On their new album Ghost Stories, The Whitmore Sisters – Eleanor and Bonnie – cover another iconic sibling duo: The Everly Brothers. But they don’t go for an obvious oldies-radio hit like “All I Have to Do Is Dream” or “Cathy’s Clown.” Instead, they dig out the 1984 Paul McCartney-penned chestnut “On the Wings of an Nightingale,” and make it sound every bit as classic as anything in the Brothers’ catalog. In some ways, their cover actually sounds more like the Everly Brothers than the original, which piles on some unfortunate ’80s production.
It’s a strange circumstance: What has been awful for humanity at large has been pretty good for the world of cover songs. Even we would say that’s a terrible trade-off!
Nevertheless, we’ve been grateful that so many musicians have taken to Facebook, Instagram, etc to share their music and, in many cases, cover favorite songs that are helping get them through. So, for the fourth time and certainly not the last, we’re rounding up some of the best we’ve seen recently and encouraging you to add your own below.
One note: There are some obvious names you won’t see here. John Prine. Bill Withers. Adam Schlesinger. Kenny Rogers. So many wonderful covers are emerging to pay tribute to artists no longer with them that we’ll be rounding them up separately. We did the first set for Prine here.
Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
Brothers in Arms is the sixth-best-selling album of the entire 1980s. I wonder if that might surprise some people. It feels like Dire Straits have been, not forgotten certainly, but not remembered at anywhere near the level of their success. They weren’t just famous. They were massively, enormously, stadium-filling-pop-superstar famous.
On the ’80s album-sales charts, Brothers in Arms sits just behind Born in the U.S.A. and just ahead of Appetite for Destruction. It feels like both albums loom far above Brothers in Arms in the current consciousness. In one (admittedly imperfect) measurement of popularity among young people, Spotify streams, three separate songs from Appetite dwarf anything from Brothers in Arms. And in terms of covers, I can attest that songs from Born in the U.S.A. get covered far more often by younger artists – the deep cuts as well as the hits.
But Brothers in Arms deserved to be in those albums’ company then and it deserves to remain there now. So today we pay tribute through tributes, covers of the huge hits and the lesser-known tracks that, despite selling a gajillion copies, seem to have slipped between the cracks. Enjoy.
‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.
Neil Young released his self-titled debut solo album on January 22, 1969. Well, technically he re-released it that day. It had initially landed without much fanfare the previous November, only for Young to quickly pull it from shelves due to what he deemed a subpar mix. Even in his professional infancy, decades before Pono and the Neil Young Archives, he was a stickler for quality control.
We hope this list would pass muster with him. At 50 songs, it’s our longest to date (tied only with The Rolling Stones) and still barely scratches the surface. We could have quite easily listed the best 50 covers of “Heart of Gold” or “Like a Hurricane” alone. He gets covered about as much as any songwriter alive, and about as well too.
Neil hasn’t slowed down in his own age, and neither has the flow of new covers. Some of the covers below came out near 50 years ago themselves. Others only landed in the last year or two. No doubt another contender will arrive tomorrow. Neil never stops, and, thankfully, neither do covers of his songs.
Olivia Chaney is a classically trained British singer/songwriter. Her profile has been rising steadily in recent years, as she released an album called The Queen of Hearts with the Decemberists in 2017 under the group name Offa Rex (we gave it four stars). This summer, she put out her second solo studio album Shelter. Alongside her many originals is a cover of “Long Time Gone,” a song first recorded by… well, that’s a bit complicated.
According to Chaney’s press release, the song was written by Frank Harford and Tex Ritter and “first recorded” by the Everly Brothers. This is incorrect. Now before you go firing off an angry email to her publicist, the whole thing appears to be a case of mistaken attribution that predates the internet.
The database Second Hand Songs claims that the Everlys were the first ones to record the song in 1958, though their own comments section disputes this. When I first saw the listing on the site, I thought something was off because the tune was on the Everlys’ album Songs Our Daddy Taught Us — billed as a covers record. Plus, I didn’t think Tex Ritter, a popular country singer in the ‘40s and ‘50s, would write a tune directly for the Everlys. When I pulled up Ritter’s “Long Time Gone” it had different lyrics and a different melody entirely. Also, some sites list Ritter’s as being from 1944, while others have it as from 1946.
As an avant-garde jazz-influenced album, David Bowie’s final record Blackstar would seem damn-near uncoverable (unless you’re an avante-garde jazz band). But the songs keep getting covered, and by some surprising artists. Sting covered “Lazarus.” Nine Inch Nails covered “I Can’t Give Everything Away.” Amanda Palmber and Anna Calvi covered the title track. (So did Car Seat Headrest and Hiatus Kaiyote’s Nai Palm, blending it with Radiohead, no less).
The latest comes from indie-rock vets Spoon, who tackled “I Can’t Give Anything Away” on The Strombo Show, a radio program that is quickly become Canada’s answer to other international cover-shows BBC Live Lounge and Triple J “Like a Version.” Britt Daniel’s understated vocals deliver the quiet melody and bigger chorus perfectly, but the secret star of this stripped-down version might be pianist Alex Fischel. Needless to say, it sounds quite different than Nine Inch Nails’ take on the tune.
And, while we’re at it, here’s a bunch of other Strombo Show covers from recent episodes too.