Dec 182020
 

Follow all our Best of 2020 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.

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

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Nov 022020
 
best cover songs october 2020
Andrew Bird – Andalucia (John Cale cover)

Props to any musician who chooses some non-obvious tunes for their Christmas album. Even Joni Mitchell’s “River” has so often been served as the “surprise” holiday song by now that it feels pretty played out. Andrew Bird covers a few standards on his upcoming Hark! – “Oh Holy Night,” “White Christmas” (though weirdly not the hymn that gave the album its name) – but makes room for some seasonally-appropriate fare John Prine, Handsome Family, and, on the first single, John Cale. Continue reading »

Nov 012019
 

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

nirvana mtv unplugged covers

Nirvana has sold more than 75 million records, joining the ranks of Aretha Franklin, The Police, Journey, and Tupac Shakur among others, despite having their career tragically cut short by the death of Kurt Cobain after they’d released only three albums. The band is credited with increasing grunge music’s recognition beyond the Pacific Northwest, introducing the genre to the masses.

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the release of Nirvana’s live album, MTV Unplugged in New York. The performance was recorded on November 18, 1993,  aired on MTV on December 16, 1993, and released as an album almost a year later, the first Nirvana release since Kurt Cobain’s death in April. The performance was filmed in one take and differed from the style of many of the previous MTV Unplugged sessions. The band chose to build their Unplugged setlist using mostly lesser known songs, including six covers out of fourteen songs, passing over their biggest hit, “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

This album has a variety of accolades, including a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album, a number one debut on the Billboard 200, a 5x platinum certification, and the top spot on New Musical Express‘s 50 Greatest Live Albums list.

To celebrate the historic day, we’ve compiled covers spanning a variety of artists who reimagine each track.

Continue reading »

Sep 302019
 

Check out the best covers of past months here.

best cover songs september
Anderson .Paak – Old Town Road (Lil Nas X cover)

Given how thoroughly “Old Town Road” dominated the summer – the longest-reigning Billboard #1 in history, for those under-a-rock-dwellers among you – it seems shocking that it took until now for the first truly great cover to emerge. Less shocking: that it came from rapper/singer/drummer extraordinaire Anderson .Paak. Back in May, he performed a more straightforward version with Lil Nas X himself, but for BBC’s Live Lounge he and his band The Free Nationals reinvented it into a soul groove with shades of D’Angelo. Continue reading »

Jul 012019
 

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

best elton john covers

The first big film to to emerge in the post-Bohemian Rhapsody biopic boom is Rocketman. Compared to the Queen movie, critics like Rocketman better (somewhat), fact-checkers call it more accurate (somewhat), and LGBT advocates praise it for more honestly addressing the star’s sexuality (somewhat). Also – and hopefully this is unrelated – it has fared worse at the box office. Again, somewhat worse; it’s done fine, but does not seem to be the smash Bohemian Rhapsody was.

Unlike Queen, though, Elton John didn’t really need a mega-blockbuster to return to the public eye. He never left (after all, it’s hard to look away from clothes that sparkly). The farewell tour he launched last year will take him through 2020, and 2018 also saw two tribute albums featuring megawatt performers: from Lady Gaga to Ed Sheeran on the pop one, Miranda Lambert to Willie Nelson on the country one. For Elton, the Rocketman biopic is just the latest tribute in a career full of them.

And nowhere has tribute been paid more often than in the world of cover songs. From his second, self-titled album onward (no one covers songs off his 1969 debut), Elton’s songs have been covered constantly. Hell, Three Dog Night released their cover of that second album’s “Your Song” a month before John’s original even came out. Though artists inevitably gravitate towards the huge hits, John’s songbook boasts a long tail, with even some relative deep cuts generating classic covers. So this month we count down the thirty best Elton John covers ever.

Best so far, at least. At the rate he earns tributes, it won’t be long before the next batch lands.

May 312019
 

Check out the best covers of past months here.

best cover songs may
AURORA – Across the Universe (The Beatles cover)

The first of a couple Beatles covers this month, AURORA’s “Across the Universe” doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it just removes a few spokes. The Norwegian singer-songwriter strips everything away but keys and a bunch of voices (there’s a guitarist too, though barely audible). It’s all the song needs. Continue reading »