Oct 282021
 

‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

metallica covers

It all started forty years ago today. On October 28, 1981, in Los Angeles, a Danish tennis player turned drummer by the name of Lars Ulrich met with guitarist James Hetfield for the first time. The two formed the basis for the band that would become Metallica.

In the ‘80s, the thrash metal quartet released four of arguably the greatest metal albums of all time: Kill ‘Em All, Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets, and …And Justice for All. That was just a warmup.

In 1991, the band released a self-titled album that would change their entire destiny, not to mention the history of metal. Dubbed simply Metallica, but otherwise known as The Black Album, the record became one of the best-selling hard rock albums in history. The record earned the band legions of new fans. It also triggered countless old ones, who were perturbed that the ultimate purveyors of thrash had gone “soft.” The record transformed Metallica into one of the biggest rock bands in the world. It’s a moniker they’ve carried ever since, even if their pace of album releases has slowed considerably.

Over the years, the band’s music has inspired numerous cover songs across multiple genres. Jazz, pop, rock, country, bluegrass, and numerous classical artists (not to mention countless metal bands) have taken on Metallica’s tracks. Adding more fuel to the proverbial cover fire, this year, to mark the 30th anniversary of The Black Album, the band commissioned an extensive tribute record dubbed The Metallica Blacklist. The album features cover songs by the likes of Elton John, Yo-Yo Ma, Darius Rucker, Miley Cyrus, My Morning Jacket, and Kamasi Washington.

So why has Metallica’s music inspired so many covers? Underneath the layers of distortion, hard-pounding double bass drums, and barbaric yowls, the band’s music and songwriting are strikingly complex. Listening to their original recordings, one can hear classical-style melodies, virtuosic guitar solos, and extended jams, as well as elements of classic, punk, and prog rock.

With the lyrics, one finds the band tapping into a deeper universe as well, exploring the lines between life, death, and spirituality. Their songs are filled with numerous biblical and religious references. Perhaps most famously, on “Enter Sandman,” the band quotes the prayer “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep,” turning a child’s plea for salvation into a rumination on the horrors of the night.

Since their inception, Metallica has always been striving for something more profound. Many artists have heard the bells of inspiration toll. Here’s a list of 40 of the best Metallica covers from the last 40 years. – Curtis Zimmermann

The list begins on Page 2.

Sep 112020
 
Kenton Chen

Even all these years later, “Like a Virgin” remains one of Madonna’s most iconic songs. The lead-off single from the album of the same name, her second, it was her biggest hit to date and sold more copies than any of her songs until “Like a Prayer.” Everyone is familiar with the instantly recognizable synthesized bass line and the chorus that producer Nile Rodgers didn’t think was catchy enough.

Scary Pockets are a funk band who perform covers on YouTube with guest vocalists. For this version they enlisted Kenton Chen, of the a cappella TV competition The Sing Off and Postmodern Jukebox fame.

The band dispenses entirely with the famous bassline, replacing it with a funky bassline that skips a beat. Chen mostly sticks to the original melody in the verses. But the chorus is even less conventional, with both the band and Chen deviating from the original song.

About two minutes in there’s a breakdown and the song turns into an extended funk jam, with the van vamping on the groove and Chen improvising through the song’s famous hook as the song slowly fades out.

This version of “Virgin” is remarkably different. It may take a bit to get into, because of how distinct it is, but the song shortly reveals itself as a pretty great cover.

May 162020
 

‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

britney spears covers

Last year, Rob Sheffield called 1999 “the year music exploded, the year when nothing made any damn sense, the year fans had to throw out any old-school rules for how pop worked.” If that’s true, then 2000 was the year when those new trends became the accepted norm. Back in January, we looked at covers of one of the year’s defining phenomenons – boy bands – and this month was tackle another: Britney, a pop supernova so massive she didn’t need a last name.

