‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.
Mick Jagger turns 75 today, three decades past his famous 1975 benchmark: “I’d rather be dead than sing ‘Satisfaction’ when I’m 45.” Mick’s still singing “Satisfaction” today – and so are a lot of other people. So what better way to celebrate his birthday than with a countdown of the best covers of Rolling Stones songs of all time?
It’s not that we haven’t posted plenty before. They’re actually our fifth most-posted band, after Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, and Neil Young (a little surprised about that one, but as of this post, Neil’s only ahead by one). We’ve shared our favorite covers of “Ruby Tuesday,” “Honky Tonk Woman,” “Wild Horses,” “Paint It Black,” and “Back Street Girl.” We’ve posted covers of every track on Sticky Fingers, Beggars Banquet, and – in case those weren’t long enough – Exile on Main St. And it’s not just covers of the band we adore either; the Stones’ recent album of blues covers ascended to the very short list of albums we’ve awarded five stars.
But we’ve never pulled it all in one place until today. Just as we did for Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, Beyoncé, and Talking Heads, we’re counting down the best covers of Rolling Stones songs ever. The length beats Floyd’s forty-song record; we’ve got fifty Stones covers, from A (Albert King) to Z (Zydeco, Buckwheat). The Stones have been covered in all eras, all genres, and by all sorts of people. By the time you read this, the next all-time-great Stones cover might well have landed.
You can’t always get what you want, as the man once said – but if you click on, you just might get what you need.
Today we continue the tradition we started way back one month ago. Since we’re still new at this, I’ll reiterate that our picks are unranked and semi-impulsive. Even the un-blurbed “Honorable Mentions” at the bottom aren’t necessarily worse than the rest; in many cases, we’ve just already written about them at length and have little else to say.
Okay, disclaimers behind us, let’s dive in.
You have probably never heard “An Acre of Land.” It’s a very old English folk ballad, and not even a particularly well-known one in that niche. But you don’t need to have ever heard the song before to be stunned by PJ Harvey’s new cover of it.
The few other versions I dug on YouTube tend to be sung by people with thick accents off albums with titles like Widdecombe Fair. And they’re pretty, in a Fairport Convention-sings-songs-of-yesteryear sort of way. But Harvey’s version, a collaboration with London composer Harry Escott for the movie Dark River, is a different beast entirely. Listening to it doesn’t feel like a history lesson. It feels like something fresh, unburdened by tradition.
Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.
Matthew Vadnais lives in Beloit, Wisconsin. He’s been writing for Cover Me since 2015. Of all his Cover Me essays, he especially likes his reviews of the albums paying tribute to Blind Willie Johnson, Uncle Tupelo’s No Depression, and Jason Molina.
Follow all our Best of 2014 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.
A few months ago, I read an interesting interview with an artist named Nouela. You probably haven’t heard of her, but you may have heard her music. She’s become a specialist in a weird but growing niche: covers recorded for movie and television trailers. Whether doing a piano “Sound of Silence” to promote a new HBO show or a brooding “Black Hole Sun” to promote Liam Neeson punching people, she’s found a quickly-growing way of getting her covers out there.
It struck me as part of a growing trend we’ve seen. More and more great covers seem to come from unexpected places. Sure, you’ve got still your standby sources, your b-sides, tribute albums, and radio shows. But new avenues for covers have increasingly crept in. This year saw a Sam Smith cover that is only available to hear under Grey’s Anatomy dialog (thankfully he’s recorded a few live versions too) and a whole covers album recorded to plug a Canadian TV show. Brands have fully embraced covers too, most recently My Morning Jacket’s “This Land Is Your Land” recorded for North Face ads, or Charli XCX and Bleachers trading covers for Kia.
We don’t care where they originated when we make our year-end lists, though, and we would up with some of everything. In our top five alone, we’ve got a live radio session, a deluxe-edition bonus track, and a cover hiding in plain sight on one of the most acclaimed country records of the year. You have to keep an eye on more places than ever to spot the best covers these days. Wherever they come from, we’re glad to have ’em.
Click on over to page two to begin our countdown, and thanks for reading.
– Ray Padgett, Editor in Chief
(Illustration by Sarah Parkinson)