The Top 10 Cover Songs of My Lifetime (and 7 More I’d Like to See Before I Die)

Last year, I turned the big 2-3. I realize that my lifetime may not be the greatest period in music: I was born at the tail-end of Reagan’s presidency and I (somehow) survived the boy band craze. I’ve seen The White Stripes come and go; I’ve heard songs that have never been autotuned. But, one thing I’ve always enjoyed is a good cover song. Don’t get me wrong—I’m all about originality. However, there is something about an artist taking someone else’s song and making it his or her own—putting their own spin on things.

Here, I have a list of my personal favorite cover songs produced in my lifetime. In addition, I’ve made a list of seven more that I would like to see before I die.

Top 10 Cover Songs of My Lifetime

10. Florence + the Machine covers “Addicted to Love” by Robert Palmer

Florence takes this up-tempo pop number with its own crunch and softens it up just enough. It’s so fascinating to hear this song from a woman’s perspective—a transition from one sexy, talented musician to another.

9. Streetlight Manifesto covers “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard” by Paul Simon

Streetlight Manifesto somehow takes some sultry folk and turns it into some fast-past, raw ska-revival. The change from a minimal instrument number to a full-on ensemble works gloriously for this classic.

8. Gary Jules (with Michael Andrews) covers “Mad World” by Tears for Fears

I really like the Tears for Fears version, but I think the lyrics and the rhythm of the song find its home in Jules’ soft vocals and the haunting piano. I feel as if Jules’ version is the manner in which the song should have been written.

7. Nirvana covers “The Man Who Sold the World” by David Bowie

At first glance, Nirvana’s cover is eerily similar to Bowie’s versions—both are spectacular with an aura the surrounds the listener. But Nirvana somehow manages to make their version more gritty yet more gentle than the original.

6. Jeff Mangum covers “I Love How You Love Me” by The Paris Sisters

(Note: Mangum calls it a Phil Spector song because he produced it.) This slowed-down version of a Sixties pop icon is just so wonderful. Jeff puts his own little simplistic twist and tackles the soothing vocals of The Paris Sisters head on with his own incredible sound.

5. Iron & Wine covers “Love Vigilantes” by New Order

Beam really has his way with slowing down up-tempo numbers and truly making them his own. Given the content of this song, it seems as if it should be a piece of good ol’ American folk—so much is said with just Sam Beam and a guitar.

4. The White Stripes cover “Death Letter” by Son House

The White Stripes covered this blues staple for years, but this live version really shows how Jack and Meg took some of the most simple music in the 20th century and give it a punch from Detroit. Anyone who doubts Jack’s ability to play the blues needs to watch this and prepare to be amazed.

3. of Montreal covers “Fell in Love with a Girl” by The White Stripes

Every band thus far has put a little twist on the song. But the best thing about this cover is that it’s so close to the original. This song was made for of Montreal to cover, and Kevin Barnes’ voice was built for this song.

2. The Decemberists cover “Cuyahoga” by R.E.M.

The concept of folk-rock comes through gloriously in this live cover. No doubt that this was an homage to Peter Buck who produced The Decemberists’ last album, and I really think they do them justice here with this cover (and the addition of accordion is just too good to pass up).

1.  The Swell Season covers “Two-Headed Boy” by Neutral Milk Hotel

The original is phenomenal, and the Swell Season did the right thing by deconstructing the song (which was already so basic) and rebuilding it in a way that goes from two components (guitar and vocals) to six wonderfully-constructed components. The voices are matched perfectly to Mangum’s fabulous lyrics.

Seven Cover Songs I Would Like to Hear Before I Die
(in no particular order)

The Dead Weather cover “Monkey Gone to Heaven” by The Pixies

I think the sheer rawness of The Dead Weather combined with Alison Mossheart’s incredible vocal range would almost (but not quite) put the original to shame.

Feist covers “Black” by Pearl Jam

Anyone who saw St. Vincent’s god-awful cover of “Black” probably thinks that this Pearl Jam classic should be left alone. But I think Feist has both the vocals and musicianship to make this cover something great.

Childish Gambino covers “Mathematics” by Mos Def

Childish Gambino is (in my opinion) the only rapper who is hardcore and smooth enough to even attempt covering Mos Def. We know Gambino is amazing when it comes to remixes and samples, but can he keep up with Def? I think so.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs cover “The Metro” by Berlin

I purposely chose “Rich” as the artist sample because you can her “The Metro” buried deep inside there. I would love to see Karen O take the versatile vocals of Terri Nunn.

…And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead covers “Crooked Teeth” by Death Cab for Cutie

I would love to see “Crooked Teeth” get a raw reboot while still keeping its soul, and I think Trail of Dead can do that better than anyone else.

Ratatat covers “Glasgow Mega-Snake” by Mogwai

I don’t know how they would do it. I guess that’s why I want to see it done—just to see how Ratatat would manage to cover this song and making something danceable.

The Black Keys cover “Heartbreaker” by Led Zeppelin

Need I say more?

What are some of your favorite covers? What covers would you like to see? Do you agree with this list? Leave a comment below and let me know.

Beauty, as Observed in Egg Yolks

Viscous trails along the counter
from a violent break-away
and a sunspot on the surface;
she asks if it was alive—I tell her no.
“They’re organic; they’re never squeaky-clean.”

She thinks it’s blood or an eye
that blinked once before pasteurization.
All it saw was white—
not the light you see in movies
while the voice of God tells you
to come closer.

“They’re organic—they just have more…
...stuff.” She asks if I’m sure.
I say yes but I mean no.
I’ll just pretend I’m eating the sun.

