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.