Dec 152023

Follow all our Best of 2023 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.

I like to think that badass lady in the artwork up there (done by our own Hope Silverman!) embodies the spirit of this year’s list. Not that they’re all CBGB-style punk songs—though there are a couple—but in her devil-may-care attitude. “Who says I shouldn’t do a hardcore cover of the Cranberries? A post-punk cover of Nick Drake? A hip-hop cover of The Highwaymen? Screw that!”

As with most good covers, the 50 covers we pulled out among the thousands we listened to bring a healthy blend of reverence and irreverence. Reverence because the artists love the source material. Irreverence because they’re not afraid to warp it, bend it, mold it in their own image. A few of the songs below are fairly obscure, but most you probably already know. Just not like this.


Oct 312023
Deer Tick – Dancing In The Dark (Bruce Springsteen cover)

“For me, ‘Dancing in the Dark’ isn’t a song about romance, but instead a desperate plea to break out of some degraded, stagnant situation. The narrator is filled with angst, self doubt, and the only way out is to the sheer force of unwavering will power,” says Deer Tick guitarist/vocalist Ian O’Neil. “Bruce really shows us who he is on this one and it looks an awful lot like the rest of us.”

Die Sauerkrauts Polka Band — Now That’s What I Call Polka! (Weird Al cover)

There are a lot of Weird Al covers out there (okay, maybe not a lot, but more than you might think). This is new though. This band didn’t cover one of Weird Al’s parodies. They didn’t even cover a Weird Al original, like “Dare to Be Stupid.” They covered one of his polka medleys (a subject I interviewed Al about in Cover Me the book—excerpt at The AV Club). Meaning, they covered polka versions of hits by Miley Cyrus, One Direction, Gotye, and many more, all in a brisk medley. A very silly music video brings it home. Continue reading »

Oct 262023
Imperial Triumphant

“Motorbreath” is one of the oldest Metallica songs, appearing on their third demo, back when Dave Mustaine was still in the band. It’s most well known for appearing on their debut album, Kill’em All and has become a thrash classic over the years. The song embodies so much of what made Metallica instantly iconic within the metal community, with its speed, edge and ferocity making an impression on so many listeners and musicians. (It’s in the Top 15 most covered Metallica songs ever despite not being widely known by the general public.)

Experimental black metal band Imperial Triumphant have become known for their heavy, idiosyncratic covers of jazz, prog and alternative rock songs. Now, they’ve turned their sights on a metal classic. The original “Motorbreath” is a straight-forward thrash banger, but, of course, in Imperial Triumphant’s hands, it’s very different. Continue reading »

Jul 312023
best cover songs
Bob Dylan — Bad Actor (Merle Haggard cover)

Bob Dylan has been on a covers roll this year. On tour, he has primarily covered a number of Dead (“Truckin’,” “Stella Blue,” “Brokedown Palace”) or Dead-associated (“Not Fade Away,” “Only a River”) songs. But he’s dipped into other classic catalogs occasionally too. He did Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” for the first time and then, not long after, maybe the deepest cut yet: Merle Haggard’s 2016 track “Bad Actor.” The tape took a while to surface. It was worth the wait. Continue reading »

Jul 062023
elisapie unforgiven cover

“The Unforgiven” was Metallica‘s second biggest song when it was released as the second single to their self-titled fifth album. It wasn’t Metallica’s first ballad, but it reversed their previous formula which arguably made it more appealing to the average listener. It remains one of their best known songs among non-metal fans and is far and away their most covered song.

We last encountered Inuk singer Elisapie on her transformative cover of Bondie’s “Heart of Glass.” From about as far north in the province of Quebec as you could possibly be from, Elisapie has been recording and releasing Juno- and Polaris-nominated music for more than a decade. (Those are Canadian music awards. The Junos are Canada’s Grammys and the Polaris is a little more indie.) She sings in English, French and her native Inuktitut. On both the Blondie cover and this new Metallica cover, she sings in her native language. Continue reading »

Jun 282023
metallica bagpipe

Metal royalty Metallica recently came to the defence of viral TikTok star Aly the Piper, who had released a medley of some of the band’s biggest hits played on her namesake instrument, the bagpipes. “This [commentor] doesn’t speak on our behalf,” Metallica commented on the video. “You’re awesome.” The comment came after a negative comment bemoaning her choice to cover “Fade to Black, “One”, “Enter Sandman” and “Whisky in the Jar” in the video. Continue reading »