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I suppose, per tradition, I’ll just run off some random thoughts re: the year in covers but first and foremost: I just couldn’t get a handle on 2022!
Not sure what else to say… I ran through #50-25 on this list dozens of times with another 80ish songs in full contention, including the honorable mentions below. Plenty of serviceably enjoyable things from the likes of Aquarium Drunkard or SiriusXM, or even artist Substacks (shouts to Kevin Morby’s perhaps offline forever take on “Swingin’ Party”). But when crunch time came, some of the gaudy and loud spectacles won out.
Still, I just couldn’t get my finger on the pulse of the year… Is this year a bit top-heavy looking at the list? Perhaps. I knew the top 20 or so right away. But a lot of covers that didn’t make this list fell into that good-if-unmemorable space. Case in point: An entire Sleater-Kinney covers record and not one that jumped off the tracklist? A dozen Wet Leg-adjacent takes, most of which didn’t land? Yet another year with multiple St. Vincent and Lucy Dacus covers? The most talked about pop culture points landed short for me.
As usual, there are a few important caveats to this list. First, I don’t include live recordings (unless officially released and professionally recorded), nor did I include any live streams—although those were few and far between this year. And anything that largely isn’t overly accessible online wasn’t considered—nothing behind a paywall (see: Amazon) and I only allow Spotify Singles because those can, technically, be heard for free. Anyway, those notes out of the way, here’s the list!
50. Skatune Network
I’m going to use this first slot to just shout out a body of work. The only reason Skatune Network has never been shouted out here is, quite frankly, it’s an overwhelming body of work—it’s already a lot to ingest 200-250 covers per year and boil this list down, I can’t fathom only paying attention to one artist putting out 35-40 covers themselves every year. But that’s just what JER is doing: Converting a new generation to the magic of Ska, one cover at a time. From the YOSHI’S STORY theme to Fall Out Boy to, yes, Harry Styles, it was another banner year of finding various touchstone songs to have conversations around ska’s deep, rich history.
49. “Beds Are Burning” (Midnight Oil cover) by AWOLNATION (feat. Rise Against)
Look, I’m as shocked as you are about this. But if you want a bigger shock, quite a few of the covers on AWOLNATION’s MY ECHO, MY SHADOW, MY COVERS & ME are, if not pretty good, at least pretty interesting. And to clarify, yes, I remain shocked. Of the tracklist, admittedly, “Beds Are Burning” doesn’t take much imagination to see how it would work for the band if you’re passively familiar with their sound (even if it’s against your will). Alongside Tim McIlrath of Rise Against, AWOLNATION turned Midnight Oil’s already huge sounding classic into a bloated Oingo Boingo-y camp fest. With a slightly more industrial–even goth–edge, the locked-in groove is impressively over the top and zany. The whole tracklist is filled with punchline pop acts that indie fans are rightfully dubious of (Incubus, Hanson, even Beck), and that goes doubly for the hoaky song selection (“Eye in the Sky,” “Material Girl,” “Winds of Change,” a movie trailer-fied “Flagpole Sitta”). It feels like a troll move… And yet, even if it is, I tip my cap at the bizzaro commitment.
48. “Ballad Of Big Nothing” (Elliott Smith Cover) by I Believe In You
There are quite a few great covers on the charity compilation EVERYBODY CARES, EVERYBODY UNDERSTANDS: A TRIBUTE TO ELLIOTT SMITH, but I love the ramshackled take on “Ballad of Big Nothing” by I Believe In You. What opens as a straightforward acoustic guitar jam quickly devolves into a chaotic, lo-fi send up of Smith’s songwriting. Just the falling-apart nature of it makes it more “fun” than the original, which certainly tends to be a fitting direction to push Smith’s often gloomy music into. Give the whole collection a spin, but earmark I Believe In You for future listens.
47. “This Charming Man” (The Smiths Cover) by Two Minutes To Late Night (feat. David Wain, Thursday, My Chemical Romance, & PUP)
Two Minutes To Late Night frequently deserves a shout out in this column—with Mutoid Man as the house band and a wide breadth of hardcore, pop punk, and metal ties, they deliver a host of delightful covers every year. Featuring members of Thursday, MCR, PUP, and comedian and improviser David Wain, this cover of “This Charming Man” is as straightforward as they come, an almost active rock drive to one of indie rock’s most important staples. As with any of the Two Minutes To Late Night covers, interpretation and musical prowess take a back seat to asking the question, “Was that fun?” In this case, the answer is extremely.
46. “Smoko” (The Chats Cover) by Wet Leg
You don’t become 2022’s buzziest indie rock band without covering a half-dozen songs along the way, apparently. It was a big year for Wet Leg in covers… And that doesn’t even include 2022’s other buzziest star, Harry Styles, covering them. In an extremely PR-y play meant to curry favor with a Down Under audience, the band covering the Chats for triple j’s Like A Version should (and kind of does) feel trite in theory. But also their slick, zero energy version flies in the face of everything about The Chats (who have one of 2022’s best punk albums, by the way), who are loud, brash, and all the way off-kilter. The “Daisy,” “Psycho Killer,” and “Bad Habit” covers I can genuinely take or leave, but it was a big year for the band and their “Smoko” cover brings something new to the table.
