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.
‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.
In a 1994 interview with Rolling Stone, here’s how Kurt Cobain described the genesis of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
“I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies. I have to admit it. When I heard the Pixies for the first time, I connected with that band so heavily that I should have been in that band—or at least a Pixies cover band. We used their sense of dynamics, being soft and quiet and then loud and hard.”
Surprisingly, the Pixies’ most famous superfan – the man who said he should be in a Pixies cover band – never covered the Pixies. Nirvana were rarely shy about covering their influences, from the Vaselines to the Velvet Underground, but maybe the Pixies were just too obvious. Every Nirvana song, Kurt might have thought, was just a Pixies cover a few degrees removed.
That line of thinking didn’t stop many other artists, though. Pixies covers abound, both from obvious acolytes in the ’90s alt-rock scene to musician fans in other genres who found a way to make Pixies songs sound like bossa nova or doo-wop. We’ve narrowed it down to the best thirty for our list, below. We hope you la la love it.
PS. The artist for this month’s list was selected by our Patreon supporters. To have a say in who we tackle next, sign up for our Patreon here.
The list continues on Page 2.
‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.
We all know the reason everyone’s talking about Beyoncé this month: It’s the fifteenth anniversary of her debut solo album Dangerously in Love!
Okay, maybe that’s not the only Beyoncé news setting the internet aflutter these days – but it is the reason we initially decided to do this list. So it was extra nice of her to drop a surprise album with her husband, what’s-his-name, to give us something else to tie this into. In tribute, we’re writing this entire post from the Louvre.
There aren’t any Everything Is Love songs covered here, but we can’t imagine the first great “Apeshit” cover is far off. And every other facet of her career is represented, from the Destiny’s Child radio hits to her early solo pop jams to the more recent political tracks from Lemonade and beyond. Appropriately enough, the artists doing the covering represent an equally wide spectrum. I challenge you to find another list on the internet containing both serpentwithfeet and Reba McEntire.
So let’s start the countdown (heh) of the best B covers ever. All hail the Queen!
Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.
Matthew Vadnais lives in Beloit, Wisconsin. He’s been writing for Cover Me since 2015. Of all his Cover Me essays, he especially likes his reviews of the albums paying tribute to Blind Willie Johnson, Uncle Tupelo’s No Depression, and Jason Molina.
When we last did an election-themed post, we wrote “this damn election continues to never end”. That was in August of 2008. How naive we were then. As this latest round finally limps to a close today, we wanted to put together a cover-song soundtrack to take with you to the polls. To that end, we’ve compiled our 11 favorite covers of campaign theme songs.
Campaign theme songs used to be far better than they are now. Up until the 20th century, candidates would use songs written specifically for them, from James Madison’s “Huzzah for Madison, Huzzah” to James K. Polk’s “Jimmy Polk of Tennessee.” The best remembered is probably William Henry Harrison’s “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too,” a song proved more influential than his actual presidency, which lasted a month before he died in office. Sometimes these theme songs were just rewritten versions of popular songs (“Hello Dolly” becomes “Hello Lyndon”, “My Kind of Town Chicago Is” becomes “My Kind of Guy Dukakis Is”), but even still at least some effort was being made to come up with original lyrics.
Sadly, those days have ended. Now candidates choose from a handful of already-popular songs that vaguely embody their message. Hillary Clinton’s been using Katy Perry’s “Roar” a lot this time around, which Donald Trump leans on Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” after just about every other musician filed cease and desist letters (they eventually did too). No matter your politics, the move away from jolly songs about a particular candidate is a bummer. We’d definitely get behind a platform of “Make Campaign Theme Songs Great Again.”
In lieu of that, we’ve made a playlist celebrating campaign songs past and present. We could only find so many covers of the older candidate-specific songs – they don’t age well, particularly if the candidate is a loser (artists are not lining up to cover “Go with Goldwater”) – so we padded it out with some more recent campaign theme songs you might actually know. Go vote, and bring this soundtrack with you.
The A.V. Club’s Undercover series has been producing great covers for many years now with the same premise: a list of songs chosen by the staff and fans, slowly whittled down by the bands coming in to cover them. It has resulted in incredible combinations (GWAR’s version of “Carry on My Wayward Son” being the most startling) and plenty of entertainment. One of the most creative renditions of a tough cover, Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping,” came from the stalwart experimental rockers They Might Be Giants. The Johns (singers Linnell and Flansburgh) returned to the A.V. Club recently to cover Destiny’s Child‘s “Bills, Bills, Bills.”