At the end of every year, Norwegian singer-songwriter Sondre Lerche covers one of the past 12 month’s biggest hits. In the past he’s tackled Ariana Grande, Drake, and Beyoncé (that one made our recent Best Beyoncé Covers Ever countdown). For the project’s tenth year, though, he pulled a twist, covering not one song but three – and not entirely new songs either.
Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
Earlier this week, we posted Wavves’ cover of the Weezer deep cut “You Gave Your Love to Me Softly,” and I went looking for our full-album tribute to Pinkerton to link to. Turns out I was misremembering and we hadn’t done one (we did do the their blue debut album many years ago). So today, for Pinkerton’s 20th birthday, we right that wrong.
At this point, the story of Pinkerton is almost as famous as the music on it. After a huge college radio hit with their debut, Rivers Cuomo and co. followed it up with this “difficult” second album. It’s more personal, confessional, weird, and divisive. Cuomo was so hurt by the album’s initial rejection by fans and critics that, to some interpretations, he turned to attempting radio-friendly crowd-pleasers and, as a result, has never made another masterpiece (though if you stopped following Weezer in their “featuring Lil Wayne” era, know that their two most recent LPs are a major return to form).
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)
For thirteen years, siblings Sara and Sean Watkins – best known as two-thirds of Nickel Creek – have been hosting a monthly “Watkins Family Hour” concert in L.A. Frequent collaborators include Fiona Apple and the Heartbreakers’ Benmont Tench, and they and more have finally recorded a debut album due out next week. It’s all covers, and the closing track is especially timely with the Grateful Dead just wrapping things up last week: the Dead’s American Beauty classic “Brokedown Palace.”