Silver Apples are one of the uniquest and weirdest ’60s psychedelic acts, and yet their music was strangely prescient. Who or what was Silver Apples? In the ’60s, it was the mononymous Simeon, playing a musical contraption of his own creation, backed by drummer Danny Taylor. Simeon’s instrument, also known as a simeon, was a bunch of oscillators combined together to play melody, bass and rhythm parts. (If you buy the band’s debut LP, there is a diagram.) Their music sounds somewhat like ’90s electronic music played on extremely primitive analog instruments, rather than looped, and sung by a hippy. (There’s no mistaking Simeon’s voice for some other time than the 1960s.)
Typically, the world of cover songs does not change that much year-to-year. You can point to big shifts across decades, sure, but the difference between cover songs in 2018 and 2019, broadly speaking? Negligible. But 2020 was – in this as in everything else – very different.
As concerts ground to a sudden halt, musicians turned to live-from-quarantine home performances, first on their social media, then, once some kind of business model got built up, on various paid platforms. And cover songs were a big part of that. Some musicians did themed covers nights, like Ben Gibbard on YouTube early on or Lucinda Williams’ more produced Lu’s Jukebox series more recently. Others just felt the freedom in such an intimate environment to try things out, spontaneously covering influences, inspirations, or even songs they only half knew. We collected dozens of those early home covers in our Quarantine Covers series, and still only hit a small fraction.
Musicians eventually settled in, and productions got a little more elaborate than the staring-at-your-iPhone-camera look. Witness the heavy metal comedy series Two Minutes to Late Night, which transitioned from a long-running live show in New York City to a series of YouTube covers with dozens of metal-scene ringers covering songs from their couches, corpse paint and all. Witness Miley Cyrus’s endless series of killer cover locales, from a fire pit to an empty Whisky a Go Go. Or witness long-running radio covers series like BBC’s Live Lounge or Triple J’s Like a Version – often the source of a song or two on these lists. First they had musicians tape special covers from home, then, in the BBC’s case, they moved to a giant warehouse studio for suitable social distancing. (Triple J’s pretty much back to post-coronavirus business as usual – sure, Australia, rub it in.)
There’s one other major way covers reflected 2020, and it’s almost too painful to think about, so I’ll just list their names. John Prine. Adam Schlesinger. Hal Willner. Charley Pride. So many musicians taken by this virus, many reflected in some of these covers (Pride’s death happened after our list was finalized, but tributes are already rolling in). In a year filled with tragedies, covers offered one place for musicians and fans to find solace.
Many of the songs on our year-end list reflect this terrible year in one way or another. But you know what? Many don’t. Because covers can also offer a fun respite from all the stress. Doom metal Doobie Brothers? Post Malone on mandolin? A viral TikTok hit by a guy who calls himself Ritt Momney? Those have nothing to do with anything! But they’re what we live for.
– Ray Padgett, Editor-in-Chief
Adam Green – All Hell Breaks Loose (Misfits cover)
Misfits go mariachi! Adam Green, best known as one half of the Moldy Peaches, plays “All Hell Breaks Loose” like it was “Ring of Fire.” He writes: “In The Misfits and in his glorious solo work, Danzig bridged punk and metal with the blue-eyed soul music of the mid-1960’s like The Righteous Brothers and The Walker Brothers. I’d had an idea for a while to do a Scott Walker / John Franz style production at punk speeds, and the Misfits song ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’ seemed like the perfect vessel for the experiment.”