Sea Girls is an indie rock band based out of London. In between the release of their sophomore album Open Up Your Head in August 2020, and their upcoming European tour in October, they just released a new cover of “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart.” It brings a slightly darker tone when compared to Mark Ronson and Miley Cyrus’ track, as Sea Girls’ alternative-sounds rubs off onto the cover. The different tone is almost unnoticeable at first with singer Henry Camamile’s falsetto and the same stringed arrangement opening the tune. But the weight of the tone grows and thickens as the song progresses, almost as if Sea Girls grew bolder as their comfort grew as they molded someone else’s art.
Black Country, New Road – Time to Pretend (MGMT cover)
If you’re expecting the “Time to Pretend” you knew and loved a decade ago, think again. UK post-punkers Black Country, New Road, one of the buzziest bands of the new year, deconstruct the song entirely. It starts pretty sane, then gradually veers off the tracks into chaos. By the end there’s a free-jazz sax solo leading a wall of noise only barely identifiable as this, or any, song.
Last week Miley Cyrus continued her epic run of recent covers during her pre-game performance at this year’s Super Bowl. Along with a cover of “Heart of Glass” by Blondie (which we previously covered here), Miley also performed a modified version of “Mickey” by Toni Basil, “Head Like A Hole” by Nine Inch Nails and “Rebel Girl” by Bikini Kill. Her versions of “I Hate Myself for Loving You” by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and “White Wedding” by Billy Idol, featured special appearances by their original singers, to the delight of the crowd.
Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
Crowded House, harking from the land down under, formed in the mid-80s. Their first album, self-titled, took a little bit of time to catch on, but its fourth single, “Don’t Dream It’s Over” became a hit internationally. The band, with a changing line-up, has been making music off and on ever since. Neil Finn has even taken on quite a side project, joining Fleetwood Mac after Lindsey Buckingham’s departure.
The band, in its current form, was supposed to tour in 2020, but the pandemic required a postponement. However, there is a silver lining to the lockdown; a new Crowded House album is being promised this year. Until then, we can revisit this song that started it all. Cover Me’s own Jordan Becker talks about the original tune, and we’ve discussed a cover in the past, but the more covers, the merrier. Here’s five more!
When artists cover Mazzy Star‘s “Fade Into You,” they often seem to lean into the quietude of the 1993 classic. All the trademarks of the original make it an easy choice—Hope Sandoval’s vocals, ethereal but self-assured; the steady tambourine; the dreampop slide guitar. It’s no surprise, then, to hear Ben Harper covering the song on solo piano, or J Mascis with stunning guitar and a Neil Young twang.
Typically, the world of cover songs does not change that much year-to-year. You can point to big shifts across decades, sure, but the difference between cover songs in 2018 and 2019, broadly speaking? Negligible. But 2020 was – in this as in everything else – very different.
As concerts ground to a sudden halt, musicians turned to live-from-quarantine home performances, first on their social media, then, once some kind of business model got built up, on various paid platforms. And cover songs were a big part of that. Some musicians did themed covers nights, like Ben Gibbard on YouTube early on or Lucinda Williams’ more produced Lu’s Jukebox series more recently. Others just felt the freedom in such an intimate environment to try things out, spontaneously covering influences, inspirations, or even songs they only half knew. We collected dozens of those early home covers in our Quarantine Covers series, and still only hit a small fraction.
Musicians eventually settled in, and productions got a little more elaborate than the staring-at-your-iPhone-camera look. Witness the heavy metal comedy series Two Minutes to Late Night, which transitioned from a long-running live show in New York City to a series of YouTube covers with dozens of metal-scene ringers covering songs from their couches, corpse paint and all. Witness Miley Cyrus’s endless series of killer cover locales, from a fire pit to an empty Whisky a Go Go. Or witness long-running radio covers series like BBC’s Live Lounge or Triple J’s Like a Version – often the source of a song or two on these lists. First they had musicians tape special covers from home, then, in the BBC’s case, they moved to a giant warehouse studio for suitable social distancing. (Triple J’s pretty much back to post-coronavirus business as usual – sure, Australia, rub it in.)
There’s one other major way covers reflected 2020, and it’s almost too painful to think about, so I’ll just list their names. John Prine. Adam Schlesinger. Hal Willner. Charley Pride. So many musicians taken by this virus, many reflected in some of these covers (Pride’s death happened after our list was finalized, but tributes are already rolling in). In a year filled with tragedies, covers offered one place for musicians and fans to find solace.
Many of the songs on our year-end list reflect this terrible year in one way or another. But you know what? Many don’t. Because covers can also offer a fun respite from all the stress. Doom metal Doobie Brothers? Post Malone on mandolin? A viral TikTok hit by a guy who calls himself Ritt Momney? Those have nothing to do with anything! But they’re what we live for.
– Ray Padgett, Editor-in-Chief