May 252022
 
kevin devine nothing compares 2 u

If you were a sentient human in the 1990s, you know Sinead O’Connor‘s cover of Prince‘s “Nothing Compares 2 U.” It’s one of the bigger, more enduring hits of the decade in part due to its iconic video. And it’s one of the most famous covers of all time. (It was such a big hit of such an unknown song that not everyone knew it was a cover.) So, for anyone new taking a stab at this song, it’s a tall order. Continue reading »

May 132022
 

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

stevie wonder covers

For some artists we look at for these lists, it seems like every time someone covered one their songs, it turned out pretty good. Leonard Cohen was like that; the quality of the average Cohen cover is fairly high. John Prine, too.

Stevie Wonder is not one of those artists.

It’s not his fault, or the fault of his songs, but his material often gets sucked into the same cocktail-jazz muck that fellow piano man Billy Joel’s does. Nothing wrong with that sort of lounge jazz-pop when done well – and there are a few times on this list when it is – but there’s a lot of mediocrity to wade through. Stevie’s performance and production skills are so sharp that, when placed in lesser hands, his songs can come off as sentimental shlock. All the “Isn’t She Lovely”s alone are so sugary sweet you feel like you’ll get diabetes.

But here’s the good news: Covers of Stevie Wonder’s songs are so ubiquitous that, even when you weed out the bad and the just-okay, you’re still left with plenty of greatness. The fifty below span funk, bluegrass, rock, hip-hop, jam band, jazz, and into galaxies beyond. So here they are, signed, sealed, and delivered to knock you off your feet.

P.S. Join our Patreon to get this entire list – and every other Best Covers Ever – in playlist and MP3 formats!

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Apr 152022
 

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

Ukrainians

This post is not about the Ukrainians forced by circumstance onto the world’s stage. All our hearts bleed both for them and their country, subject to the cruelest and vilest of misjudgments, victims of Putin seeking to leave his mark. But it is closely related, being about the Ukrainians, the Leeds, UK-based band, who have been touting their postpunk take on the folk music of the mother country of founder/guitarist Pete Solowka for nigh on thirty years. And a whole lot more than just the folk music of Ukraine, as covers of their musical cohorts and influences, performed in a Cossack/Slavic style, all stentorian voices and balalaikas, also feature large in their repertoire.

Originally, and sometimes contemporaneously, Solowka has been a member of the Wedding Present, and it was that band that sparked the idea into ignition. When venerable and iconic DJ John Peel asked them to perform a session on his long running evening radio show, the Wedding Present decided to perform in the Solowka family language. They played “Hopa,” a traditional song the guitarist had been brought up listening to and singing along with.

Given the favorable reception, and with Solowka’s own grasp of the language not being up to it, they seconded in the presence of Len Liggins–or, to give him his full name, the legendary Len Liggins, a Russian (and Ukrainian) scholar, fluent in each language and a dab on the fiddle besides. This too went down well with the listeners, bar one Roman Romeynes, just possibly not his real name, a musician from another Leeds band, who jested they were taking the proverbial and bastardizing the tradition. So who better to then enroll, this offshoot now having a life of its own, spinning free from the Wedding Present. (The band had sacked Solowka; he said this was due to the greater acclaim given this experiment than the parent band.)

That groundbreaking 1989 Peel session, and the later sessions that followed, all eventually became available in recorded form, with 1991 seeing the debut release by the now-official band, with both band and release being named The Ukrainians. When Romeynes left shortly afterwards, the band consolidated as a more regular unit, leaving the Wedding Present linkage shattered behind them.

They initially found an appropriate home on the maverick and left field record label Cooking Vinyl, home also of Jackie Leven and Oysterband. After making a further pair or so of albums with that label, they started their own label Zirka, through Proper. They have been relatively prolific, with three further studio albums of (largely) original material, two live recordings, a covers compendium (which we reviewed here), and a glut of EP and singles. These have encompassed further covers, including of traditional Ukrainian folk songs, as well as all sorts of idiosyncratic songs drawn from sources as unlikely as varied. All transcribed into their well-worn mix of fiddle, accordion and balalaikas, accompanied by crashing bass, resounding guitars and pounding drums.

Perhaps classifiable as a niche taste at home, they have become superstars in the eastern European diaspora, not least Ukraine itself. Under the cataclysmic events of the the past six or so weeks, the band have decided they cannot stand idly by, and have launched a tour, all monies going in support of the refugee crisis.

Ukrainians Benefit

Let’s look at some of their covers….
Continue reading »

Feb 252022
 

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

The Cars Covers

There’s plenty of good reasons that the Cars and their songs have retained their power long past the expiration date of most new wave bands. For one, though their cool-geek look was a part of their appeal, they never relied on it the way other bands had to rely on their appearance. For another, they brought together multiple influences – rock, pop, synth, punk – and created a sound with deep roots that was both edgy and fresh – no mean feat, that.

Most importantly, the songs that (mostly) Ric Ocasek and Benjamin Orr wrote for the band were strong and memorable, loaded with hooks and containing lyrics that take on more meaning the more you look at them – is “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” a positive or negative? What does it mean if you “needed someone to bleed”?

Their self-titled debut album is their strongest, and Heartbeat City may be their biggest, but the Cars are primarily known as a singles band, with over a dozen of them reaching the top 40. So it seems appropriate that a list of the best Cars covers should echo that. Here are the top forty cover songs of a band whose best songs won’t be tied down to any one era, preferring instead to resonate to all the generations that followed.

clap clap clapclapclap clapclapclapclap Let’s go!

– Patrick Robbins, Features Editor

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Nov 082021
 
Phish Halloween 2021 Covers

For nearly three decades, Halloween has been one of the biggest occasions of each year for Phish. The jam titans have presented a handful of legendary sets on October 31st in
“musical costume,” performing classic records in sequence: The Who’s Quadrophenia, The Beatles’ White Album and Talking Heads’ Remain in Light, among others. In recent years, the band have seemingly moved on from just covering existing records for the occasion, instead using the vaunted Halloween night for some even more mischievous musical stunts — sewing together their own fully original “musical costumes.” The band have, in essence, gone from reliving the classics to “covering” bands that… don’t exist. The ramped-up theatrics have only grown more exhilarating with each year. Feast your eyes, for example, on this Halloween’s Dune-meets-Power Rangers space suits (pictured above), which the band donned for ninety minutes in the guise of their 2021 costume: a “band” called Sci-Fi Soldier, who performed their “album” Get More Down from the year… 4680.

The particulars of whether Phish’s maximalist musical stunt as Sci-Fi Soldier constitutes a Full Album Cover are, for the purposes of our publication, a bit murky. Thankfully though, the band built up to this year’s Halloween show with plenty of regular” covers in the mix too. Across their four-night run, including Halloween itself, at MGM Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Phish littered their sets on October 28th, 29th and 30th with some epic a la carte tributes  (and dropped a few subtle musical hints about the Halloween hijinx that were to follow). Continue reading »

Nov 012021
 
the best cover songs of october
Andrew VanWyngarden – Dance Monkey (Tones and I cover)

One of the biggest one-hit wonders of the last few years, pop singer Tones and I’s “Dance Monkey” emerged out of seeming nowhere to top charts across the world last year. In her home country of Australia, it is the longest chart-topper ever, breaking a record held by Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”! Despite its ubiquity, however, major covers have been sparse (perhaps because many people find the song, you know, annoying). Never one to shy away from putting off his audience, though, MGMT frontman Andrew VanWyngarden gave it a trippy psychedelic-folk cover as part of a radio station fundraising challenge. Continue reading »