MGMT’s Andrew VanWyngarden has shared a cover of Biff Rose’s “Never Mind” from a recording session in January 2015 with James Richardson, Josh da Costa, and engineering by Al Carlson. VanWyngarden’s cover turns Rose’s 1970 classic into something that sounds like an underground ’80s synth-pop treasure. The lyrics tell a sad story, but in a reassuring way; the cover is too dreamy to be melancholic. The replacement of piano with an orchestra of synths makes the song mellow, less bright, and more comforting. Both versions will surely cause foot-tapping, but where the original will incite dancing, the cover encourages swaying in the moonlight.
Amaara – House of Cards (Radiohead cover)
We just posted the 45 best Radiohead covers ever, but there’s already a 46th. Unsurprising, really, considering how much this band gets covered. The musical project of actor Kaelen Amara Ohm, Amaara took on the In Rainbows gem “House of Cards.” Her cover carries echoes of the haunting original, but with a smoother electro-ambient sheen.
Chris Anderson – Eh-Hee / Digging in the Dirt (Dave Matthews / Peter Gabriel cover)
Composer Chris Anderson draws from some pretty deep wells of music knowledge on his new Song Cycle. He covers Laurie Anderson and John Cage and Tom Waits – twice. He covers Peter Gabriel twice too, on a beautiful “Mercy Street” and more subtly here, working bits of “Digging in the Dirt” into – of all things – a gospel Dave Matthews cover. “The addition of a choir was important to me to create the feeling of a ground-swell of support,” he writes in an email. “The fact that the song is about ‘knocking the devil to his knees’ made the gospel choir a natural choice.”
Two things strike me as I scan through our list this year. This first is that many of the highest-ranking covers are tributes to recently-deceased icons. No surprise there, I suppose. But none actually pay tribute to artists that died in 2018. They honor those we’ve been honoring for two or three years now – your Pettys, your Princes, your Bowies. Hundreds of covers of each of these legends appeared in the first days after their deaths, but many of the best posthumous covers took longer to emerge.
Good covers take time. That principle – the cover-song equivalent of the slow food movement, perhaps – holds true throughout the list. Sure, a few here appear to have arisen from sudden moments of brilliance, flash-arranged for some concert or radio promo session. But many more reveal months or even years of painstaking work to nail every element. Making someone else’s song one’s own isn’t easy. These 50 covers took the time to get it right.
– Ray Padgett, Editor-in-Chief
Start the countdown on the next page…
Al Green – Before the Next Teardrop Falls (Freddy Fender cover)
Sorry, Beyoncé; the biggest surprise release of the year might be Al Green’s sudden return after a decade away. Well, not totally away; he still conducts weekly services at his Memphis church and, when I attended, was liberally sprinkling quotes from “Love and Happiness” and “Take Me to the River” into his sermons. Best of all: This Freddy Fender cover sounds like Al hasn’t lost a step. It’s apparently a one-off, but hopefully recording it will whet his appetite to do more.
We watch a lot of radio session videos here, and they tend to be visually uninspired. They represent, after all, afterthoughts. A BBC Live Lounge or Triple J “Like a Version” session is intended for, primarily, the radio. Superorganism’s new cover for Triple J represents a wonderful exception to the norm, a zany and unexpected mashup as fun to watch as it is to hear.
Suicide singer Alan Vega died last week at age 78, and since then a whole host of artists have paid tribute by covering his songs. As was the case with “Purple Rain” when Prince died, one song has become the go-to tribute song for the occasion: the uplifting “Dream Baby Dream.”
Bruce Springsteen, who has regularly covered the song solo on piano over the past decade, delivered a full-band version to open his Denmark show. Pearl Jam did the same at a festival show in Canada, while Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler who tweeted a very laptop-dj take on the tune.