Jul 222022
 

‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

white stripes covers

The always prolific Jack White releases his second album of 2022 today. So it felt time to look back at his most iconic musical project: Goober & the Peas.

Okay, okay – we’re of course talking about The White Stripes. Though by this point Jack’s released more solo and side-project music than the Stripes’ entire six-album discography, his and Meg’s music still gets covered far more than the rest. Part of that is because that band had actual hits; I doubt there’s anything on his new album that’s gonna do “Seven Nation Army” numbers. But part of it also reflects the stripped-down nature of that band’s work. With just two pieces, combining rudimentary guitar riffs from Jack and cavewoman drumming from Meg, the band’s output leaves plenty of open space to welcome in other interpretations.

So no surprise our list below includes a wide variety of genres, from orchestral bowers to soul belters, bluegrass pickers to reggae toasters. By the band’s end, the Stripes were bringing in genres beyond their beloved blues and garage-rock (see the cabaret of “The Nurse” or mariachi of their Patti Page cover “Conquest”), but these artists take their songs even further afield. They dig deeper into the catalog than you might expect too. The most-common song on our list won’t surprise you (all together now: dunnn, dun-DUN-dun, dun, dunnn, dunnnnnn), but just how obscure some of the others are might, hits and deep cuts from their first album to their last. Fall in love with a cover, below.

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Aug 132021
 

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

everything but the girl covers

Confession: I was not happy when Everything But the Girl traded in their jangly, moody, melodic guitar pop to “go electronic” in the mid-’90s. While I wouldn’t equate it to what Dylan purists apparently felt when he infamously decided to “go electric” back in the ’60s, my eternally ’80s teen self thought it sucked and felt downright betrayed. EBTG had been one of my absolute favorite bands, and here they were forsaking their nerdy identity to go hang with the cool kids, leaving behind the introspective and geeky brethren and sistren who loved them.

The song that changed it all, “Missing,” began its life innocently enough. It was just another perfectly constructed, poetic and winsome track on an album that was chock-full of them, 1994’s Amplified Heart. This original version was released as a single, but only got as high as #69 on the UK pop chart. Then, in 1995, this crazy thing happened. The duo gave the track to DJ-Producer Todd Terry to remix for club play. But calling it a “remix” is underselling what it really was: a resurrection. Terry expertly sculpted “Missing” into an sleek, housed-up, heartbreaking dance anthem for the ages. It sold millions of copies all over the planet and has since become a permanent fixture on every “Best Songs of the ’90s” playlist in existence.

The success of “Missing” paved the way for the duo’s stylistic shift from earthy acoustic sounds to cooler electronic ones. The duo debuted the updated sound on their very next album, 1996’s Walking Wounded; its heartbreaking charms were undeniable, and all it took was one listen for me to fall back into the fold of hardcore EBTG fandom, never to depart again. Tracey (Thorn) and Ben (Watt) were still EBTG, after all, and the songs were as regal, poetic, and beautiful as they had ever been, even in this new and different guise (inside joke there for you EBTG nerds), a guise they maintained until they decided to close the book on the EBTG partnership in 2000 and just focus on their respective solo endeavors.

Now the reason I bring all this history this up is to note that pretty much all of the covers they did were recorded before this famous stylistic change; hence, their sound harkens back to the jangly days. Fact is, they pretty much stopped doing covers once they started exploring the electronic/dance side of things. So by default, the best EBTG covers all happened during the era we’ll call EBTG b.c. (before clubland), as opposed to the latter-day incarnation, EBTG a.d. (after dance).

In keeping with the longstanding tradition of all pop music ever, the most popular EBTG covers aren’t necessarily the best ones. Their cute ‘n’ groovy version of Cole Porter standard “Night And Day” and jaunty run-through Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Only Living Boy In New York City” are nice, as is their duet on Tom Waits’ “Downtown Train.” But if you want to hear EBTG at their interpretative best, swivel the chair around from the openly cool, famed and critically acclaimed and cast an ear toward the unabashedly POP heartbreakers–Mom favorites and oddball deep cuts. Let’s get driving…
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May 032019
 

‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

joni mitchell covers

Joni Mitchell is 75 and won’t be with us forever. She suffered an aneurysm in 2015, and she’s coping with the little-understood Morgellons disease. She has difficulty walking, and has not spoken publicly in years. But if her place on earth is tenuous, her place in the heavens is secure; millions of people already look up to her every day.

Joni Mitchell’s songs are famous for being intensely personal, a deep expression of her self that people nevertheless relate to. Those who aspire to her voice become near-slavish devotees. There’s a great New Yorker piece about a small show of Joni’s that a drunken Chrissie Hynde gets overly caught up in (“That’s a REAL singer up there!”), and Hynde’s not alone. Mitchell isn’t just a real singer, though. She’s a real songwriter, a real painter, a real guitarist, a real follower of her muse – a real artist, one of the realest of the past hundred years. That authenticity is what continues to bring people into her circle on a daily basis.

In an excellent essay for NPR, Ann Powers wrote: “Like her prime compatriots Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen and her favorite protégé Prince, no one can adequately echo her; even great singers, taking on her songbook, admit they can only hope to achieve proximity.” Indeed, a Joni Mitchell cover is never just a tribute – it’s an assertion, an artist coming forth to pick up a gauntlet she lay down decades ago.

We found 30 covers that show the artists doing an especially good job at matching their talents to Joni’s, creating new works of art that, no matter how novel or innovative they may be, never set out to eradicate the original artist’s signature. May her art continue to open eyes, whether through her own performances or those of others, for centuries to come.

–Patrick Robbins, Feature Editor

Oct 192011
 

If you don’t have Everything But the Girl’s quasi-covers album Acoustic, get it. In their day, Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt knew how to cut to the core of a cover song better than just about anyone. The pair parted ways in 2000, but have returned with a new cover of the xx’s “Night Time.” Continue reading »

Sep 142011
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

Andy Warhol’s vision of the perfect rock band, The Velvet Underground wrote the book on cool. With Nico, their aloof European vocalist, and the dark lyrics of Lou Reed, they were fixtures in Warhol’s Factory scene. When Warhol suggested that Reed should write a song about fellow Factory scenestress Edie Sedgwick, youthquaker, socialite, and all-around trouble with a capital T, Reed asked what kind of song. Warhol said, “Oh, don’t you think she’s a femme fatale, Lou?” Of such conversations are deathless works of art made. Continue reading »

Sep 072011
 

Twelve years ago today, the Magnetic Fields released 69 Love Songs. Initially conceived as a theatrical revue performed by drag queens, 69 Love Songs took a different status entirely as a beloved pillar of indie pop. Though hardly a best-seller then or now, it retains a certain mystique as an album one could devote years to (witness this book or this project documenting each song in graphic form). Everything Stephin Merritt had been building with the Magnetic Fields over the previous six albums came to fruition here and then some.

Sprawling even by Merritt’s standards, 69 Love Songs covers a mind-boggling array of genres. So, in honor of its anniversary, we’ve selected a set of 12 covers that do the same. Some songs will make you dance; others will make you weep. It’s a barely-coherent smorgasbord of sounds, sources, and interpretations. Given the source material, that seems appropriate. Continue reading »