Indie rock greats Yo La Tengo recently wrapped up their eight-night Hanukkah run of live shows — a tradition that’s lasted multiple decades — at New York City’s Bowery Ballroom. Whether you’re a new or longtime acolyte of the trio, Yo La Tengo’s Hanukkah shows are an ideal entry point into the group’s ouevre. From even just one of the eight nights, which each have a unique setlist and special guest openers, you can grab a pretty good sense of Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew’s creative spectrum, not to mention the vast web of influences and collaborators, old and new, that fuel them. Still, the band’s Hanukkah sets are most exciting to consider as one epic and comprehensive experience — some kind of combo between endurance exercise and heady jigsaw puzzle.
As regular readers know, every year, at the end of the year, we do a big year-end covers list. This tradition started in 2007 and will continue in a couple months with the best covers of 2021.
But there are so many years before 2007 where we weren’t doing year-end covers lists (and, as far as I’m aware, no one else was either). So once a year, we do a big anniversary post tackling the best covers of a year before Cover Me was born. So far we’ve done 1969, 1978, 1987, 1996, and, last year, 2000.
And for 2021, we look back thirty years, to the heady days of 1991. The days of grunge and acid house, of parachute pants and ripped denim, of The Gulf War and Home Alone. Country music and hip-hop increased their cultural dominance (or really just making their existing dominance known; 1991 is also the year Soundscan made the Billboard charts more authoritative). In a single day, Nirvana released Nevermind, Red Hot Chili Peppers released Blood Sugar Sex Magik, and A Tribe Called Quest released The Low End Theory. Think that’s a fluke? The week before saw massive albums from Mariah Carey, Hole, and Guns ‘n’ Roses (two albums, no less). The week before that came Garth Brooks, Talk Talk, and Saint Etienne.
All of those trends are reflected in the list below. Many of these covers scream “1991!” LL Cool J raps Disney. Courtney Love shrieks Joni. Aretha Franklin tries to new jack swing. A spate of early tribute albums (in fact, last year I wrote a 33 1/3 book about a 1991 tribute album). Other covers are more timeless, from veteran artists doing great work several decades into their careers, or way-underground artists who never even approached the mainstream. The only criteria was quality. Thirty years later, these 50 covers Hole-d up the best.
Check out the list starting on Page 2, and stay tuned for the best covers of this year coming in December.
The list begins on Page 2.
We’re not generally in the practice of publishing reader mail at Cover Me (doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate getting it!). There’s no Letters to the Editor page like you’d see in an old magazine. The comments section and social media serve that function well enough. But today, we’re making an exception.
Last summer, a German reader named Karsten Schroeder wrote in offering to share some cool covers he liked by German bands. We said sure – we’re always looking to discover new stuff, after all. We didn’t hear much after that and, to be honest, forgot about it. Then, a full ten months later, he emailed an exhaustive look at the covers scene in Germany. Across 123 songs, Karsten explored covers spanning punk – his favorite genre – to hip-hop, folk to pop to a few genres that are Germany-specific (“Fun-Punk,” “Deutschrock”). It was so rich and detailed, full of amazing covers that we – and, I expect, you – had never heard before that we asked him if we could publish it.
Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.
People frequently think of the Ramones as being goofball one-trick ponies, fit more for T-shirts than turntables. This grossly misrepresents their point and their purpose, never mind the debt they pay to whole swathes of earlier, largely ’60s music. Like no other punk band, the Ramones brought back the energy and the intuition up into a future (now the past) that both honors and updates those motifs. And this never became clearer than on 1993’s Acid Eaters, where many of the songs sound like they were originals that “da brudderz” wrote. Even if you know the originals forwards and backwards.
Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.
Here at Cover Me Q&A, we’ll be taking questions about cover songs and giving as many different answers as we can. This will give us a chance to hold forth on covers we might not otherwise get to talk about, to give Cover Me readers a chance to learn more about individual staffers’ tastes and writing styles, and to provide an opportunity for some back-and-forth, as we’ll be taking requests (learn how to do so at feature’s end).
Today’s question, from staffer Jordan Becker: What’s a great cover of a cover?
In 2019, Cover Me wrote about more new covers than in any year in our 12-year history. I know; I checked the numbers. Our News team wrote amazing stand-alone stories on sometimes tight deadlines, adding context and research beyond “here’s a new cover” quickie. Plus, we rounded the best of the best into monthly 30+ lists, and added even more for supporters of our new Patreon. Even our Features team, who ostensibly couldn’t care less whether a cover came out last month or last century, seemed to be constantly finding new things to slip into their deep dives.
The point here is not to toot our own horn… well, that’s not entirely the point. What I want to do is emphasize just how high the bar to appear on this list has been set. Calling these covers great almost does them a disservice. There were way more than 50 great covers in 2019. In fact, we’ve already got 150 more bonus tracks lined up for Patreon supporters (which, I know I mention it a lot, but it’s how we keep this site afloat, so please consider supporting us if you like what we do). Honestly, we could throw all of the above in the trash and still come up with a pretty impressive batch of 2019 covers. But these 50 below – these are the cream of the crop, the belles of the ball, the toppermost of the poppermost.
You won’t agree. I guarantee it. As you go through this list, there will be at least one cover you hate. Maybe more than one. And if you followed cover news yourself this year, you’ll probably be outraged when a personal favorite placed too low, or didn’t make it at all. Great! That’s the beauty of these lists: It’s all opinion. Extremely educated opinions in our cases – I can pretty much guarantee that we collectively listened to more 2019 covers than any other site out there – but opinions nevertheless. So dive in and discover something new. Then help us discover something new by adding your own favorites in the comments.
– Ray Padgett, Editor-in-Chief