Dec 092016
 

Follow all our Best of 2016 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.

tribute records

We’ve done a Best Cover Albums list every year since 2009. That list usually ends up being a reasonably even mix of various-artist tributes and single-artist records. But in all those lists, our number-one pick has been, without fail, a single-artist album (for those keeping score at home, we’ve awarded The Lemonheads, Peter Gabriel, Baaba Kulka, Neil Young and Crazyhorse, Xiu Xiu, Andrew Bird, and Bob Dylan – who didn’t turn up to accept our prize either).

This single-artist streak is no coincidence. It is naturally easier for one artist, if he/she/they are good enough, to maintain consistent quality control over 10 or 15 tracks. Whereas even the best mixed-artist tribute records usually have one or two dud tracks. Take the National-curated Day of the Dead, certainly this year’s highest-profile tribute album. Some of these Grateful Dead covers were so good they’ll appear on next week’s Best Cover Songs of 2016 list. Many others were dreck, filler, or superfluous. So we ranked the record – spoiler alert – at #20, sort of an honorable-mention position.

Even various-artist tributes comprised of uniformly good covers typically don’t add up to more than the sum of their parts. For example, we ranked MOJO Magazine’s Blonde on Blonde tribute pretty high this year because we liked just about every one of the Bob Dylan covers on offer. But there’s little common ground between an aggressive electronic “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” and a tender folk “I Want You.” The record is more a bunch of great cover-song fodder for mixes and playlists than a truly great and unified album.

I sound like I’m being critical, but again, these are among the best cover albums of the year. This is usually the most a various-artist tribute album can aspire to: more good covers, few bad ones.

But this year, for the first time in our eight years making these lists, a various-artist tribute album rose so all the way to the top. This album was not only good top to bottom, but it felt like a real album, not just a collection of covers. It ably walked the finest of lines: showcasing diverse approaches to the source material while just remaining cohesive enough to stand together as a complete listen.

I don’t want to give away what that number-one album is just yet. We’ll get there, and there’s already enough of a tendency with year-end lists to skip straight to #1 and ignore the rest. I no doubt have not helped by hyping this magical album that broke our eight-year streak. But every one of the twenty albums we picked offers something worth hearing.

We’ve got jazz-sax forays through prog-rock and twee-pop covers of vintage punk tunes. There’s a ’60s New York icon honoring her then-competitors in the British Invasion, and a band from that same British Invasion honoring their American inspirations. There are tributes to great musicians who died this year, and tributes to long-dead musicians who there’s no news hook for honoring now, just great songs.

This list itself is as “various artists” as it can get, a whole array of genres and styles with one common thread: musicians honoring their inspirations and influences. Let’s dig in.

– Ray Padgett, Editor-in-Chief

Start the countdown on the next page…

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Mar 182016
 
TomWaits_wolynski

Back in 2006, Tom Waits released an outtakes and rarities compilation called Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards. At 56 tracks, it had a lot – but not nearly everything. So fans dutifully compiled a companion collection of everything left on the cutting room floor, cleverly titled Forgotten Orphans. In addition to more outtakes and b-sides, this fan bootleg included something the main set lacked: live performances. Many of those were super-rare covers, none of which have ever been officially released. But they are worth hearing. Tom Waits is widely regarded as an excellent songwriter, but these covers showcase Tom Waits’ power as a song interpreter. He’s never gone the Bob Dylan route of periodic forays into cover albums, but if he ever did, these songs show how great such an album could be. Continue reading »

Jan 122016
 

   Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

UNSPECIFIED - JANUARY 01:  Photo of Sam Cooke  (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

“Summertime,” one of the most covered songs in music history (just ask The Summertime Connection), has always inspired masterful performances. The song weaves simple yet potent lyrics with a slow, steady harmonic progression, paving the way for poised renditions, yet its strengths allow the artists to freely improvise this musical masterpiece to make it distinctly their own. Covers range from chilling and ominous to sultry and even joyous, always maintaining the song’s soulful cool. Most importantly, “Summertime”‘s depth provides a canvas for inspired artists to create breathtakingly beautiful art.
Continue reading »

Apr 242013
 

Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.

Today marks the debut of a new feature at Cover Me, called Cover Me Q&A. We’ll be taking questions about cover songs and giving as many different answers as we can. This will give us a chance to hold forth on covers we might not otherwise get to talk about, to give Cover Me readers a chance to learn more about individual staffers’ tastes and writing styles, and to provide an opportunity for some back-and-forth, as we’ll be taking requests (learn how to do so at feature’s end).

For our first Cover Me Q&A question, we thought we’d pick one both basic and complex, too easy and too hard, that anyone who regularly visits this site has more than likely contemplated: What’s your favorite cover song? Here are our answers; we welcome yours in the comments section below… Continue reading »

Jul 122011
 

Regular readers know that every Tuesday brings another installment in the A.V. Club’s terrific Undercover series. Bands show up in their round room and cover a song from a list. A simple premise that produces terrific results.

Today, though, the preeminent pop culture website is doing something different. In lieu of their normal routine, they recorded seven covers in various Chicago locations of songs having to do with summer. They’ll be posting these “Summer Breeze” covers all day and, as a result, we’ll be updating this post all day. Check back here or follow us on Twitter to see when more get added. Continue reading »

Jan 112011
 

Limelight just announced the most-recorded cover songs of 2010. And the winner is…well, don’t hold your breath.

We’ll preface this by noting the word recorded. Our friends at Limelight help artists gain permission from and pay royalties to copyright holders. If you want to make money off a cover of “I Gotta Feeling,” you’d better talk to them. This means, though, that this list may not match up with a “Most-Covered Songs of 2010” list (which would be impossible to compile anyway). Because while YouTube stars and MySpace wannabes swarmed popular songs like “Bad Romance” and “Teenage Dream,” most of these were live takes or Internet freebies. Such off-the-cuff releases don’t count here, which buffers the list against the trendy buzz covers we hold so dear. Continue reading »