Timmy Thomas’s gorgeous, spare soul mantra from 1973 “Why Can’t We Live Together” is as much a meditation or prayer as it is a pop song. The hauntingly sad organ, the desperate wanting of the lyrics and Thomas’s plaintive, pleading vocal have sealed its destiny as a soul classic. There have already been a number of moving and reverential covers. Sade’s version from her 1984 debut album Diamond Life in particular which captures the feel and emotion nearly well enough to rival the original.
Curtis Roush, the singer/guitarist for the Austin-based band The Bright Light Social Hour, cites a laundry list of musical influences on his website. They include: ‘70s album rock, heavy metal, classic rock and hardcore. Yet, when we asked him about the inspiration for his recent solo cover of Sade’s “No Ordinary Love,” he named the British Nigerian singer as a favorite. “Her singing, songwriting, and surrounding production have been a huge influence on my solo music,” he told Cover Me. “‘No Ordinary Love’ is mysterious and soothing, but also has this very deep, almost heavy quality to it. I strive for a similar balance in my own music.”
Follow all our Best of 2017 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.
Year-end lists are a time to look back. That’s something we’ve been doing a lot of this year.
See, we turned ten years old in 2017 – practically ancient in internet-blog terms – so we’ve indulged in what we feel is well-earned nostalgia. At the beginning of the year, each of our writers picked the ten most important covers in their life (see them here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). We even listed the ten most important covers in Cover Me‘s life, from the song that inspired the site to our very first Best of the Year winner.
Then, to cap things off, in October we commissioned a 25-track tribute to the cover song itself – which you can still download for free. We love the covers everyone contributed so much, incidentally, that we didn’t consider them for this list. It’d be like picking favorite children – if you had 25 of ’em.
Oh, and have I mentioned I wrote a book? … What’s that you say? I mentioned that constantly? Well, I’m quite proud of it. It’s called Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time and it makes a great Christmas gift and – ok, ok, I’ll stop. You can find plenty more about it elsewhere.
Suffice to say, there’s been a lot of looking back this year. And we hope you’ll indulge us this one last glance rearward before we leap into 2018. Because if it’s been a hell of a year for us, it’s certainly also been a hell of a year for the cover song in general. Some of this year’s list ranks among the best covers we’ve ever heard, period. So dig in, and thanks for your support this past decade.
– Ray Padgett
There’s something about Sade that’s hard to put your finger on. Her voice is beautiful, but always feels understated. Her music is soft, smooth R&B, but appeals to a population of listeners well outside the genre. With a career that has spanned over three decades, she’s made music that has influenced a wide range of artists. For proof, look no further than two recent covers by very different artists.
The first is by Rare Futures, a band started by Matthew Fazzi, the ex-guitarist of pop-punk group Taking Back Sunday. Rare Futures walk a line between rock and R&B in their cover of Sade’s 1992 hit “No Ordinary Love.” Their version is not revolutionary, but does add a little grit to the original. The song is heavy on bass and high hat and includes some callouts to the original: the hard stops following the heavy sighs and the spot-on harmonies are nice touches. The band throws in a heavier pre-chorus and nice dual guitar breakdown at the end, keeping the cover interesting.
Follow all our Best of 2015 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.
I didn’t realize it until I began laying out our post, but this year’s Best Cover Songs list shares quite a few artists with last year’s. And some that showed up here the year before that. Jack White’s on his fourth appearance. And Jason Isbell and Hot Chip not only both reappear from last year, but have moved up in the rankings.
Though we’re always on the lookout for the new (and to be sure, there are plenty of first-timers here too), the number of repeat honorees illustrates how covering a song is a skill just like any other. The relative few artists who have mastered it can probably deliver worthy covers again and again.
How a great cover happens is something I’ve been thinking a lot about this year as I’ve been writing a series of articles diving deep into the creation of iconic cover songs through history (I posted two of them online, and the rest are being turned into a book). In every case the artist had just the right amount of reverence for the original song: honoring its intention without simply aping it. It’s a fine line, and one even otherwise able musicians can’t always walk. Plenty of iconic people don’t make good cover artists (I’d nominate U2 as an example: some revelatory covers of the band, but not a lot by them). Given the skill involved, perhaps it’s no surprise that someone who can do a good cover once can do it again.
So, to longtime readers, you will see some familiar names below. But you’ll also see a lot of new names, and they’re names you should remember. If the past is any guide, you may well see them again next year, and the year after that.
Click on over to page two to begin our countdown, and thanks for reading.
– Ray Padgett, Editor in Chief
(Illustration by Sarah Parkinson)
You know how during summer blockbuster season trailers for awesome movies being released in December are shown? Turns out Iron & Wine‘s Sam Beam and Band of Horses‘ Ben Bridwell decided to take a similar approach when teasing their upcoming covers album. Sing Into My Mouth, a joint effort in covers, is not being released until July 17th, but the two singer songwriters figured they would give us a taste three months early with two covers of Sade and Unicorn.