Every Christmas for well over a decade now, Sondre Lerche releases a new cover of his favourite pop song of the year. He doesn’t always follow the rules exactly – last year he covered both Lady Gaga and Bob Dylan – but, normally, he releases a distinct cover of a recent pop hit. This year, he’s taking on the biggest hit of autumn 2022, Taylor Swift‘s latest #1, “Anti-Hero.” (Apparently it’s huge on TikTok too.)
‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.
There was a time in this blog’s lifespan where a shocking percentage of the covers landing in our inbox and RSS feeds were of Lady Gaga songs. It only lasted a couple years, but for a minute there Gaga was doing Beatles numbers. Hell, even relatively minor singles like “Marry the Night” would dominate the covers world for weeks after people heard them.
As Gaga’s entered the Vegas-residency stage of her career, her new songs don’t get covered as often. But even still, there seems to be a respect from other musicians not afforded all her pop-star peers. A Katy Perry chart flop will get ignored. A Gaga chart flop will still likely land a few interesting covers.
Though the songs were never as weird as the outfits were, there was always some unexpected twist for other musicians to play with, from the rolled r’s of “Bad Romance” to the goofy theatricality of “Alejandro” to the best stuttering since “My Generation” (“pa-pa-pa-pokerface,” “stop telephoning me-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh”). Plus, even after a few years in the wilderness, everyone knew any minute she could return with a “Shallow.”
In our list of 30 covers below, all those big hits show up plenty. But even the more recent songs and album cuts make appearances. Lady Gaga’s songs are sturdy enough to remain infectious whether they’re performed as gothic metal or throwback rockabilly. See for yourself below.
The list begins on Page 2.
Amanda Shires – That’s All (Genesis cover)
Our first song kicks off what will be a theme here. A lot of these came out at the very top of the year (or the very end of 2020) to kick a garbage year to the curb and hope for something better. Shires said: “’That’s All’ is a song that I have played a lot on tour. The song defines 2020 for me. It’s a true Covid anthem and I dare you to not dance to my version when you hear it!”
Norwegian indie-pop musician Sondre Lerche has a tradition. At the end of every December, he drops of a cover of one of his favorite pop songs of the preceding year. He’s done Drake’s “Hotline Bling.” He’s done Beyoncé’s “Countdown.” He’s done Ariana Grande’s “Into You.” Last year, he bent the rules for the project’s tenth anniversary by covering three older Britney Spears songs.
This year he returns to – and expands – the tradition, tackling the requisite pop banger (Lady Gaga’s Grande collaboration “Rain on Me”) along with a second new song that’s decidedly not pop at all: Bob Dylan’s “I Contain Multitudes,” which he calls “the greatest Bob Dylan song I’ve ever heard” and has become the go-to song to cover from Dylan’s new album.
‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.
Last year, Rob Sheffield called 1999 “the year music exploded, the year when nothing made any damn sense, the year fans had to throw out any old-school rules for how pop worked.” If that’s true, then 2000 was the year when those new trends became the accepted norm. Back in January, we looked at covers of one of the year’s defining phenomenons – boy bands – and this month was tackle another: Britney, a pop supernova so massive she didn’t need a last name.
Her sophomore album Oops!… I Did It Again came out 20 years ago today, setting the record for the highest debut-week album sales by a female artist (it held for 15 years, until Adele’s 25). Though Spears was primarily a singles artist, her albums sold so much that even the deep cuts wormed their way into millions of teenage brains. When we compiled this list, I was pleasantly surprised it wasn’t just the half-dozen biggest hits being covered. Those songs got covered plenty, and still do (our number-four best cover of 2019 was a “Baby One More Time” – not a bad lifespan for a song written by a Swede whose grasp of English was a little rough), but musicians also dig into the album tracks and the singles that flopped.
Spears has shifted into the Vegas-residency stage of her career in recent years (not to mention Instagram star and cause-celebre hashtag). But even if she doesn’t have any more world-conquering hits in her, other artists are keeping her songs alive. Of the thousands of covers out there, here are the 25 best.
The list begins on Page 2.
Angel Olsen – More Than You Know (Ann-Margret cover)
Many have covered this 1929 American songbook standard, but Angel Olsen’s solo piano cover was purportedly inspired by Ann-Margret’s 1961 take. Olsen doesn’t bring any frills or gimmicks;. If you didn’t know Olsen was one the coolest, most blog-beloved artists around, you’d think she was an unusually talented piano-jazz singer. Catch her at a cabaret near you.