45. “Black Magic Woman” (Santana Cover) by Tierra Whack
Can’t quite tell who the MINIONS: THE RISE OF GRU OST is for, and I won’t ever see the movie to find out. The tracklist frequently instills a sense of blasé comfort, the kind of thing that’s more fun to look at on a piece of paper and think about than actually listen to. Thundercat doing Steve Miller? Weyes Blood doing Linda Ronstat? Like, fine. Everything about it is just too slick—there are TWO different covers of “Bang Bang” on this thing, and it’s literally the same production on both, but they changed out the singers. Tierra Whack’s singular presence and strange vocals are just out there enough to elevate this cover of “Black Magic Woman” into something more than the sum of its parts—it eventually fades into scratch vocals and pulsating ambiance, which is messier and more interesting than most of these Jack Antonoff-produced covers.
44. “We’ve Had Enough” (Alkaline Trio Cover) by Spanish Love Songs
Coming from a compilation released by Pure Noise Records that saw their roster of artists taking on seminal ‘90s and 2000s emo, pop punk, and hardcore songs, I’m drawn towards Spanish Love Songs for a few reasons. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a deep roster of great covers on this thing: Elder Brother doing “Welcome To The Black Parade” and The Dirty Nil doing “Filler” are worth a shout, plus Hawthorne Heights doing Eve 6’s “Inside Out” is funny in a “Wait, why is that there?” kind of way. Spanish Love Songs are bringing forward arguably one of the more straightforward covers on this release—most artists focused on grunge-ing up clean pop production, or altogether bringing a muscular punk edge where it likely didn’t exist before. This cover, in particular, is subtly bringing that energy, but it’s indiscernible outside of the vocals mostly. It’s as hook-focused as the original Alkaline Trio song, mirroring everything down to the infectious yells in the background. It feels like (maybe especially now that Matt Skiba is out of blink-182) the scene is ready for an Alkaline Trio renaissance, and this could be the first shot fired in that revolution.
43. “Further” (TOPS Cover) by Blue Hawaii and Edwin de Goeij
To celebrate Arbutus Records’ 10th anniversary, the vibey Canadian label released a fun tape of their own artists covering each other. Rightfully, a popular source of inspiration seemed to be TOPS, one of the great soft rock bands of the last decade. The Blue Hawaii and Edwin de Goeij take on SUGAR AT THE GATE cut “Further” is exactly what you’d probably think—a sparse house interpretation of it with groovy vocals and a slight build. While one of the more niche covers on this list, it’s proof of concept that both Blue Hawaii and TOPS should be household names.
42. “Closer” (Nine Inch Nails Cover) by Jehnny Beth
Sometimes it’s as simple as seeing a gender flip, and it’s hard to think of a better artist than Jehnny Beth to take on Trent Reznor. From the immediate clap of those drum pads on, the production unfolds as, naturally, a bit more precise and clear-sounding on Beth’s version of “Closer.” The submissive BDSM groveling pings more clearly than it ever does in Nine Inch Nails’ original. But Beth lets the whole thing breathe in a refreshingly sexual way nonetheless, and it’s the update to this song we’ve been waiting for someone to do for some time.
41. “Loser” (Beck Cover) by Jagged Baptist Club
If you boiled down Beck’s immortal hit “Loser” to just a snarling 90-second SST-style blitz, it would sound something like this Jagged Baptist Club cover, which is loose and fire-spitting. Amidst its shagginess is something thoughtful and calculated—this is far more intentional than simply turning Beck “punk” like some kind of compilation throwaway. The Los Angeles four-piece have a raucous live show that ebbs and flows between furious punk tunes like this and more relentless art rock jams, and having Beck be a regular cover in the rotation is a good idea.
40. “The Story” (Brandi Carlile Cover) by Japanese Breakfast
Outside of, say, The Rolling Stones, you don’t often see an artist go on Saturday Night Live—the mountain top of late night TV appearances for a band or artist—and play a legacy song. But a few weeks ago, that’s exactly what Michelle Zauner did, jumping into the 15-year-old modern power ballad with earth-shattering gusto. It’s an instantly gratifying song, one that would be rightfully hard to cover. Japanese Breakfast’s cover isn’t so much a Japanese Breakfast cover as it is a Michelle Zauner cover, the bombastic indie pop appeal and production both nonexistent. But that works to Zauner’s favor, as a bed of strings and her earnest, warm approach to Carlile’s unparalleled performance make for a teary and beautiful pivot to one of the best songs of the last 20 years.
