Someone recently tweeted that they don’t like cover songs…. period.
A statement which seemed very puzzling to me. An equally broad generalization might be to suggest that lyrics are bad or melody sucks or that they really just not into rhythm.
The mere existence of cover songs shouldn’t be up for debate… there simply are good ones and bad ones.
Here are what I believe to be the best cover songs from this past year:
1) Tame Impala “Prototype (OutKast cover)”
This is the cover song from 2013 that easily clocked the most plays on my iTunes and brought the most smiles to my face. Pulled from a live session on Triple J radio in Australia, this track connects one of my most favorite band of recent years (Tame Impala) with one of my most favorite of all time (OutKast), blissfully melding the former’s spacey psychedelia with the latter’s quirky funk. One for the ages.
2) Charles Bradley “Changes (Black Sabbath cover)”
Charles Bradley is no stranger to this list (included in 2011 for his scorching cover of Nirvana’s “Stay Away”) and is quickly proving to be a master interpreter of song. Soulful, tortured and approached with the reverence of a gospel refrain, this inconceivably transforms Black Sabbath into something suitable for Sunday service.
3) Kronos Quartet, Kyp Malone, Tunde Adebimpe + Stuart Bogie “Sorrow Tears + Blood (Fela Kuti cover)”
In the second installment of tributes to the legendary Afrobeat master Fela Kuti, the Red Hot Organization reveals Fela’s material with a bit more of an unconventional & idiosyncratic approach. Members of Kronos Quartet, TV On the Radio & Antibalas present a string-driven, slow-burning & strangely beautiful take on one of Fela’s angriest anthems, keeping the tension and potency intact.
4) Fiona Apple “Pure Imagination (cover from ‘Willy Wonka’)”
This version of the Willy Wonka classic received a ton of attention this year, possibly as much for Fiona Apple’s sublime interpretation as the surreal Chipotle TV commercial for which it was conceived.
What begins full of wonderment slowly shifts into something unnerving & sinister, perhaps more in line with the tone of the 1971 film (which scared the bejeezus out of me as a child).
5) Unknown Mortal Orchestra “Swing Lo Magellan (Dirty Projectors cover)”
UMO churned out many a great cover song in 2013, so this could have gone a number of ways (Otis Redding’s “Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay”, Beck’s “Puttin’ It Down or a gorgeous acoustic take on their own “So Good at Being In Trouble”).
For anyone possibly turned off by David Longstreth’s off-key vocal delivery on the Dirty Projectors’ original, the simple, gentle falsetto on UMO’s “Swing Lo Magellan” affirms the song’s irresistible melody is one of the strongest and most memorable in recent years.
6) Daughn Gibson “Just Another Love (live on MBE)” (Tanya Tucker cover)”
Tanya Tucker’s rosey “Just Another Love” topped Billboard’s Hot Country Chart back in the 80’s, so it may seem an unlikely choice for the dark, brooding Daughn Gibson.
Performed live for MBE back in September, Gibson achingly croons alongside Tucker’s original vocal sample, like a despondent duet with the ghost of a long, lost lover.
7) Twin Shadow “Perfect Day (Lou Reed cover)”
Understandably, anytime you lose a musical icon like we did with Lou Reed back in October, there will follow a great many musical tributes, so there were an abundance of options for this list.
The one that nailed it most perfectly for me was Twin Shadow’s stark, skeletal version of Reed’s “Perfect Day“, which seemed to best encapsulate the sadness we all felt in the wake of his passing.
8) Franz Ferdinand “Oblivion (Grimes cover)”
Performed live for Oui FM in France, Franz Ferdinand tosses off a jaunty acoustic cover of Grimes “Oblivion”. If Grimes can be considered an acquired taste, this version gives the material a more traditional treatment, thereby providing an alternate testament to the unique strengths of her songwriting.
9) Feist feat. Timber Timbre “Don’t Give Up (Peter Gabriel cover)”
Peter Gabriel follows up his 2010 release of cover songs “Scratch My Back” by having some of his favorite artists return the favor and interpret his own catalog.
Despite strong inclusions from Bon Iver, Randy Newman and Paul Simon, I’ll go with the fragile, tender take on Gabriel’s duet with Kate Bush “Don’t Give Up” as performed by Feist & Timber Timbre, who flip gender duties from the original and turn in a stunner.
10) John Vanderslice “Juvenile Success aka Rebel Rebel (David Bowie cover)”
Although Vanderslice’s track-by-track recreation of Bowie’s 1974 LP “Diamond Dogs“ was only meant to be a bonus gift from his recent Kickstarter campaign, I’m thankful these impressive results lead to an official release.
The highlight is this spacey, shimmery, jazz-romp through “Rebel Rebel” which eventually launches itself somewhere just past the Milky Way.
And here are the next 10 Honorable Mentions:
One of the Boys “Big Star (Jayhawks cover)”
Nick Waterhouse “It #3 (Ty Segall cover)”
BONUS: COVER SONG MOST LIKELY SENT TO YOU BY YOUR AUNT
OK, so technically this was from a 2011 performance, but for some reason this video of Josh Weathers singing “I Will Always Love You” caught fire this year and really made the Facebook rounds… so it could be easy to dismiss. But you can’t deny how this guy crushes this song and your Mom’s heart (who probably first posted it for you) all in one fell swoop.
DOUBLE BONUS: COVER SONG MOST NEAR & DEAR TO MY HEART