50. Runnin’ with the Devil (Van Halen cover)
The Vatican Cellars
The Vatican Cellars earn double points for being the only group on the list to show up on both this year’s list and last year’s, where they delivered Springsteen’s “Darkness on the Edge of Town.” Cello leads this latest folksy duet, which brings to mind Robert Johnson’s idea of the devil more than David Lee Roth’s.
49. I Felt Your Shape (The Microphones cover)
The Microphones’ album The Glow Pt. 2 shows how much emotional heft a man with an acoustic guitar can wield. Turns out a Jersey quintet with a few synthesizers can be just as powerful. Copious electronics do nothing to dilute the intimacy.
48. Mama Said Knock You Out (LL Cool J cover)
Street Sweeper Social Club
Boots Riley and Tom Morello’s socially-conscious rap/rock outfit spent much of the year promoting their middling cover of M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes.” Big mistake. Off the same new EP, their version of LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out” comes out blazing, charging like a buffalo armed to the teeth.
47. Ain’t No Cure for Love (Leonard Cohen cover)
Ruth Dolores Weiss
In 1995, Aaron Neville delivered the definitive vocal performance of Leonard Cohen’s most lovesick ballad. No one could top that singing, so Ruth Dolores Weiss goes the other way. The Israeli singer’s slight lisp makes the narrator sound all the more fragile on lines like “I call to you, I call to you, but I don’t call soft enough.”
46. Gentle Gwen (Trad. cover)
Erland and the Carnival
Liam Clancy may have died last year, but Erland and the Carnival carry the Irish folk torch high (despite being, technically, from London). Their updated takes on traditional songs like “Gentle Gwen” and “Tramps and Hawkers” turn songs you’ve never heard into indie-rock sing-alongs.
45. Polkaface (Misc. cover)
“Weird Al” Yankovic
Sure, Weird Al builds every one of his polkas the same way, but if it ain’t broke… He composed the latest offering for his next album, but debuted it live this summer. It goes through fourteen songs in under five minutes, transforming hits by Lady Gaga, Owl City, and Taio Cruz into a sound that would have brought your great-grandparents to the dance floor.
44. The End of the World (Skeeter Davis cover)
Georg Bee of Portishead produced Anika’s self-titled debut, which explains the warped sensation you get that something’s not quite right. Like a pop song seen through a funhouse mirror, “The End of the World” distorts normalcy to unnerving effect. The end of the world, maybe, but are we sure she means this world?
43. Big River (Johnny Cash cover)
The Secret Sisters
When he hasn’t been sitting behind a drumkit with the Dead Weather, Jack White has been perched beside the production boards at his own Third Man Records. Fans longing for the old fiery guitarist need look no further than this cover though. White’s searing solos explode through your speakers, making us all the more antsy for him to get out from behind the kit.
42. Song to the Siren (Tim Buckley cover)
The Wailing Wall
After 11 years of Orthodox Jewish schooling, Jesse Rifkin began to doubt his faith. Perhaps that’s what makes his delivery of lines like “I’m as puzzled as a newborn child / I’m as riddled as the tide” so convincing. The existential doubt in Tim Buckley’s telling of the Odyssey takes the helm in this banjo-led cover. Rifkin sounds like he might smash against the rocks at any moment.
41. Baby (Justin Bieber cover)
Novelty covers of this one abound. Thought by many to be the most insipid – and ubiquitous – pop song of the year, “Baby” invites tongue-in-cheek interpretations. Maria McAteer’s gorgeous piano ballad carries no such chip on its shoulder. The Judy Garland-esq melodrama sounds all the more believable. If this is a joke, it’s one only she is in on.