39. “All I Wanted” (Michelle Branch Cover) by Alex G
Alex G covers “All I Wanted” as though he kind of secretly hates it. But just kind of. Instantly, it reminds me of Cursive and Cymbals Eat Guitars covering a different Arizona artist, the Gin Blossoms, where it certainly feels like they kinda hate the song and the band and everything about what the sound and era represented. It’s irony poisoning, in a fun way. We don’t have the same kind of context around this Michelle Branch cover—just Alex G and his band noodling around a fairly esoteric sounding acoustic interpretation where his vocals are sometimes intentionally off-key. It’s an extremely Alex G cover, and whether he hates covering it or just loved making one of the great radio hits of the early 2000s as obtuse as possible, it’s worthy of highlighting.
38. “Circles” (Post Malone Cover) by Sheryl Crow
The best pop songs will sound good in any genre, a time-tested theory that is proven on this list (and others like it) year after year. In a world where Post Malone has covered Hootie & The Blowfish, Sheryl Crow covering “Circles” isn’t so many steps removed from the source material maybe, but make no mistake: “Circles” is a perfect song, and Crow’s post-grunge alt-radio sheen on it totally works in a way where you can envision it riding the airwaves of your local ‘80s, ‘90s, and Today mix station in 2005. She’s not doing anything you can’t hear in your mind’s eye—it’s what it says, Sheryl Crow covering “Circles,” and in all its ramshackled pop glory it works.
37. “Gimme Some Truth” (John Lennon Cover) by Militarie Gun
Certainly among John Lennon’s most straightforwardly angry songs, protest cut “Gimme Some Truth” has a vicious bite to it lyrically. Militarie Gun, who have had themselves a nice 2022, signing to Loma Vista and releasing a deluxe version of the excellent double EP ALL ROADS LEAD TO THE GUN, aren’t the most obvious artist to take on IMAGINE’s blurry musical palette. But in practice the blunt force vocalist Ian Shelton puts to Lennon’s prose only reinforces and reinvigorates that decades-old anger. I’m not sure how well “Jealous Guy” or “Oh My Love” would work in the band’s hands, but the phrase “money for rope” alone just fits in Shelton’s mouth so perfectly that I’m willing to hear Militarie Gun out if they want to try either song.
36. “PDA” (Interpol Cover) by Rid of Me
Philly noise rockers Rid of Me had an ear turning covers year, taking on Shellac, Nirvana, Deftones, AND Interpol in 2022, each worthy of placement on this list. For my money, their take on the TURN ON THE BRIGHT LIGHTS classic “PDA” is the one to highlight—Itarya Rosenberg’s vocals earnestly strip away Paul Banks’ swagged-out coolness and instead feel immediate and desperate. All things considered, it’s a fairly faithful take on the track, especially given you don’t need to add a ton more fuzz to push the original into Rid of Me’s range. But it’s that extra oomph that gives us such an explosive finale.
35. “Rid Of Me” (PJ Harvey Cover) by Nilüfer Yanya
Hard to think of an artist better equipped to nail the breathy opening of PJ Harvey’s immortal “Rid Of Me” than Nilüfer Yanya. And while the obvious question was never Yanya’s abilities to land the opening of the track (she, of course, does), it’s the original’s descending spitfire fury that, on paper, could be the holdback from something great. And yet she holds her own—the clamorous close reverberating perhaps at a higher frequency than Harvey’s garage-y noise rock finish, but a decidedly loud and finite close nonetheless.
34. “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” (R.E.M. Cover) by Water From Your Eyes
Lots to love on Under the Radar’s cover release—good stuff from Nation of Language, EMA, Alex Lahey, and Oceanator, among others. But for me, Water From Your Eyes comes out the winner. Their twee take on R.E.M.’s wordy megahit lands somewhere between detached irony and painstaking celebration. Throw some penny whistles and video game sound effects, and it’s both taking the piss out of a beloved college rock radio staple and in love with the stream-of-consciousness nature of it. To hear something musically try and match the breakneck, wordy relentlessness of the original is fun and exhausting in equal measure, and worth playlisting if for no other reason than to get your friends to go “What is this?” in the car.
33. “Quicksilver Daydreams of Maria” (Townes Van Zandt Cover) by Marissa Nadler
Opening the third in Neurot Recordings’ SONGS OF TOWNES VAN ZANDT series, Marissa Nadler brings her dark magic to one of Van Zandt’s most longing and notable ballads. As she’s been known to do for nearly two decades now, she slows things down to a mystifying quiver, the celestial hum behind Nadler’s echoing vocals revealing it as a New Testament hymn. Anything Nadler covers is likely to be eligible for high placement on this list, as her unique, haunting approach is almost always extremely tasteful, but TVZ in particular is a dizzying, understated display.
32. “Weird Fishes / Arpeggi” (Radiohead Cover) by Rodrigo y Gabriela
I’ve written plenty on my love for “Weird Fishes / Arpeggi” in this very column year-to-year, so at some point you’d be right to ask yourself if I’ll put literally any cover of the song on this list regardless of quality (The answer? Maybe!). But I promise you, Rodrigo y Gabriela giving the IN RAINBOWS cut the ole Rodrigo y Gabriela makeover is just as percussive and spirited as you’d imagine it would be. The mind doesn’t have to go far to understand how Gabriela Quintero’s insane guitar playing could melt faces with this song, and melt faces she does. Until we get another “Weird Fishes / Arpeggi” cover next year, I’ll sign off for now.
