Dec 152023
 

Follow all our Best of 2023 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.

I like to think that badass lady in the artwork up there (done by our own Hope Silverman!) embodies the spirit of this year’s list. Not that they’re all CBGB-style punk songs—though there are a couple—but in her devil-may-care attitude. “Who says I shouldn’t do a hardcore cover of the Cranberries? A post-punk cover of Nick Drake? A hip-hop cover of The Highwaymen? Screw that!”

As with most good covers, the 50 covers we pulled out among the thousands we listened to bring a healthy blend of reverence and irreverence. Reverence because the artists love the source material. Irreverence because they’re not afraid to warp it, bend it, mold it in their own image. A few of the songs below are fairly obscure, but most you probably already know. Just not like this.

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Aug 012023
 

Under the Radar shines a light on lesser-known cover artists. If you’re not listening to these folks, you should. Catch up on past installments here.

Punchline covers

Photo: Courtesy of Craft Services

The tagline of Punchline’s website reads: “Punchline is a band from Pittsburgh, PA. For fans of Jimmy Eat World, hope, and cats.” As a native Pennsylvanian who is a fan of two of the three of those things, I am immediately sold. (For those of you who think I could ever not be a fan of Jimmy Eat World, I will just leave you with this.)

And then as part of my Wikipedia deep dive on the band and its members, I found this gem on lead singer Steve Soboslai’s page:

In 2011 Soboslai began doing solo performances as “Blue of Colors.” In his first performance he opened for Parachute and Plain White T’s at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania student union.

I was 100% at that show. I was of course wearing a plain white t-shirt–ironically, probably, but maybe not. During this trip down memory lane I didn’t immediately remember the opening, opening act, so I went to listen to the most popular songs on Spotify from the album released closest to that time to try to jog a memory. It’s possible I’m just in the “no way” of it all, but “Goodbye Stranger” sounded fairly familiar. Maybe a mirage. Maybe a memory. “Untie the knot, and I’ll untangle you.”

Just like I can’t conjure a specific memory of that 2011 performance, I can’t pinpoint the first time Punchline surfaced from under the radar for me, but with recent, relatable singles titles like “I Don’t Wanna Leave Yet,” “Can I Get A Break,” and “Find Yourself,” it was a fortuitous find. Since the moment of discovery I have played their Songs from ’94 cover EP many, many times. You will soon understand why.

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Jul 312023
 
best cover songs
Bob Dylan — Bad Actor (Merle Haggard cover)

Bob Dylan has been on a covers roll this year. On tour, he has primarily covered a number of Dead (“Truckin’,” “Stella Blue,” “Brokedown Palace”) or Dead-associated (“Not Fade Away,” “Only a River”) songs. But he’s dipped into other classic catalogs occasionally too. He did Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” for the first time and then, not long after, maybe the deepest cut yet: Merle Haggard’s 2016 track “Bad Actor.” The tape took a while to surface. It was worth the wait. Continue reading »

Jul 172023
 
Sunstroke

“Salvation” was the lead single from The Cranberries’ third album, To the Faithful Departed. And, at least by chart position, it’s one of their biggest ever hits, topping the US alternative rock chart and somehow beating out “Dreams,” “Linger” and “Zombie” on the UK charts. (Of those songs, only “Zombie” topped the US alternative rock chart as well.) But it’s not as well known now, with way fewer streams and relatively few covers. Continue reading »

May 192023
 

Cover Genres takes a look at cover songs in a very specific musical style.

Oho! Well, you were warned that this was coming, but the oft-maligned bagpipes have a surprisingly fertile life in coverland. As with the banjo, it isn’t a genre per se, even if usually most associated with the folk and indiginous musics of the Celtic nations. Luckily(?!) for you, it has leaked into any number of unexpected other genres, which, by and large is where we are going today.

But first, some context. Bagpipes have existed since the dawn of time, the ingredients of their manufacture largely available to mankind from very early on, usually in the form of the body parts of an otherwise eaten animal. All you need is a stomach and a pair of lungs–the stomach from your kill, the lungs your own. Apply lips and blow. At the other end of the “bag” is the chanter, a bit like a whistle. By maintaining a constant input of air into the bag, as it flows out and through the chanter, the sounds produced can be altered.

As sophistication advanced, further “pipes” were added, giving a constant tone, as background. This provides the drone, or drones, suddenly a texture so beloved in modern post-rock circles. If you can’t be blethered to blow, bellows devices bypassed the need for the musicians own lung power, these filling the bag by under-arm pumping action, pushing air into the bag that way. The Scottish highland bagpipes are the prime example of the former, the Irish uillean pipes of the latter, but there area host of other models, some lungs driven, some bellows. So we have the Scottish small pipes, Northumbrian pipes, probably the next best known, ahead crossing the channel to the many and varied European varieties.

As “civilization” advanced, so the pipes tended to move outward, towards the edges of any world known at that time, partly as pianos and violins swept in to classier society, in the hubs of nations and empires, and partly through pipes being exported to the “colonies”, the savages taking their primitive instrument of choice to the very fringes of the world.

Enough natter, let’s groove!
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Apr 282023
 
most popular covers

At Cover Me, our goal is to share great covers, whether they comes from artists with ten fans or ten million. But I am always vaguely curious what cover songs break out, which among the thousands we hear each year become genuine hits.

I was reminded of this when a recent Country Now headline crossed my Google Alerts: “Luke Combs’ ‘Fast Car’ Cover Is A Streaming Giant.” After only a month, the country star’s fairly faithful take on Tracy Chapman’s 1988 classic has racked up 33 million streams in the U.S. alone. Covers by famous singers come and go, but this one clearly has staying power.

So I decided to try to figure out which other covers from the 21st century have reached this level of breakout success. I’m not privy to Billboard‘s deep-dive chart data, so I used an easy metric available to an amateur like myself: Seeing how many plays something has on Spotify. As good a measure for “a popular song” as you can probably get these days, albeit still imperfect.

I found twenty-four 21st-century covers with over 100 million U.S. streams as of this writing (April 2023). Some very popular covers didn’t quite make the 100m+ threshold: Weezer’s “Africa” (75 million), Iron & Wine’s “Such Great Heights” (76 million), Fall Out Boy and John Mayer’s “Beat It” (89 million). Ryan Adams’ “Wonderwall” only just crossed the 100 million streams mark in the past couple months. And while older covers obviously have an advantage in more time to rack up plays, number one — by a lot! — came out only a few years ago.

Here’s the list of 24. No commentary since, for once, we’re not unearthing buried treasures here. Let’s count down the 24 most-streamed covers on Spotify, with the year of release and number of streams as of this writing. (And it’s possible, even likely, I missed a few, so feel free to suggest additions in the comments — if they qualify, I’ll add ’em.)
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