Anyone who was paying attention to cover songs a decade ago will remember The A.V. Club’s “Undercover” series. In the vein of the BBC Live Lounge and Triple J Like a Version, the entertainment web site would bring bands into their Chicago offices to cover a song. The concept, though, was the site started with a masters list of songs and the band had to pick one. The later they came in, the fewer song choices remained. It went on for years and the covers were ubiquitous (we must have posted a million of ’em). Practically every indie band of the era stopped by (many several times), and they often delivered something great.
Black Country, New Road – Time to Pretend (MGMT cover)
If you’re expecting the “Time to Pretend” you knew and loved a decade ago, think again. UK post-punkers Black Country, New Road, one of the buzziest bands of the new year, deconstruct the song entirely. It starts pretty sane, then gradually veers off the tracks into chaos. By the end there’s a free-jazz sax solo leading a wall of noise only barely identifiable as this, or any, song.
‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.
Today, Willie Nelson releases his 71st – yes, you read that right, 71st – album. It’s a set of Frank Sinatra covers called That’s Life. But while we prepared to hear more covers by Willie Nelson, we thought it was a good chance to look at covers of Willie Nelson. Because those 71 albums include hundreds and hundreds of songs Willie wrote himself, from classics like “Crazy” and “On the Road Again” to a plethora of deep cut gems just waiting to be discovered. And you can’t spell “discover” without “cover,” so we’ve put together thirty ways for you to discover some songs you don’t know and new interpretations of some songs everyone knows.
Because Willie’s discography is so deep and times convoluted, we set a few ground rules for this list:
- We only included covers of songs Willie himself wrote, rather than songs he just popularized. That knocks out a few of his big hits: “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” and “Always on My Mind” among them.
- The first recording of a Willie song doesn’t count as the cover – even if that first recording wasn’t by Willie himself. Remember that before you get mad that Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” is not on this list. Subsequent versions of those songs are of course fair game.
- An artist can’t cover themselves. That normally goes without saying, but Willie’s recorded in so many different bands and configurations, the same songs sometimes come up repeatedly. So The Highwaymen singing an older Willie song doesn’t qualify as a cover.
Okay, caveats and disclaimers behind us, let’s dive in! Click onward for the 30 best Willie Nelson covers ever…
The list continues on Page 2.
‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.
To quote a Bruce song, this list has been a long time comin’. After all, twelve years ago we borrowed one of his song titles to name this site (a song that, surprisingly, doesn’t actually get covered very often). And over those twelve years, we’ve posted hundreds, maybe thousands, of Bruce covers: “Full Albums” tributes to Born in the U.S.A., Darkness at the Edge of Town, and Tunnel of Love; tributes to the tributes, honoring several classic Boss tribute records; a spotlight on the best “Born to Run” covers; and a million news posts. It’s time to pull it all together.
Appropriately enough for a man whose concerts routinely top three hours, this list is long. Fifty covers long, and even then we still found ourselves left with dozens of killer bonus tracks for our Patreon supporters. The hits are all here, of course, but Bruce’s catalog runs deep. This list includes many covers of lesser-known cuts and more recent songs – even one from his just-released solo album Western Stars. Though he turns 70 today, the man is not slowing down, and neither are the artists paying tribute to him. As Bruce famously sang, he learned more from a three-minute record than ever learned in school. Well, here are fifty artists who learned something from his three-minute records.
The list starts on Page 2.
On the new music podcast I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats, frontman John Darnielle and host Joseph Fink (Welcome to Nightvale) are discussing every song on the Mountain Goats cult classic 2002 album All Hail West Texas. Each episode concludes with a new cover of the song in question, one of which – Loamlands’ “Fall of the High School Running Back” – we already named one of the best covers of the year this week.
The new episode features The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn tackling the album’s fifth track, “Fault Lines.” Like every song on the album, the original is a solo acoustic recording, offering a blank canvas for Finn to work on. He says his lush, orchestrated cover was inspired equally by both The Walkmen and Van Morrison. It’s a far cry from the original, although – crucially with any Mountain Goats song – the lyrics stay at the forefront.
After two albums of balls-to-the-wall rock, Japandroids got a little artier on their recent third album Near to the Wild Heart of Life. Artier by their standards, that is – there’s the occasional synthesizer and one song that tops five minutes, mixed in with a whole bunch more balls-to-the-wall rock. Baby steps.
Perhaps as a sign of their new influences outside the punk/classic rock spheres, Japandroids’ new single contains a B-side cover of Talking Heads’ debut single “Love Goes To Building On Fire.” Their version sounds epic and distorted, a steady build that finally bursts into an massive guitar climax. They haven’t performed it live yet, but they should; it would fit right in with their massive, holler-along shows.
The band is currently on tour with The Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn opening. They’ve been ending each set with a different cover, a joint version of “(I’m) Stranded” by Australian rock band The Saints. Though today perhaps not as well known stateside as the Ramones or Sex Pistols, they remain incredibly influential; Bruce Springsteen covered another song of theirs on his last album.