‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.
In the winter of 1998, the Spice Girls were the biggest pop act in the universe. Their movie Spice World, released on Boxing Day ‘97 in the U.K. and in late January in the U.S, brought in more than $100 million worldwide. On February 24, 25 years ago last week, the group launched its first-ever world tour in Dublin, Ireland.
It was both the best of times and the beginning of the end. Just a few months later, on the eve of their American tour, Geri Halliwell (aka Ginger Spice) would depart the group. Though they continued as a quartet and released Forever in 2000, they would never rule the pop cultural zeitgeist in the same way.
Still, in their short run at the top of the charts, they made a colossal impact on music history. In the U.S., the Spice Girls cut a wedge right through the heart of ‘90s music. Before they hit, pop music was serious business for long-haired dudes with guitars and rappers who felt they were too cool to be parodied by “Weird Al.” But the Spice Girls gave us what we wanted, what we really really wanted, whether we knew it or not. They made it okay for pop music to be brash, fun and unapologetically commercial again. The group opened the door for the countless pop acts who led music into the new millennium, such as Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC.
The Spice Girls were never highly regarded by critics or music snobs, who tend to scoff anything that appeals to young girls. Though they’re now eligible for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, I can’t imagine they’ll ever get nominated. Yet the Spice Girls’ music, image and legacy have endured surprisingly well in the ensuing decades. The group performed at the closing ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics in London and just the mention of a possible reunion tour is enough to set the press into a frenzy. Not convinced? Try listening to Spice or Spiceworld. From the hits to the deep cuts, the albums are consistent listens throughout, as they both feature brilliantly crafted pop tunes that are catchy and easy to sing along to.
Despite being the best-selling female pop group of all time, the Spice Girls haven’t been covered that extensively. One has to go deeper than the usual suspects to find great covers. Whether it’s an acoustic rendition of “Stop,” a jazzy cover of “Wannabe” or countless takes on their deep cuts, the music has lived on through many different voices, just not in the voices that were used to seeing and hearing. Perhaps it takes an artist with less to lose to take a chance and deliver an original take on such pop classics. More than 25 years after their world dominance, “Girl Power” in all its awesomeness shows no signs of letting up. One just has to know where to look.
– Curtis Zimmermann
25. Zebrahead – Wannabe
Pop-punk covers in the early 2000s were unavoidable. Napster (or Limewire or Kazaa) ballooned music libraries and saturated the market with power chords and nasally vocals. It was glorious. There’s something about this cover that calls back to that time of downloading yet another song to the library; it didn’t matter if it was labeled wrong or it wasn’t the version you expected. It was catchy and would work great on your next burned CD. In their power-punk version of “Wannabe,” Zebrahead find the right mix of goofy and uplifting, just like the original. – Mike Misch
24. Shakey Graves & Begonia – Too Much
This song makes a perhaps surprisingly great duet, and this pair really sells it. Hearing the song played live can also help you really appreciate the soulful guitar lines. The soulfulness continues as they trade off lines, eye to eye, bar for bar. Around the 4:30 mark, they really take the “give it a try” line literally, repeating the refrain over and over in different ways: from monster-mash depths to falsetto heights. As much as they are having fun with this nostalgic cover, they bring back the more somber mood for the closing. – Sara Stoudt
23. The Moon Loungers – Say You’ll Be There
The Moon Loungers specialize in performing acoustic covers of songs from across the pop spectrum. The band has an extensive discography of “unplugged” recordings of tracks ranging from Taylor Swift to Jefferson Starship. The group transformed the Spice Girls’ iconic dance track into a mellow acoustic tune. The track features some heavy guitar strumming and harmonies reminiscent of ‘70s mellow rockers America and Seals & Crofts. No boomerangs or karate kicks are required for this cover. The group lets their voices and guitars do all the work. – Curtis Zimmermann
22. Sitti – 2 Become 1
“2 Become 1” was the Spice Girls’ third straight UK number 1, a romantic ballad that took the time to advocate safe sex (“Be a little bit wiser, baby / Put it on, put it on”). Philippine bossa nova singer Sitti covered it on her 2007 album My Bossa Nova, but you’ll be hard pressed to blame it on that genre. Instead, it’s a jazz sound with none of the original’s flash. That’s not a knock – when you’re in a room with quiet and candlelight, sometimes a soft warm glow is exactly what you need to hear and feel. – Patrick Robbins
21. My Sun and Stars – Wannabe
The opening ukulele might make you think that this cover is all sugar and no spice, but even with the angelic high vocals and that cheery ukulele strum, this “Wannabe” cover still has a little kick. The lyrics are doled out patiently, unrushed, matter-of-factly telling the listener how it is. That snap of the hand on the body of the ukulele and the more clipped strumming changes the tone a bit, signaling some seriousness. There’s no “here’s the story” and no bodies winding all around, but friendship remains never-ending. – Sara Stoudt