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.

Mar 102021
 

Off the Beaten Path looks at covers of songs from a less popular era in an artist’s career.

Rickie Lee Jones

In the early days of her now 40-plus year career, people compared Rickie Lee Jones to Joni Mitchell a lot. People would often characterize her appearance, her emotive voice, her esoteric songwriting, and her jazz influences as being “Joni-esque.”  While in some respects it wasn’t a reach, it was an undeniably lazy and easy comparison to make. Even the most cursory listen of Rickie’s work, especially the first three albums, will confirm that she was never a lady of the canyon. No, she was coming from a wilder, more eccentric and unpredictable place.

Rickie was a proud and unabashed resident of the wrong side of the tracks. Her songs were inhabited by losers and deluded romantic souls endlessly in search of sure things and drugs (not necessarily in that order) as well as her relationships to both. They were populated by an endless stream of enigmatic wanderers whose plans and schemes never seemed to work out, but who still kept on trying, kept on dreaming. If anything, Rickie’s cast of characters presented a darker, street-ier spin on Bruce Springsteen’s own gang of misguided mortals, the kind of wishful thinkers he depicted in his “Backstreets,” “Meeting Across the River,” and “Racing in the Streets.”

There are basically two ways to cover a Rickie Lee Jones song. The first and most common option is to go slick and sophisticated, paying homage to their perfect melodic construction, jazzy bones and detailed lyrical content. The second is to forget the rules and let your freak flag fly. Fact is, Rickie covers sound just as great off the leash as they do on the regulation playing field. This latter approach often feels truer to the original songs’ magical inborn spirit, which is why some of the best Rickie covers are the ones that veer the farthest outside the lines, that shape-shift to a particular performer’s emotions and style.

With that, we now offer you a bit of both, the lush and the loose; a tale of two Rickies, if you will. Character-driven last calls. Vivid childhood remembrances. Poignant prayers for love. And every one of them is straight-up Coolsville.
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Jul 262018
 

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

rolling stones covers

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.

Jan 102017
 

They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

donald fagen

“Don”. . . individualist. . . phys ed major . . . the thinker . . . journalist extraordinaire . . . jazz enthusiast . . . quotations for all occasions . . . “Harry the Horse.”

So said the 1965 South Brunswick High School yearbook (straight outta Monmouth Junction, NJ) about Donald Fagen. Over half a century later, it’s remarkable to see how much they got right. As half of Steely Dan, Fagen’s nonconformist ways were so counter to the culture that he couldn’t help building up a huge following of Others. His cerebral lyrics captured life moments in puzzling but definitive ways, and his jazz leanings put those musings across to the masses. And while his jock leanings and “Guys and Dolls” fandom may have taken a backseat, he’ll be quoted long after he’s gone, both by fans who don’t play music and fans who do.
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May 102014
 

They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!

Donovan Leitch was (and to many, still is) seen as the personification of hippy flower-power music. At one point he was pegged as “Britain’s answer to Bob Dylan.” He made his name writing sunny psychedelic pop, but his efforts and ambitions have gone far beyond that. After the initial string of folk-pop hits, most of which are genuinely remarkable, he’s gone on to do a wide assortment of things, often with some pretty prestigious collaborators, suggesting that there’s more to Donovan than just his hippy-dippy songs about love.
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May 242013
 

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

Every day, more music is released. Most of it will be quickly forgotten, some of it will resonate with an audience, and a very, very small percentage will be listened to for years to come. An even smaller subset can fairly be said to embody a particular moment in time. Surrealistic Pillow, the second release by the Jefferson Airplane, is one of those special albums. Released in early 1967 by a group of hippies who also happened to be extraordinary songwriters and musicians, it is both a classic and a reflection of its era.
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