31. “History Lesson Part 2” (Minutemen Cover) by Horsegirl
Horsegirl’s debut VERSIONS OF MODERN PERFORMANCE polarized reviewers this year, some saying the young Chicago indie rockers breathed youthful life into the no-wave adjacent punk rock of Sonic Youth, while others argued it was perhaps a bit derivative for such a new band. I’m not here to engage in any of that, but their version of “History Lesson Part 2” is certainly somewhere in the middle of that discourse, even if Minutemen are probably one step further removed from the sounds they’re mining on MODERN PERFORMANCE. The cover keeps the art school cool of the band’s sound intact—that’s an effective strategy, and all the better as I’m not sure Horsegirl has the kind of goofy, “aw-shucks” capacity that D. Boon so brilliantly displays in the original. Naturally, Horsegirl’s version is deeper sounding, flaunting a heavy roundness to the drums and the guitar tone that make it feel heavier. It can’t scratch the levity and proseful delivery of the original but its existence is fun and, for this cover, that’s enough.
30. “Everybody’s Talkin’” (Fred Neil Cover) by Mal
I had the delight of seeing Mal open for Skullcrusher in Los Angeles this past November. Their album CONTINUOUS SHORT FEATURE FILM acts as just that, a mind’s-eye movie score that plays with sound and non-linear visuals. Just beyond a few really standout singles like “Sports” and “Oven” stands a cover of the Harry Nilsson-by-way-of-Fred Neil classic “Everybody’s Talkin’,” a chilling and dreamlike interpretation that certainly feels like the kind of odd sync at the end of an odd movie. The radar-like synthesizers make for a slow motion sound, the hopefulness of Nilsson’s version now just a surreal fog. You get a sense Mal could do this to nearly any song, making their decision to take on this track all the more compelling. Your reminder as well that while Neil’s version is less famous, it is arguably the best version. Sorry Harry.
29. “Storms” (Fleetwood Mac Cover) by Phosphorescent
Matthew Houck has spent the whole year releasing one cover each month, tackling mostly big classic rock staples ranging from Bob Dylan to the Rolling Stones to Lucinda Williams. Some of them have been decidedly stripped-down, just Houck and his guitar. And others, like his version of Fleetwood Mac’s “Storms,” are loungy Phosphorescent songs in the best way possible. Houcks voice, always a damaged, but beautiful vessel for heartbreak, just fuses onto Stevie Nicks’ words and it’s a port in the—well, you get it.
28. “Heroes” (Dub Version) (David Bowie Cover) by Ibibio Sound Machine
Both the standard production and the dub versions of this cover are a real treat—the tinny chug of Ibibio Sound Machine’s Bowie cover in the standard is infectious in its own right. But for my money, the dub version (which isn’t really all that different, honestly) has an extra layer to get lost in, the distant haziness of the backing guitar almost The Edge-esque in its ramp-up. It’s amazing to hear the pageantry of Bowie’s original stripped in favor of something so grounded, and what results is moody and refreshing.
27. “Heaven” (Bryan Adams Cover) by Confidence Man
Confidence Man are having quite the year. The great Aussie live act have begun breaking well beyond their home market with the excellent single “Holiday,” and will likely continue to convert festival audiences next year. We can only hope their take on DJ Sammy’s take on Bryan Adams’ “Heaven” slips into the live sets. The whole thing gets a bit lost in the sauce—a cover of a specific cover, fun to see. But, as with DJ Sammy’s take, to hear one of the great power ballads of all time turned into a Europop-style banger is remarkable. With its slight (slight) indie rock edge, it’s the kind of cover that’s so good it rewires a part of your brain, making you contemplate a past where the song had a second life in late-‘90s clubs. Confidence Man’s singles on the most recent album are great, and this is a nice palate cleanser to a big year for them.
26. “Everytime” (Britney Spears Cover) by Ethel Cain
Like many wandering the digital halls of Merry-Go-Round Magazine, I am a fan of Ethel Cain and her tremendous debut PREACHER’S DAUGHTER. Her take on “Everytime,” Britney Spears’ singular and often covered ballad, is hand-in-glove kinda stuff. Cain’s music is already powerfully subverting the pop music that’s helped build up modern American idealism, and hearing one of the country’s biggest pop stars’ biggest songs delivered with an unparalleled depth of emotion is richly rewarding. Cain’s fans are the types who will now expect her to do this level of pop for every cover she does going forward and I think that’s a mistake, but, with that said, if she can start working on a studio version of that Switchfoot cover she’s been performing live, maybe we’ll see her back on this list in 2024.