The Wanderlust

The alleyways went up over the dead air,
dirt and mud clinging to the warehouses
while Chevys made jet streams in the air
over St. Antoine. All the warehouse grit
piling on the sidewalks nestled itself in the overgrown brush,
a mattress for the bruised egos once mighty
as the concrete pillars holding I-94 up above my head.

Under the bridge, glass meddles with stones and sand;
with the soles of worn-out shoes; with the feet
of those losing wanderlust. Around the corner,
the streetlights reek of bloodgasoline arteries
spewing fumes over the subtleness
of a fifty-eight-degree-day
in the middle of January.

The crunch settles in; the scraping holds us up
over the dead air.

The Top 50 Albums of 2011

Finally, I have completed my list of The Top 50 Albums of 2011. Rather than give a big song-and-dance like I did last year, I decided to just let the albums speak for themselves. Here they are, starting with #50:

50. James Blake – James Blake
49. Mates of State – Mountaintops
48. Smith Westerns - Dye if Blonde
47. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - Mirror Traffic
46. The War on Drugs - Slave Ambient
45. Deerhoof – Deerhoof vs. Evil
44. Wilco - The Whole Love
43. Atlas Sound – Parallax
42. PJ Harvey - Let England Shake
41. Ty Segall - Goodbye Bread
40. Cults - Cults
39. Wire - Red Barked Tree
38. Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost
37. Animals As Leaders – Weightless
36. Dawes - Nothing is Wrong
35. Eisley - The Valley
34. The Roots – Undun
33. Boy and Bear - Boy and Bear
32. Childish Gambino - Camp
31. Mogwai - Hardcore Will Never Die but You Will
30. EMA - Past Life Martyred Saints
29. Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring for my Halo
28. The Joy Formidable - The Big Roar
27. Jay-Z/Kanye West - Watch the Throne
26. Chris Bathgate - Salt Year
25. The Antlers - Burst Apart
24. Bon Iver - Bon Iver
23. Araab Muzik - Electronic Dream
22. Cass McCombs - Humor Risk
21. Yuck - Yuck
20. And So I Watch You From Afar – Gangs
19. The Feelies - Here Before
18. Dum Dum Girls - Only in Dreams
17. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Belong
16. The Head and the Heart – The Head and the Heart
15. Viva Voce - The Future Will Destroy You
14. Telekinesis - 12 Desperate Straight Lines
13. British Sea Power - Valhalla Dancehall
12. Beirut - The Rip Tide
11. The Dodos - No Color
10. Tapes ‘n Tapes - Outside
9. Radiohead - The King of Limbs
8. Lykke Li - Wounded Rhymes
7. Real Estate - Days
6. The Decemberists – The King is Dead
5. the Mountain Goats - All Eternals Deck
4. Feist – Metals
3. The Black Keys – El Camino
2. Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean
1. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

Agree? Disagree? Have any comments or questions? Feel free to leave a comment.


First, A Note

This is the first poem that I have written since going on "Poetic Hiatus" for the year 2011. I wrote this poem simply and unadorned with my usual haughtiness. I love this new style. I also love that Detroit has been such an inspiration to me. I hope you enjoy it.


Solitudo placet Muses; urbs inamacia poetis est.
—ad Horace

Come, Gray Tethered Skylines,
to the winter-bound Campus,
covered in black ice lit
with Christmas bulbs from our white pine.
Smoke bellows from our breaths
like the once-burning smokestacks
on New Center’s edge;
like the Princess as it chugged along the Detroit River
before it froze over.
The blistered hurricane between the buildings
is a thief jumping from the alleyways,
broken-hearted as the way the Midwest sulks
while yet another Winter takes his place
within the air; within our lungs,
piercing our pink-fleshy bodies once turned to stone.

The neon-light haze distorts the moon’s phases—
now full for all eternity while the GM emblem
outshines Polaris—
the RenCen is ever so luminous.

As Windsor fades from sight,
the ever-haunted sidewalks press on
to Woodward, Griswald, and Cass:
Jefferson snatches us; drags us slowly to the darkness
before the light that Birmingham shines
—the mild retrograde motion of a Father’s gold;
the beaming lace from saris;
the silver Lexus hood ornaments that light fires
in the burnt-out street lights:
Speramus meliora;
resurget cineribus.

Breast milk highways quench the throats
of the Starving and the Dead.

In a house, the Old Man told me
of the West Side; of trips up North
where the snow became lifeblood;
of skipping over thin ice while booming
like pistons and spark plugs from the assembly lines.
In a house, the Old Man remembered when
the log cabin held a hearth that lit the winter up
as a single lamp lights Russell
on my drive home.
In a house, the Old Man lets the photographs out to play—
a Packard, once pristine like the slick black ice,
now rusted-out, broken-down
like the Old Man’s lungs.
Speramus meliora;
resurget cineribus.

It all comes back to the round-about:

A fatuous cylinder going ‘round and ‘round,
spiraling up and down
until it spits you out onto Woodward;
through the high-rises, past the theaters—
flashing lights and limousines—
past the fast food signs and liquor stores
to the ghost-town factories;
north & north & north some more
through Midtown where but one collective mind throbs,
scratching itself for a spark;
to Highland Park,
a flat-lined homeless man
that kicks and strains for one more sip of water;
Ferndale, alter for the sons of those unemployed;
Royal Oak, sipping sweat like wine;
Birmingham and Troy:
Fluorescent halos for the dead angels.

An infinite oval, the tracks go ‘round and ‘round:
the dead-end cycle of single-track dreams;
The People Mover carries them all where they need to go.
With tokens in our pockets, everyone’s the same;
everyone’s a tin can particle;
a Troy can live in the Digs.
Speramus meliora;
resurget cineribus.