songs, they’ve got something—I agree, they’ve got something! I think my songs have been covered—maybe not as much as ‘White Christmas’ or ‘Stardust,’ but there’s a list of over 5,000 recordings. That’s a lot of people covering your songs, they must have something. If I was me, I’d cover my songs too.”