Over our time tracking cover songs (13 years this month!), we’ve written about hundreds of new tribute albums, across reviews, news stories, and, when they’re good enough, our best-of-the-year lists. We also have looked back on plenty of great tribute albums from the past in our Cover Classics series. But we’ve never pulled it all together – until now.
Two things strike me as I scan through our list this year. This first is that many of the highest-ranking covers are tributes to recently-deceased icons. No surprise there, I suppose. But none actually pay tribute to artists that died in 2018. They honor those we’ve been honoring for two or three years now – your Pettys, your Princes, your Bowies. Hundreds of covers of each of these legends appeared in the first days after their deaths, but many of the best posthumous covers took longer to emerge.
Good covers take time. That principle – the cover-song equivalent of the slow food movement, perhaps – holds true throughout the list. Sure, a few here appear to have arisen from sudden moments of brilliance, flash-arranged for some concert or radio promo session. But many more reveal months or even years of painstaking work to nail every element. Making someone else’s song one’s own isn’t easy. These 50 covers took the time to get it right.
– Ray Padgett, Editor-in-Chief
Start the countdown on the next page…
AJ Lambert – Lush Life (Frank Sinatra cover)
Frank Sinatra’s granddaughter covers Frank Sinatra. You think you know where this story ends: fawning nepotism. But despite familial loyalty, A.J. Lambert isn’t afraid to twist “Lush Life,” adding a Lynchian undercurrent of menace. More of an overcurrent in the crawling, nose-bleeding video.
Amy Shark – Teenage Dirtbag (Wheatus cover)
Every month, one or two of these selections invariably hail from Spotify’s terrific new cover-sessions series. My only gripe is that they came with no information, the sort a band would write in the YouTube description or press release announcing a new cover, or say on stage before performing one live. That’s now solved with Spotify’s new “Under Cover” podcast, in which the artists performing the covers talk about them. We learn that Amy Shark tried to make “Teenage Dirtbag” a Pixies song, and that she considered the song her anthem when she was young. She says: “The first time I heard ‘Teenage Dirtbag,’ I was in high school. I was crazy obsessed with it to the point where it was in my head every day all day. I would sing it in all day in school. Even teachers would say, ‘Amy, please listen to something else.'”
Ten years ago Brandi Carlile released her second album, The Story. Lovingly produced by T-Bone Burnett, The Story is heavy on relationships, heartbreak, and unrealized potential. Songs so beautiful they can float right on past unless you’ve recently fallen in or out of love or struggled with a complex friendship. But if your guard is down, your heart is broken, or your confidence rattled, The Story can be a powerful and cathartic experience. Last month we shared songs from Dolly Parton, Pearl Jam, and Adele, when we teased the latest War Child benefit project in which a hand-picked, all-star cast covers The Story in its entirety. That album, Cover Stories: Brandi Carlile Celebrates 10 Years of The Story-An Album to Benefit War Child, is released today.
It’s unsettling to think what might have become (or not become) of rock music if not for one man in Memphis and his modest recording studio. The talent that Sam Phillips welcomed into his Memphis Recording Service in the early 1950s was legendary and included B.B. King, Rufus Thomas, Howlin’ Wolf, Junior Parker and Ike Turner. These early blues and R&B artists gave Phillips and his fledgling label, Sun Records, some minor notoriety that would soon attract rock, country and rockabilly upstarts such as Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and of course, Elvis Presley. His willingness to produce raw-sounding records featuring reverb and distortion caused some to say Phillips didn’t know what he was doing, and others to praise his unique genius. Perhaps Phillips’ biggest stroke of genius was seeing the potential in the young Presley boy that just kept hanging around. Pairing Elvis with guitarist Scotty Moore and Bill Black on bass in the summer of 1954 initially led to a lackluster session until, after a break, Elvis began goofing around with Arthur Crudup’s “That’s All Right.” Instantly Phillips knew he was hearing something special – the white artist with the “negro” sound that he had been seeking.
The Dead Weather are great and all, but the chances to listen to Jack White rip on guitar have gotten rarer and rarer. Well, here’s one. His partners-in-awesome are the Secret Sisters, a duo he produces on his Third Man Records label. For their latest 7”, the two covered Johnny Cash’s “Big River.” Jack White lends some furious Stripes-style axe, soloing his brains out.
White may be the big story here, but don’t discount the Sisters. Laura and Lydia Rogers more than hold their own with powerful gospel-tinged vocals that blast as loud as White. As if those three weren’t enough, My Morning Jacket’s Carl Broemel joins in on steel guitar (thanks to Pitchfork for the heads up).
Listen to the track below. Also, download an older White-Cash combo: the White Stripes playing “Get Rhythm” in 2005. Or, more accurately, Jack singing the lyrics to “Get Rhythm” while playing the Stripes’ own “Cannon.”