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.

Dec 072017
craig finn mountain goats

On the new music podcast I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats, frontman John Darnielle and host Joseph Fink (Welcome to Nightvale) are discussing every song on the Mountain Goats cult classic 2002 album All Hail West Texas. Each episode concludes with a new cover of the song in question, one of which – Loamlands’ “Fall of the High School Running Back” – we already named one of the best covers of the year this week.

The new episode features The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn tackling the album’s fifth track, “Fault Lines.” Like every song on the album, the original is a solo acoustic recording, offering a blank canvas for Finn to work on. He says his lush, orchestrated cover was inspired equally by both The Walkmen and Van Morrison. It’s a far cry from the original, although – crucially with any Mountain Goats song – the lyrics stay at the forefront. Continue reading »

Feb 212017

After two albums of balls-to-the-wall rock, Japandroids got a little artier on their recent third album Near to the Wild Heart of Life. Artier by their standards, that is – there’s the occasional synthesizer and one song that tops five minutes, mixed in with a whole bunch more balls-to-the-wall rock. Baby steps.

Perhaps as a sign of their new influences outside the punk/classic rock spheres, Japandroids’ new single contains a B-side cover of Talking Heads’ debut single “Love Goes To Building On Fire.” Their version sounds epic and distorted, a steady build that finally bursts into an massive guitar climax. They haven’t performed it live yet, but they should; it would fit right in with their massive, holler-along shows.

The band is currently on tour with The Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn opening. They’ve been ending each set with a different cover, a joint version of “(I’m) Stranded” by Australian rock band The Saints. Though today perhaps not as well known stateside as the Ramones or Sex Pistols, they remain incredibly influential; Bruce Springsteen covered another song of theirs on his last album. Continue reading »

May 032016

In his time with Lifter Puller, The Hold Steady, and in his own solo career, Craig Finn has told stories of party-hard townies, drug-dealing pimps, young conflicted Christians, and other boys and girls in America, and he made them all sound romantic, tragic, and worth fighting for. He sang about you and me like Bruce Springsteen wrote about his own friends and family, except Finn sang about our own specific anxieties – our post-Internet, post-9/11 hopes and fears of the future. It doesn’t matter what stories were true and what weren’t; the best storytellers can jump into any skin and tells us what it means to be alive and human in any walk of life. Good storytellers should also be able to embody a different time and pull out lessons that never die (though the characters often do). Continue reading »

Nov 052010

We’ve been anxiously anticipating this one ever since we heard about it a few weeks ago. Scottish sad sacks Frightened Rabbit and Brooklyn-via-Minnesota’s much peppier Craig Finn (of the Hold Steady) come together to duet on Elton John and Kiki Dee’s “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.” Q premiered the cut this morning and it was worth the wait. Frightened Rabbit singer Scott Hutchison’s thick brogue balances Finn’s Midwest twang so well you forget that this is two dudes.

After hearing this, we think these two should release an all-duets covers album (preferably under the name “Frightened Finn”). They could tackle Tom Petty and Stevie Nix’s “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” Maybe Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe.” What else would would you like to see on this hypothetical tracklist? Continue reading »