Jan 312024
 
best cover songs january
BABii — Lovefool (The Cardigans cover)

Brent Amaker And The Rodeo – Gut Feeling (Deco cover)

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Nov 302023
 
best cover songs
boygenius ft. Ye Vagabonds — The Parting Glass (Trad. cover)

Every year, Phoebe Bridgers releases a surprise cover around the holidays to benefit charity. This year, she brought in her boygenius bandmates as well as vocal group Ye Vagabonds to cover “The Parting Glass.” It’s a traditional Irish tune, but their version pays specific homage to Sinead O’Connor, who covered it in 2002. Sales benefit the Aisling Project, an after-school project working with children and young people growing up in a disadvantaged area of Dublin. The beneficiary was chosen by the estate of O’Connor, who died in July. Continue reading »

Oct 272023
 

‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

Velvet Underground and Nico

On October 27, 2013, ten years ago today, Lou Reed died. I happened to be in New York City at the time, and his passing was a lead story on the 11 o’clock news. It was as though a part of the city itself had died. Which, inescapably, it had. Reed embodied NYC, from its seedy back rooms to its secret heart, in a way few other people, let alone musicians, ever did.

While Reed’s solo career is highly and deservingly accoladed, it still got overshadowed by the Velvet Underground. Reed’s first band featured Welsh musician John Cale, guitarist Sterling Morrison, and drummer Maureen Tucker, with Nico singing on the first album and Doug Yule replacing Cale in 1968. The band’s four studio albums started ripples that turned into tsunamis; they went from secret-handshake status to Hall of Fame giants, their influence right up there with the Beatles.

We’re honoring Lou and Company with this collection of covers. Some covers couldn’t hold a candle to the original (you’ll find no “Heroin” here), but many of the originals were receptive to another artist’s distinctive stamp. Whether you prefer the first or what followed, you’ll hear the sound of immortality as it opens yet another path of discovery.

–Patrick Robbins, Features Editor

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May 192023
 

Cover Genres takes a look at cover songs in a very specific musical style.

Oho! Well, you were warned that this was coming, but the oft-maligned bagpipes have a surprisingly fertile life in coverland. As with the banjo, it isn’t a genre per se, even if usually most associated with the folk and indiginous musics of the Celtic nations. Luckily(?!) for you, it has leaked into any number of unexpected other genres, which, by and large is where we are going today.

But first, some context. Bagpipes have existed since the dawn of time, the ingredients of their manufacture largely available to mankind from very early on, usually in the form of the body parts of an otherwise eaten animal. All you need is a stomach and a pair of lungs–the stomach from your kill, the lungs your own. Apply lips and blow. At the other end of the “bag” is the chanter, a bit like a whistle. By maintaining a constant input of air into the bag, as it flows out and through the chanter, the sounds produced can be altered.

As sophistication advanced, further “pipes” were added, giving a constant tone, as background. This provides the drone, or drones, suddenly a texture so beloved in modern post-rock circles. If you can’t be blethered to blow, bellows devices bypassed the need for the musicians own lung power, these filling the bag by under-arm pumping action, pushing air into the bag that way. The Scottish highland bagpipes are the prime example of the former, the Irish uillean pipes of the latter, but there area host of other models, some lungs driven, some bellows. So we have the Scottish small pipes, Northumbrian pipes, probably the next best known, ahead crossing the channel to the many and varied European varieties.

As “civilization” advanced, so the pipes tended to move outward, towards the edges of any world known at that time, partly as pianos and violins swept in to classier society, in the hubs of nations and empires, and partly through pipes being exported to the “colonies”, the savages taking their primitive instrument of choice to the very fringes of the world.

Enough natter, let’s groove!
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Nov 042022
 

‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

dolly parton covers

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.

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Sep 302022
 

‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

beach boys covers

If you were to look at the charts, the Beach Boys basically stopped having giant hits after 1966’s “Good Vibrations” (with the obvious exception of 1988’s “Kokomo”). They’re a singles band whose singles mostly dried up six years into their sixty-year career. They had a brief run of good-time hits about girls, cars, and surfing, then faded. They’re the band preserved forever in that cornball publicity photo up top.

But that’s not the story these covers tell.

The big hits are here, sure. “Surfer Girl” and “Fun Fun Fun” and “I Get Around” etc. But so are many now-iconic tunes that weren’t hits. “God Only Knows,” the Beach Boys’ most covered song, peaked at #39. By their standards, that’s a straight-up flop. Many other covered songs didn’t even make it that high. But “God Only Knows” has of course belatedly been recognized as one of the great pop songs of the 20th century. As has the album it came off of, Pet Sounds, itself a relative commercial failure.

Pet Sounds, of course, has long since been recognized as a classic. So some artists dig even deeper. “Lonely Sea” is an album cut off their 1963 album Surfin’ U.S.A. “Trader” comes off the 1973 album Holland. Three separate songs here originally came off Surf’s Up, now the go-to pick for artists who want to show they know more than Pet Sounds. Even a song not released until the ‘90s, “Still I Dream of It,” gets a killer cover.

You can trace the story of the Beach Boys’ reputation through these covers. A group once perceived as a lightweight singles act have been fully embraced as musical geniuses, all the way from the hits of the ’60s through the then-overlooked gems of the ‘70s and beyond. Some of these songs below you probably won’t know. Others you will know every single word of…but you’ve never heard them sung like this.

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