Dec 172021
 

Follow all our Best of 2021 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.

best cover songs of 2021

To come up with our year-end list, we listened to thousands of covers.

That’s not an exaggeration, or loosely throwing around “thousands” for effect. My iTunes tells me I personally listened to and rated 1,120 new covers in 2021. And I’m just one of a dozen people here. Many of those thousands of covers were very good! But “very good” isn’t good enough for our annual year-end Best Cover Songs list. So when we say these 50 are the cream of the crop, we mean it.

They, as usual, have little in common with each other. A few tie into current events: Artists we lost, social justice concerns, live music’s fitful return. Most don’t. But does a doom metal cover of Donna Summer really need a reason to exist? How about African blues Bob Dylan, New Orleans bounce Lady Gaga, or organ ballad Fleetwood Mac? Nah. We’re just glad they’re here.

So dive into our countdown below – and, if you want us to send you a couple hundred Honorable Mentions culled from those thousands, join the Cover Me Patreon.

– Ray Padgett, Editor in Chief

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Nov 012021
 
best cover songs 1991

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.

Aug 312021
 
best cover songs august
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. Continue reading »

Jul 012021
 

That’s A Cover? explores cover songs that you may have thought were originals.

The Pet Shop Boys’ final release of the ’80s, the decade they helped define, was the apocalyptic yet uplifting summer single “It’s Alright.” Concerned that their “imperial phase” was behind them, the British synth-pop duo enlisted producer Trevor Horn to help launch a fresh assault on the UK #1 spot, by remixing what they first recorded as an epic album track. The architect of ABC’s “The Look of Love” and Frankie’s “Relax,” in turn, bolstered it as only he could, by plying it with calamitous sound effects, machine-gun-fire samples, a harp, a string section, extra synthesizers, horns, backing singers, and (why not?) a soprano. Singer Neil Tennant, meanwhile, supplied additional lyrics – “Forests falling at a desperate pace” – to pile eco-anxiety on top of the political anxiety. All of which resulted in a typically dramatic, commercial, and strangely moving slice of Pet Shop Boys pop.

Which was credited to “Sterling Void.”

It was hard to know from the single, but Tennant and Chris Lowe sourced “It’s Alright” from the Chicago house scene of the late ’80s, out of love for crudely made electronic dance music marked by all-conquering bass lines, and sparse lyrics of the “jack your body” and “rock your body” variety. They didn’t repeat the trick of applying a synth riff and distinctly un-country vocal to a country song famously recorded by Elvis Presley, but instead adopted a track known only to those attuned to the underground club sounds of the Windy City. How they zoned in on Sterling Void, though, is still a point that needs clarifying, as is the way they found in a six-minute dance record, on a specialist Chicago label, the raw materials for a top 5 hit in July ’89.
Continue reading »

Jul 012021
 
av undercover

Anyone who was paying attention to cover songs a decade ago will remember The A.V. Club’s “Undercover” series. In the vein of the BBC Live Lounge and Triple J Like a Version, the entertainment web site would bring bands into their Chicago offices to cover a song. The concept, though, was the site started with a masters list of songs and the band had to pick one. The later they came in, the fewer song choices remained. It went on for years and the covers were ubiquitous (we must have posted a million of ’em). Practically every indie band of the era stopped by (many several times), and they often delivered something great. Continue reading »

Feb 012021
 
cover songs january 2021
Amanda Shires – That’s All (Genesis cover)

Our first song kicks off what will be a theme here. A lot of these came out at the very top of the year (or the very end of 2020) to kick a garbage year to the curb and hope for something better. Shires said: “’That’s All’ is a song that I have played a lot on tour. The song defines 2020 for me. It’s a true Covid anthem and I dare you to not dance to my version when you hear it!” Continue reading »