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.
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
With their surprise success “Africa,” Weezer delivered easily the biggest cover-song news of 2018. And they similarly seemed poised to dominate this year’s cover-album news when they dropped a full set of similar songs in January (that album’s not on our list, because it is – and I say this as a fan for going on 20 years – terrible).
Thankfully, that album got forgotten about five minutes after its release. A slate of other high-profile cover albums took its place, and delivered more staying power. Angelique Kidjo, Morrissey, and Juliana Hatfield all released covers albums, and a host more stars contributed in one way or other to tribute compilations, from Norah Jones and Margo Price covering Bobbie Gentry to Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile tackling Wilco. Some of the aforementioned made our list and some just missed it, but all are worth investigating.
That’s to say nothing of the many lesser-known artists who came out of nowhere, amazing covers records by bands and singers I’d never heard of before. Covers albums can offer a wonderful entry point for discovery, and I’ve now got a lot of new favorite bands to dig deeper into. Hopefully you’ll find a few here too.
– Ray Padgett, Editor-in-Chief
For the last few weeks, Frozen II has been the number one movie in the world. So popular, in fact, that it prompted an antitrust lawsuit in South Korea for taking up too many screens in the country. The film follows the continuing adventures of Elsa, Anna and the gang as they go on a quest to unlock … Don’t worry, no spoilers here.
Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.
The 1977 hit “Mr. Blue Sky” was ELO’s fourth movement in the “Concerto for a Rainy Day” on its 1978 double album Out of the Blue. It enjoyed a #6 position in the UK, a #8 position in the Dutch charts, and peaked at #35 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The song is the most upbeat of the “Concerto.” That’s a fitting and welcome change in a suite that is about the gloom of a soggy day. It’s often been seen as a “Beatlesesque” pop song, with flashes of musical hall revelry. That is an apt description, given that Jeff Lynne was determined at the outset of ELO to bridge pop songs a lá The Beatles with more high-cultured orchestral arrangements.
If we are to look at the numerous covers that Second Hand Songs has compiled, most artists tap into the upbeat nature of the tune. Even Weezer couldn’t resist, featuring the song on their Teal album. Some covers border on bubblegum. Other have it stuck to the bottom of their shoe.
But today I write this review of covers while the sky is overcast, and the humidity is thick. And now that it is autumn, I wondered if there were any covers that cut against the grain and featured a more somber or dark take on “Mr. Blue Sky.” And indeed there are. So, here is my list of the Good, the Better, and the Best.