Her sophomore album Oops!… I Did It Again came out 20 years ago today, setting the record for the highest debut-week album sales by a female artist (it held for 15 years, until Adele’s 25). Though Spears was primarily a singles artist, her albums sold so much that even the deep cuts wormed their way into millions of teenage brains. When we compiled this list, I was pleasantly surprised it wasn’t just the half-dozen biggest hits being covered. Those songs got covered plenty, and still do (our number-four best cover of 2019 was a “Baby One More Time” – not a bad lifespan for a song written by a Swede whose grasp of English was a little rough), but musicians also dig into the album tracks and the singles that flopped.

Spears has shifted into the Vegas-residency stage of her career in recent years (not to mention Instagram star and cause-celebre hashtag). But even if she doesn’t have any more world-conquering hits in her, other artists are keeping her songs alive. Of the thousands of covers out there, here are the 25 best.

The list begins on Page 2.

Jan 242020
 

‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

best boy band covers

2020 marks a number of twenty-year anniversaries in music, but perhaps nothing as much as the extremely turn-of-the-millenium phenomenon of the boy band. At the start of the year, NSYNC set a first-week sales record with No Strings Attached. At the end of it, Backstreet Boys set their own sales record with Black & Blue. No one before or since sold CDs like boy bands sold CDs. Even the year’s other huge artists seemed defined in reaction to boy bands; Eminem dissed boy bands in seemingly half of his songs, while Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst was constantly starting feuds with them. It was that kind of year.

Because boy bands had their detractors. Boy oh boy, did they have their detractors. I was a 13-year old in 2000, and I remember the arguments dominating middle school hallways. But whether you were a fanatic or a skeptic, it’s hard to argue that, stripped of the love-it-or-hate-it presentation, the songs were rock solid (melodically, if not always lyrically). I imagine every one of us has gotten some of these stuck in our head – even if we didn’t want them there.

So rather than picking just one artist, we decided to pay tribute to the entire genre. We didn’t limit it to songs from the year 2000, but we did limit it to the phenomenon that 2000 represents. Though you can make a fair argument that The Beatles and Jackson 5 were boy bands, including groups like that would render this list pretty meaningless. Every artist here fits a pretty strict definition of a boy band, even if they came just before the genre’s cultural peak (New Edition) or after it (One Direction).

So everybody, rock your body with the 25 best boy band covers ever.

– Ray Padgett

The list starts on Page 2.

Mar 282019
 

‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

best radiohead cover songs

All week we’ve been running features on every artist inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s unusually strong 2019 class. But the biggest tribute goes to the band least excited about the honor. And that’s maybe as it should be.

Their unenthusiastic reaction – as I write this, it’s not even clear if any of them will show up – reminds me of when Bob Dylan first played Obama’s White House. Bob didn’t come to his own rehearsal, or to the customary photo op with the president. He turned up at the last minute, played his songs, shook the President’s hand, and immediately left the building. And as Obama told Rolling Stone: “That’s how you want Bob Dylan, right? You don’t want him to be all cheesin’ and grinnin’ with you. You want him to be a little skeptical about the whole enterprise.” Continue reading »

May 042018
 

“Covering the Hits” looks at covers of a randomly-selected #1 hit from the past sixty years.

despacito covers

The idea behind this new series is that the random-number generator will pull up one random Billboard Hot 100 number-one from 1958 through 2018, the chart’s 60th birthday. For whatever reason, though, so far said generator is only delivering me either super old hits – my last was 1963’s regrettable “Hey Paula” – or very current – a late-period Britney Spears hit. And the trend continues today when we look at covers of one of the most recent hits out there, 2017’s #1 hit “Despacito.”

And not just one of the most recent hits, but one of the biggest. Ever. Last year, “Despacito” last year tied Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men’s “One Sweet Day” for the most weeks atop the Hot 100 in history. This wasn’t just a number-one hit. This is objectively one of the biggest hits of all time.

So there must be a million covers, right? Not really. Despite being so massive, “Despacito” never caught that wave of semi-ironic indie rock covers that so many pop smashes do. Continue reading »