25. “I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)” (Stevie Wonder Cover) by Father John Misty
There are two basic ideas within the Father John Misty character: The saccharine lover, and the witty cultural commentator. And even if we’ve now seen him tap into the former far more regularly throughout his career than the latter, Josh Tillman’s detached irony as Father John Misty on PURE COMEDY–and that era in general–has colored his persona. Even this year’s CHLOË AND THE NEXT 20TH CENTURY, a record with plenty of wit, is harkening back to a more traditional form of pop music with undertones of big band, swing, and Hollywood orchestras, and in doing so feels hopeful—not cynical. Still though, you can’t help but immediately sense that cynicism when you hear Tillman’s voice on a new song, which is perhaps what makes his decision to cover “I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)” such a fascinating one. The original, the closing track off of 1972’s TALKING BOOK, is about as earnest as Stevie Wonder comes, a heart-thumping love song of the highest order. Tillman’s voice is, arguably, as strong on this cover as it is on any of the arrangements on CHLOË, tapping into his inner Wonder and playing as far back to the room as he can. The arrangements, which fit the Nillson-esque arrangements on this year’s record, similarly draw out a studio musical component that Wonder’s sweetly funk lacks. Even with his previous Spotify single, 2018’s version of “Everything Is Free,” it takes a listen or two to appreciate his dedication to the artistry and not think it’s a bit of some kind. But after one or two listens, it reveals itself to be really just that heartening.
24. “End of the Line” (Traveling Wilburys Cover) by Dr. John (feat. Aaron Nevil)
Even if it’s strictly not a full-on covers album, as it features a few excellent posthumous originals, Dr. John’s THINGS HAPPEN THAT WAY would be getting my vote for best covers album of the year. The legendary New Orleans voice takes on Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, and even the 1968 version of himself, on a thrillingly psychedelic compilation that captures his shaman-esque energy. If his update to “I Walk On Guilded Splinters” with Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real wasn’t enough to propel his legend, his version of the Traveling Wilburys’ hit “End of the Line” should do the trick. It’s a brassy Bourbon Street vibe, with Aaron Nevil and relative newcomer Katie Pruitt jumping in to provide a bit of cool coloring to Dr. John’s dirty, swinging bravado. He may have called in some great support, but rest assured he could’ve done what it took four men to do on the original.
PS: Since I don’t know where else I would say this, there should be an “End of the Line” Project just like there was a “Walk Of Life” Project. Thanks.
23. “Why Does It Always Rain On Me?” (Travis Cover) by Gang of Youths
It was a great outing for Gang of Youths covers this year—their waking dream take on Wilco’s immortal “Shot In The Arm” for XMU was decidedly in contention for the main list. But when Gang of Youths go to triple j for a cover, they almost always mean business (and they’ve gone to triple j for Like A Version a LOT). Choosing to cover Travis’s adult contemporary breakthrough “Why Does It Always Rain On Me?” feels inspired, although I suppose I only think that because they’re a band that live exclusively on 2000s romcom soundtracks in my mind. A full section of strings bolster the largely stripped down interpretation, but David Le’aupepe’s vocals also remind you that in a different generation, he wouldn’t be in a popular indie rock band, he’d be exactly where Travis were in the early 2000s, nailing elevated major label coffee shop rock next to the likes of Ben Kweller or Ben Lee or Ben Folds. I don’t mean that dismissively—if anything, it’s fascinating to hear this Travis cover and realize that his smoothly powerful performance on “the angel of 8th ave.” exists at the other end of his frontman talents. Get you a man who can do both.
22. “Pink Moon” (Nick Drake cover) by Valerie June
Just transforming the song from a finger-picked guitar standard to a piano part would’ve been enough to make you turn your ear, but Valerie June’s uniquely dulcet tones and the delicately layered vocal production push Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon” into new, colorful territory. Smartly, June isn’t fighting the dreamlike qualities that make Drake’s original such a perfect song. If anything, the quiet gallop of the drums and piano transform the dream entirely into something even more comforting.
21. “Feeling Like I Do” (Superdrag Cover) by Snail Mail
It’s nowhere near as dramatic as the band name would ironically imply, but Snail Mail just slightly slowing down Superdrag’s tremendous turn-of-the-decade college rock holdover anthem re-introduces the song brilliantly. Despite being quite a bit shorter than the 2002 original, Lindsey Jordan’s update accentuates the slacker components that informed Superdrag’s post-grunge tone in the first place. The hooks are more subdued, the tempo a tick slower, and Jordan’s performance far more blasé; we’re due for a Superdrag reassessment, and given how much grunge is being mined right now, I’m sure college rock is up next.
20. “Summertime Rolls” (Jane’s Addiction Cover) by Leon III
Already purveyors of heady, smoked out country rock and psychedelic jamming, Leon III’s decision to amplify those exact genre elements of Jane’s Addiction’s “Summertime Rolls” bring a refreshed sheen to the NOTHING’S SHOCKING deep cut. On release, there were allegedly some people saying they’d never heard of Jane’s Addiction before—which feels insane. But more power to them for learning about the band via this cover, which fits just so squarely in what Leon III have done well up to this point on both their self-titled debut and on the world-beating ANTLERS IN VELVET. There are those hazy, stoned moments on NOTHING’S SHOCKING, but “Summertime Rolls” really is a ‘what if’ sliding doors song for that band, a vision for a different, jammier and smokier version of the band. Leon III might be the answer to that what if.
