Once self-style “generation terrorists,” Manic Street Preachers are not the first band I’d think of if I was asked to come up with groups likely to cover early Madonna songs. But age mellows us all. Recorded live for the BBC 6 Music Festival in their home nation of Wales, their new cover of “Borderline” is remarkably faithful for a band that started a punk band (sort of).
Butcher Brown ft. Alex Isley – Best Friend (Brandy cover)
Virginia jazz collective Butcher Brown throws it back to ’90s R&B with this cover of Brandy’s 1994 slow jam “Best Friend.” Though it’s a little out of their usual wheelhouse – for one, it has a singer, Ernie Isley’s daughter no less – they ably blend their own leanings with the retro soul-pop feel. If you like this, don’t miss their rooftop NPR Tiny Desk Concert.
Kate Clover – These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ (Nancy Sinatra cover)
“If Suicide produced a Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood song” is a hell of a tag line, and Kate Clover’s “These Boots” delivers on that premise. The menacing guitar seems pulled straight from “Frankie Teardrop,” while Clover’s vocals channel Sinatra’s swagger. Bonus points for the fun Twin Peaks-esque video.
Wet Leg are a duo from the Isle of Wight who debuted with a viral hit last summer. “Chaise Longue” sounds like a parody of post punk, almost like Flight of the Conchords doing a 21st century, professional version of The Slits or something.
Their cover of “Material Girl” has that same satirical edge, but it’s a lot more muted. It opens with a thudding chord that feels like the distorted echo of a memory of a ’60s pop song, and nothing like Madonna. A buzzing second guitar soon joins in before lead vocalist Rhian Teasdale’s lilting voice joins. She alternates between that lilt, speaking and a slighty more passionate delivery. The music behind her, the thudding rhythm guitar, the plodding drums and the buzzing, shimmery lead guitar, thump out a mechanical that sounds both 21st century and primitive.
As regular readers know, every year, at the end of the year, we do a big year-end covers list. This tradition started in 2007 and will continue in a couple months with the best covers of 2021.
But there are so many years before 2007 where we weren’t doing year-end covers lists (and, as far as I’m aware, no one else was either). So once a year, we do a big anniversary post tackling the best covers of a year before Cover Me was born. So far we’ve done 1969, 1978, 1987, 1996, and, last year, 2000.
And for 2021, we look back thirty years, to the heady days of 1991. The days of grunge and acid house, of parachute pants and ripped denim, of The Gulf War and Home Alone. Country music and hip-hop increased their cultural dominance (or really just making their existing dominance known; 1991 is also the year Soundscan made the Billboard charts more authoritative). In a single day, Nirvana released Nevermind, Red Hot Chili Peppers released Blood Sugar Sex Magik, and A Tribe Called Quest released The Low End Theory. Think that’s a fluke? The week before saw massive albums from Mariah Carey, Hole, and Guns ‘n’ Roses (two albums, no less). The week before that came Garth Brooks, Talk Talk, and Saint Etienne.
All of those trends are reflected in the list below. Many of these covers scream “1991!” LL Cool J raps Disney. Courtney Love shrieks Joni. Aretha Franklin tries to new jack swing. A spate of early tribute albums (in fact, last year I wrote a 33 1/3 book about a 1991 tribute album). Other covers are more timeless, from veteran artists doing great work several decades into their careers, or way-underground artists who never even approached the mainstream. The only criteria was quality. Thirty years later, these 50 covers Hole-d up the best.
Check out the list starting on Page 2, and stay tuned for the best covers of this year coming in December.
The list begins on Page 2.
Beyoncé – Moon River (Mancini/Mercer cover
Any month with a new cover by Beyoncé is a big month. Admittedly, her piano-crooning “Moon River” like so many others have piano-crooned “Moon River” – and for a Tiffany’s ad no less – is slightly underwhelming. But we’ll take what we can get, and, even if the approach is hardly novel, Beyoncé’s got the pipes to deliver.
Brandi Carlile – We Belong (Pat Benatar cover)
Cheating a little as we missed this one in July, but if you too haven’t heard the acoustic “We Belong” Brandi’s been playing on tour with The Twins, it will be worth the wait. “We belong together” takes on a whole new meaning as we (try to) come out of quarantine.