Way back in January, we polled our Patreon supporters to see which 2020 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee they wanted to see get the “Best Covers Ever” treatment. Depeche Mode won, so we started planning our schedule to get it ready in advance of the big induction ceremony on March 24.
Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
You Want it Darker, the title of Leonard Cohen’s farewell album of 2016, might also have made an appropriate moniker for Depeche Mode’s 1990 release, Violator. The British synthpop group had grown steadily in popularity since signing to the independent Mute label in 1980, even to the point of selling out the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena (over 90,000 seats) in 1988. Yet it was when they took a more direct approach to the subjects of guilt, sin, sexual obsession, and inner torment on their seventh LP that they truly achieved a mass audience. This involved selling three million copies in the US and 15 million worldwide, in the glow of the indomitable hit singles “Personal Jesus” and “Enjoy the Silence.”
Today marks 30 years since the release of Depeche Mode’s bleak, unit-shifting masterpiece, one of the most influential records of the ’90s, and one that made #342 on Rolling Stone‘s 500 Greatest Albums of all Time in 2012. The breadth of artists who’ve covered its songs is testimony to the album’s impact. These artists span an unimaginable variety of genres on an international scale, and they provide ample justification for the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year. Continue reading »
Follow all our Best of 2016 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.
2016 in music will be most remembered for one thing: death. It seemed like an unprecedented list of major musical figures left us this year: David Bowie, Prince, Merle Haggard, Leonard Cohen. The list, sadly, goes on and on.
Prominent passings affect many aspects of the music world, but the impact is particularly clear in the world of cover songs: When an artist dies, a lot of people cover his or her songs. The world was hardly hurting for Prince covers before April 21, but afterwards, to paraphrase the man himself, we went crazy. Bruce Springsteen alone became a one-man tribute machine, covering Bowie, Prince, The Eagles’ Glenn Frey, and Suicide’s Alan Vega after they died (it’s a shame his tour ended before Cohen passed because he’d do a great “Everybody Knows”). Our list this year features a number of these tribute covers – though both the Cohen covers listed were actually released before his death, proving there’s no need to wait to honor one of the greats.
Our list also features fantastic final covers by the recently departed, brilliant song-interpreters like Sharon Jones and Allen Toussaint. The fact that they died may add extra meaning to these new songs, but they’d make the list regardless. Whether they performed wonderful covers or wrote wonderful songs for others to cover, we miss these artists because they were great. They don’t need any “death bump.”
The year wasn’t all dire though. Our list features many covers by and of artists who are alive in every sense of the word. Kendrick Lamar and Drake represent the new world of hip-hop, Kacey Musgraves and Sturgill Simpson in country, Animal Collective and Joyce Manor in indie rock, and in too many other genres to name. Jason Isbell currently holds a streak here, making his third consecutive appearance this year.
We also have plenty of artists whose names I won’t highlight here, because you probably won’t have heard of them…yet. We’re not in the business of predicting fame – the music industry is far too fickle for that – but some of our past best-cover winners have gone on to big things this year, like Chance the Rapper (2014 winner) and The Weeknd (2012 winner). Hell, Sturgill (#3 in 2014) just got an Album of the Year Grammy nomination!
Those early covers may have helped kick off such success. A revelatory cover song can help a musician attract early attention. When I interviewed Mark Mothersbaugh recently, he said no one understood what Devo was doing until they covered “Satisfaction.” A familiar song done Devo-style finally made the connection for people. “Whip It” and other original hits would not be far behind.
Maybe some of this year’s under-the-radar names will go on to Weeknd-level superstardom. But even if they don’t, all these covers, by household names and Garageband geeks alike, deserve recognition. We’ll miss all the great musicians who left us this year, but it’s gratifying to see so many promising younger artists coming in to fill their shoes.
– Ray Padgett, Editor in Chief
(Illustration by Sarah Parkinson)
PS. Last year in this space, I mentioned I’m writing a book about cover songs. Well, Cover Me (the book, that is) is finished and will be out next year! In addition to the aforementioned Mothersbaugh, I interviewed Roger Daltrey about “Summertime Blues,” David Byrne about “Take Me to the River,” and many more. Follow our Facebook for updates on preorder, etc. Now, on to the countdown…
Eurythmics haven’t released an album or toured since 1999, but for whatever reason this summer has seen a surge of covers. And not even just more versions of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” but other singles and deeper cuts. It’s probably just coincidence (unless Dave Stewart releasing his memoir earlier this year was a catalyst), but whatever the reason, we’re always happy to get new interpretations of their catchy-but-slightly-odd dance classics.
First up was Iron And Wine’s Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop. Earlier this year, they teamed up for a duets album Love Letter For Fire, and this summer they added an outtake: a cover of “Love Is a Stranger.” If you know even the tiniest thing about Beam or Hoop, it will not surprise you one iota to learn they take the pop song in a radically different direction. Their voices blend beautifully on the delicate acoustic cover.Continue reading »
I’m not sure there were more great cover songs this year than any other. But there were more good ones.
What I mean by that is, the average quality of the covers we come across in the time we’ve been around has risen, rather dramatically. Whether they’re iTunes homepage singles or some guy emailing us his Bandcamp, more cover songs in 2013 avoid the old pitfalls than ever before. They don’t sound like they were recorded in a cereal box, substitute ear-bleeding volume for actual creativity, or – the worst cover sin of all – try to carbon-copying the original. With the ease of production and distribution available now, artists seemed to record covers only when they felt they had something to add, and do a halfway decent job committing those ideas to 1s and 0s.Continue reading »