19. “Off You” (The Breeders Cover) by Tunde Adebimpe
Kim Deal’s vocals live in my head at all times, specifically those from TITLE TK’s first single, “Off You.” Tunde Adebimpe’s homespun six-minute take on The Breeders’ enduring ballad has all the quivering beauty of the original. His work with TV on the Radio rarely puts such an onus on his actual voice—although fittingly I suppose the same could be argued about large swaths of Deal’s work with The Breeders too. Adebimpe’s take becomes largely an acapella round, his voice layering over ambient keys. Like the original, it’s fairly stagnant in its beauty, and it makes you wish we had more solo work from the often reclusive Adebimpe.
18. “Quiet” (Smashing Pumpkins Cover) by Primitive Man
Billy Corgan’s guitar never sounds angrier on SIAMESE DREAM than on “Quiet,” a pissed-off cut about his parents that begins its chorus with “Be ashamed / Of the mess you’ve made.” Given his love of metal and slow moving, low-end guitar tones, Corgan would no doubt love Denver, CO doom metal purveyors Primitive Man and their take on the track. It unfolds as a glacially moving wall of noise that dyspeptically pulls apart the original until there is nothing left. The guttural moments of catharsis that lie within are perhaps less sharp and snide than the Pumpkins’ take, but are satisfying in their bubbling rage nonetheless.
17. “Steal My Sunshine” (LEN Cover) by The Goon Sax
It’s odd now to realize The Goon Sax’s cover of “Steal My Sunshine” was their swan song—less than three months after its release, the Australian critical darlings hung it all up. But, what a way to go out. A cover that constantly feels like it’s about to fold in on itself and disappear, the interplay between Riley Jones and Louis Forster is fascinating, as though Forster is keeping the song above water while Jones is trying to drown it. It is, in its own way, lifeless, and yet you can’t look away. It’s a strategy that doesn’t work nine out of 10 times, but on the 10th time, it works famously.
16. “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” (Golden Gate Quartet Cover) by John Grant
“God’s Gonna Cut You Down” has existed in many forms over the last 75+ years, perhaps most notably via Johnny Cash. Like the Confidence Man track (See: #25), John Grant’s cover is something of a cover of a cover—he specifically was basing it around the Man in Black’s formidable Rick Rubin-produced track. But what unfolds is much richer in production than Cash’s stark original, a full choir coming in to support the tickled keys and Grant’s steady baritone. The striking finale alone boldly puts Grant’s fresh take in contention with Cash for the de facto best version in general, which is no small task.
16. “Pumped Up Kicks” (Foster the People Cover) by John Murphy & Ralph Saenz
In a better-than-it-has-nearly-any-right-to-be kind of way, PEACEMAKER was one of the early surprises of 2022—one of a few compelling no-holds-barred big budget TV shows playing with notable franchise IP and the slow creep of global fascism we all just live through daily. How successfully (or sloppily) it’s doing that is certainly up for debate, but creatively speaking there are a number of pretty remarkably fun things about it, chief among them the music supervision. A remarkable repository of hair metal deep cuts, oddities, and forgotten singles, the show week to week was a masterclass in exploring tone without sacrificing how much music can be central to character development, worldbuilding, and thesis. And look: My Spotify Wrapped didn’t have The Quireboys’ forgotten single “I Don’t Love You Anymore” by accident. I’ll let all that speak for this version of “Pumped Up Kicks” from the show’s soundtrack—I shouldn’t need to say more. It’s a hair metal’ized take on Foster the People’s breakout single, and it fucking rules.
14. “Transmission” (Joy Division Cover) by Vision Video
“Transmission” is already one of the more frantic and anxious songs in Joy Division’s admittedly brief catalog, so it’s kind of amazing to hear something even more stressed. Vision Video throws the cover right in the middle of their latest album, HAUNTED HOURS (read more about that decision here), and it’s quite a way to end Side A. The runaway train drumming of Stephen Morris becomes a template for every instrument on Vision Video’s interpretation, and frontman Dusty Gannon’s spirited vocal performance teeters on desperation and determination. If you’re a loud self-proclaimed goth taking on Joy Division, you’re likely doing a high wire balancing act that is often destined to fail and read as parody, but Vision Video never waiver with one of the best covers of the year.
13. “The Sign” (Ace of Base Cover) by Peach Kelli Pop
Peach Kelli Pop blessed us with a fun three-song covers EP earlier in the year cheekily titled HARDCOVERS. The Alice Deejay take is the one that seems to have traveled farther and wider than the others, but give me this absolutely filthy power pop Ace of Base cut every time. Simply put, it’s a turbocharged rock version of the original, a healthy amount of sugar and pixie dust propelling Allie Hanlon’s vocals and sprightly guitar playing. But to go even further I think the best way to describe it would be to say it’s soundtracking an entirely different kind of pool party than the original (which itself is a staple of pool parties everywhere from the summer of 1994 onwards). And no offense to Ace of Base, but this is a pool party I’d much rather be at.
