On February 1, 2021, a mysterious and unplayable album appeared on Spotify. Most people didn’t see it at all, and it disappeared as quickly and inexplicably as it had arrived. For fans of Vampire Weekend, however, it was a tantalizing enigma. Titled 40:42, it contained two covers of the song “2021,” each clocking in at 20 minutes and 21 seconds. Although leaks became available if you knew who to ask, it finally had its official release on February 4.
2020 isn’t over yet, and we’re already longing for those bygone days of 2019 when “Old Town Road” mania swept the globe. Since its chart run last year, Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus’ smash country-rap hybrid has inspired multiple covers from across the musical universe. The latest to throw on a metaphorical pair of Wranglers and take his horse to the “Old Town Road” is jazz musician Sam Gendel. It might not be the best cover of the track, but it certainly is one of the oddest.
The usual disclaimer: Our monthly “Best Cover Songs” aren’t ranked, and the “Honorable Mentions” aren’t necessarily worse than the others.
Update: Hear me discuss this list, along with our Best Pink Floyd Covers ranking, on SiriusXM Volume:
Angus and Julia Stone – Passionfruit (Drake cover)
Three prominent indie artists covered Drake’s “Passionfruit” this month: Franz Ferdinand, Cornelius, and, the best of the bunch, Angus and Julia Stone. Covering a rap song is easier, I suppose, when there’s no actual rapping. Few political or racial minefields in the lyrics for artists to navigate help too (for a counterexample: this month’s worst cover). For Triple J’s great series “Like a Version,” Angus and Julia Stone brought their beautiful harmonies to a smooth soul bed. It floats like Gram and Emmylou singing a Marvin Gaye song.
You probably haven’t heard of California funk duo Scary Pockets. We hadn’t either, until stumbling upon their amazing sax-jazz cover of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory highlight “Pure Imagination.” But we should have. Turns out their keyboard player, Jack Conte, was half of one of YouTube’s first viral covers groups: Pomplamoose. (Conte also founded popular crowdfunding platform Patreon – needless to say, Scary Pockets has a page).
That’s the resume, but what hooked me before I discovered any of that were their new cover videos. Like a ’70s funk version of Postmodern Jukebox, Conte and his guitarist partner Ryan Lerman bring in guest singers for vintage soul takes on pop hits across the genre map. Start where I did, with a smooth jazz take on “Pure Imagination” featuring saxophonist Sam Gendel.