Over our time tracking cover songs (13 years this month!), we’ve written about hundreds of new tribute albums, across reviews, news stories, and, when they’re good enough, our best-of-the-year lists. We also have looked back on plenty of great tribute albums from the past in our Cover Classics series. But we’ve never pulled it all together – until now.
‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.
Last week, Donald Trump gave his headlining speech at the Republican National Convention. Right after, fireworks exploded over the Washington Monument, soundtracked by a cover of “Hallelujah.” A few minutes later, a second singer covered “Hallelujah” while the entire Trump family watched. Both covers were unauthorized, and Leonard Cohen’s estate quickly said they are exploring legal action. (It must also be said that the covers weren’t very good – you won’t find either one on this list.)
Though hardly a shining moment in the history of Cohen covers, this event speaks to the cultural ubiquity of his work, and of “Hallelujah” in particular. For an artist who never sold that many records, Cohen has become about as iconic as icons get. Humble to the end, he would no doubt object – politely, of course – to that statement. But it’s true. His songs transcend his albums, they transcend his performances, they even transcend Leonard Cohen himself.
There’s never a bad time to talk about Leonard Cohen covers, but they’ve really been on my mind the past couple years. Why? Because I’ve been writing an entire book on the subject, which is out today. It’s in the 33 1/3 series of small books on specific albums. The album I selected? The 1991 tribute album I’m Your Fan: The Songs of Leonard Cohen. Without it, you probably wouldn’t even know “Hallelujah”… but we’ll get to that later.
In the book, I explore not just that one tribute album, but the entire history of Leonard Cohen covers generally. It’s a long and fascinating story, but suffice to say here that Cohen wouldn’t have had anywhere near the reach he did without others covering his songs. Covers gave him his start – Judy Collins’s, in particular – and resurrected his career more than once.
There are far too many great Cohen covers to fit in a list like this (and our Patreon supporters will soon get a bonus list of 100 more of them). But we all dug deep to pull the highlights, both the best of the totemic covers as well as brilliant but lesser-known interpretations. The covers span his entire catalog too. Plenty of “Hallelujah”s, of course, and versions of the ’60s songs that made him famous, but also covers of deeper cuts from albums throughout his recording career, up to and including his very last. We hope you’ll discover some new favorites, and maybe be able to listen to the classics you already know in a fresh light.
– Ray Padgett, Editor-in-Chief
The list begins on Page 2.
Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.
I never understood why the Walkabouts were never huge. A consummate Americana noir sound, two terrific vocalists in Chris Eckman and Carla Torgerson, an arthouse European ambiance… how did it not happen? Their history and geography ought really have defined a career in grunge, and their Seattle base and the Sub Pop label often had them sometimes lumped in with that movement. But they were always, even at the start, a step apart and a dust bowl away.
Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.
Here at 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).
Today’s question, from Cover Me staffer Sean Balkwill: What’s your favorite original song that’s best known as a cover?
An expanded version of this article – with a new Lenny Kaye interview! – appears in my new book ‘Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time’. Buy it at Amazon.
Before there was a song called “Gloria,” there was a poem called “Oath.” And the transition from one to the other might never have happened without forty bucks and one loud bass note.
Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
The oft-covered Chuck Berry gem “Memphis, Tennessee” was never meant for stardom, taking a back seat to Berry’s “Back In The U.S.A,” which was the A to “Memphis”’s B on the 1959 single they shared. Chart success would eventually happen in England, where it was released as a double A-side with “Let It Rock” and climbed to #6 on the UK charts. With this history, it’s no surprise that a who’s-who of the British invasion has covered it – the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Animals, the Dave Clark Five, and The Hollies have all taken a stab, turning the trip through “Memphis” into a rite of passage.