12. “Willow’s Song” (Paul Giovanni Cover) by Katy J Pearson
Katy J Pearson isn’t the first to cover “Willow’s Song,” the magnetic Paul Giovanni tune that plays during a crucial dreamlike daze in the 1973 film THE WICKER MAN—like the Go! Team and Doves before her, the track is fittingly a cult like siren song for those who know and love the folk horror classic. Pearson’s distinct vocals and avalanching production build into something finite and awe inspiring as the closer to her excellent 2022 album SOUND OF THE MORNING. For most, Pearson’s trumpeting blitz will never read as a cover. But it’s a testament to the song selection and how well that track fits amongst the rest of the album that the cover feels original in the moment. She strikes the match and lets the wicker man burn, and it’s glorious.
11. “Love Story” (Taylor Swift Cover) by black midi
Last year, this list featured muscular and timely art rock covers from Squid and Black Country New Road that felt of a moment. I would absolutely throw their peers black midi and their Taylor Swift cover into that same category. The Clarence Clemons-level sax soloing does give the whole thing a fascinating Bruce Springsteen undertone, bringing the kind of arena rock magnetism that not only feels even out of black midi’s league somewhat, but certainly feels out of Taylor’s league in that era of her career. The Eras tour will no doubt be a great chance to see her entirely re-shape how big her music can sound, but if she wanted to take some cues out of any playbook, studying the size and scope of this cover would be a good place to start.
10. “Cool” (Gwen Stefani Cover) by Sobs
Singapore-based trio Sobs put out one of the best albums of the year, the criminally underheard AIR GUITAR. The whole album is a slick mix of breezy pop rock built to soundtrack a yet-to-be-released 2000s coming-of-age teen comedy—listen to “Friday Night” and you’ll agree it sits next to “Percolator” by Charly Bliss in the list of songs that could be performed by the fictional band Pink Slip from the remake of FREAKY FRIDAY. The whole album is remarkably satisfying, with in-and-out hooks that cut to the quick and a universality to the songwriting. Those components, of course, make their cover of Gwen Stefanie’s “Cool” all the more appropriate, giving a throwback guitar bend to one of her biggest pop hits. If “Cool” had served as a larger sonic thesis to the album, you wouldn’t have blinked at all, and hearing it manifest in particular as a bonus track is wish fulfillment at its best.
9. “Chained To The Rhythm” (Katy Perry Cover) by Amythyst Kiah
There are a lot of things that should sadden you out about “Chained To The Rhythm”—the fact that you know Hilary Clinton knows all the words is unfortunate, but the album artwork of WITNESS and the fact that for some reason Hot Chip did an official remix of it are also kind of a bummer to think about. But, beyond all those details, “Chained To The Rhythm” is actually… kind of fun? Maybe one of the last decent Katy Perry singles? Amythyst Kiah can’t entirely erase some of the clunky phrasings of the original, but she turns it into a modern blues slow burn and that quite frankly erases most of the shortcomings of the original. Kiah’s vocals turn water into wine, and the swampy alt-rock guitar tones give the song a pop-turning, Black Keys quality. It’s an entirely new song (for the best).
8. “Heard It Through The Grapevine” (Marvin Gaye Cover) by Isaac Brock
More than most, Modest Mouse have the musical pedigree and sonic distinction to be able to churn out some truly unique covers, and yet it’s a power they’ve never truly flexed like they could—how they’ve made it through two decades of radio appearances, blog requests, and compilation assemblies without a notable one to their name is impressive, if not a bit infuriating given the potential. This cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Heard It Through The Grapevine” is just attributed to Isaac Brock, but at this point it may as well be a Modest Mouse cover. Brought to us via the soundtrack for the claymation documentary CLAYDREAM, it has a lot of the dark, funky, circus tent energy of Modest Mouse’s more recent albums—with a bit of The Slits’ equally groovy take as the backbone. Let this random oddity serve as proof of concept that more (or frankly just any) Modest Mouse covers would be a good thing.
7. “Buffalo Stance” (Neneh Cherry Cover) by Robyn (feat. Mapei)
A re-work with the original artist’s direct oversight, the inclusion of Robyn’s version of “Buffalo Stance” on this list is admittedly blurring the line a bit between what a cover is and isn’t, but rules are meant to be broken. The production on Neneh Cherry’s original feels not just timeless, but essential to understanding what modern pop music sounds like—both Robyn and Dev Hynes included. The Hynes produced re-interpretation smooths the edges of the original’s metallic club sheen, and amplifies the track’s importance in the modern pop radio cannon.
6. “Let Down” (Radiohead Cover) by Mini Trees
“Let Down” may not be the Radiohead song that went viral on TikTok this year—that honor went to the equally enrapturing and devastating ballad “No Surprises”—but it is the best song on OK COMPUTER. It fittingly saw two covers this year, a good country lite take from Pinegrove and this stunning, slow-chugging cover from Mini Trees. I wrote a bit last year about Lexi Vega’s messy, complex, and delightful “living room pop,” and she brings that hurried and hypnotic energy to the stoically beautiful original. It begins quiet and starkly minimalist and concludes like the best Mini Trees songs: Fuzzy, dizzying, and altogether spellbinding.
5. “Pull Up” (ABRA Cover) by Iceage
ABRA is likely most known at this point for her feature on Bad Bunny’s “SORRY PAPI.” That track may only be a footnote in the global pop star’s career, but it was a sizable co-sign for a rising Atlanta rap phenom. Beyond the pop sphere, ABRA’s sparse R&B has really followed the anticipated trajectory after she had viral success in the middle of the 2010s with tracks like “Fruit” and “Pull Up.” Why Danish punk rockers Iceage would decide to go head on in covering it is beyond me, but it certainly adds a fierceness and edge to an otherwise sparse Gen Z house party groove.
4. “Against The Wind” (Bob Seger Cover) by Cat Power
Chan Marshall has forever known how to body a cover—there’s certainly an argument to be made that she’s one of the greatest cover artists of all time. On all three covers collections she’s released, including this year’s directly titled COVERS, she has a knack for entirely transforming the rhythm and flow of the songwriting to transform it into something your ear can hardly recognize. The most satisfying cuts on her most recent album are the ones that just sit naturally as Cat Power songs—”Here Comes A Regular,” “These Days.” Those are obvious and immediate songs within her emotional range to amplify. But her greatest achievement is Bob Seger’s “Against The Wind,” this vast, cutting interpretation that sounds nothing like Seger’s workingman aesthetic. The piano shakes violently, and Marshall is grabbing us by the throat as we climb alongside her. It’s visceral and gutting in ways that the original never remotely strives to be. It’s remarkable.
3. “Season of the Shark” (Yo La Tengo Cover) by Say Sue Me
Plenty of sublime covers are on Say Sue Me’s aptly-titled celebratory 10th anniversary EP, 10, including a formidable lush lullaby version of Grandaddy’s “A.M. 180” and a fuzzy surf rock take of Silver Jews’ “Honk If You’re Lonely Tonight.” But for my money, their version of Yo La Tengo’s blissful summer anthem “Season of the Shark” is pure perfection. Say Sue Me already have the exact temperament to nail any song in the band’s deep discography, but the idea that they bring a noisy gauze to one of their cleaner guitar pop tracks is remarkably satisfying. It unfolds like a thought experiment, transforming it into a different kind of YLT song entirely. Sometimes, a cover works through its ability to reinvent context and meaning entirely; Say Sue Me somehow keeps the context and meaning the same while reframing it sonically all the same, reinforcing just how amazing Yo La Tengo’s breath of sound is.
2. “Held” (Smog Cover) by Spoon
In perhaps the boldest cover decision by a premiere indie rock elite since Chromatics opened KILL FOR LOVE with “Into the Black,” Spoon kick off the sweaty desert jamming of LUCIFER ON THE SOFA with a cover of Smog’s “Held.” That move pays remarkable creative dividends tonally for what’s to come—an album where the best moments are as thirsty and fire-spitting as the cover that begins the record. But for as good as Spoon’s tenth studio album is, its best moment comes right away as Britt Daniel’s dry, red-eyed hooping and hollering replace Bill Callahan’s deadpanned cries. It’s thunderously heavy, with a bluesy stomp and a hot rhythm section. The Smog original is a perfect song, and this is a perfect cover, accentuating the sweaty delusions of the original perfectly.
1. “I Am The Cosmos” (Chris Bell Cover) by Wednesday (feat. Zach Romeo)
“I Am The Cosmos” (Chris Bell Cover) by Mo Troper
The entirety of the human experience is compressed into “I Am The Cosmos.” The depth of our own individual humanity and the worth we place on ourselves and our relationships to others is just floating around for three minutes and 42 seconds for everyone to experience—the dreams, the fears, the hopes, the struggles, the joy, it’s all there as Chris Bell sings into the void about loneliness. Will we ever connect to others through those dreams, fears, hopes, struggles, and joy? Or are we as unattainable as the cosmos or wind. Musicians have been asking that question in some fashion since the beginning of music, but Bell finds a universal singularity with “I Am The Cosmos.”
It makes sense that, like the most intensely human Big Star songs, Bell’s most notable solo song has been a source of fascination for artists since its release, with covers ranging from Pete Yorn and Scarlett Johansson to the Jayhawks to Beck. But we had a pair of versions in 2022 that both, in different ways, deserve to be highlighted and, together, take the #1 spot. Doing a victory lap after last year’s triumphant TWIN PLAGUE, countrygazers Wednesday dropped among the best covers records of the year, on it a soaring duet with Zach Romeo that accentuates the topsy-turvy guitar work of Bell’s all-encompassing classic. It’s a plodding beast, with guitar jamming and playful studio noise that is all together jubilant in moments. Mo Troper, the rising power pop star whose music meticulously examines and reinvigorates the genre as we know it today, is clearly a massive fan of Bell and Big Star. While Wednesday find a kind of ascending unity in their version, Troper puts the weight of our emotions on his back with a distant, melting take that is as world weary as it is rousing. Both are the kind of powerful and immediate interpretations we need right now.