Music Features

Merry-Go-Round’s Top 50 Covers of 2023

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It was the year of Ken. It was the year of “You’re Still the One.” It was the year of Kylie Minogue and System of a Down. I’m not sure I’d call 2023 a great year for covers, but between the 50 boygenius sessions we saw come through and BARBIE dropping a Matchbox Twenty musical moment, there were moments we’ll remember moving forward.

Not a ton that needs to be said here! If you missed this list from 2022, 2021, 2020, or the 2010s, I recommend giving them a read! Beyond that, two quick notes:

First, I’ll be honest, I don’t know a thing about Marianne Faithfull! I spent time with the compilation (which you can learn about and support here) but I’ll plead ignorance: I just didn’t connect with it in full. 

Second, much love to the FADER and their amazing compilation benefiting Trans Rights Organizations this year (which would’ve dominated three or four spots on the main list), but that comp goes against the rules of the list, which read as such: I don’t include live recordings (unless “officially” released, or professionally recorded), and anything that isn’t overly accessible online isn’t considered—i.e. nothing behind a paywall (see: Amazon), or in the FADER’s case, a limited time release that has now vanished from the internet. (I allow Spotify Singles because those can, technically, be streamed on the freemium versions.) Happy holidays to you and enjoy the gift of covers!

50. “Coming Around Again” (Carly Simon Cover) by Maya Hawke

Truthfully I don’t have many thoughts about noted nepo baby Maya Hawke, nor do I think I’ve ever heard her music prior to the few covers she dropped this year. Slowing down “Coming Around Again” is something of a cheat code, the kind of presentation of the song that feels so pure by comparison to the radio pop of the original. But Hawke’s noisy, glitchy close to the finale of the song elevates it well beyond some Starbucks compilation throwaway, which is territory it could’ve easily veered into.

Listen: YouTube | Bandcamp | Spotify

49. “Dayvan Cowboy” (Boards of Canada Cover) by Infant Island 

By Boards of Canada standards, “Dayvan Cowboy” is a heater—a full-body ascension that has the kind of beginning-middle-end sonic trajectory that is, perhaps fairly, not often associated with the IDM duo. Infant Island, an incredible, blackgaze-y screamo outfit from Virginia, grabbed hold of the tangible nature of the song and gave it a heavy makeover, bookending it with a thick ambient spell before doing what they do best: delivering a powerful catharsis. It acts as the closer of Middle-Man Records’ GRAVE NEIGHBORS V.7 compilation, and it’s impossible to think anything else could follow it.

Listen: Bandcamp

48. “I Wanna Be Adored” (The Stone Roses Cover) by Horsegirl and Lifeguard

Matador are clearly in the business of buying up young bands from Chicago, a scene that, as the kids say, is “happening, Daddy-o.” Lifeguard have yet to really hit nationally, but riding on the back of Horsegirl’s success, both acts have given the art rock treatment to a cover of The Stone Roses’ ubiquitous indie rock hit “I Wanna Be Adored.” They slow things down with a pseudo-live garage rock session that spaces out the drums and vocals, a slacker-y, doe-eyed take that is nowhere near as intense but nonetheless a dimly lit hang. Jury remains out personally on either artist, but the cover remains a compelling theoretical entry point.

Listen: YouTube

47. “Cigarette Burns forever” (Adam Green Cover) by Cut Worms

MOPING IN STYLE : A TRIBUTE TO ADAM GREEN is… extensive, to say the least. The 26-song tribute to the anti-folk troubadour is a who’s who of names, including Father John Misty, The Cribs, Jenny Lewis, The Lemonheads, and the Lemon Twigs, among many many others. As a passive Adam Green fan at best, I’d hardly stick my neck out to say Cut Worms’ laidback and shaggy take on “Cigarette Burns forever” is the best of the bunch, but similarly to others on the comp like Joanna Sternberg or Frankie Cosmos, you can hear a direct connection in influence being made in the rework. The result is just a good hang.

Listen: Bandcamp | Spotify

46. “Monster” (Lady Gaga Cover) by Slayyyter

Even with such a massive streaming presence, Slayyyter’s pop ascension continues to feel like an underground movement. She’s rejected the hyperpop label in the past, and that’s fair—even if aesthetically she clearly fits in that world, her music is far too straight-laced in many ways.    That’s on full display on her Spotify Single cover of Gaga’s “Monster,” which is textbook in many regards, a more muscular update that pushes the production into the 2023 clubs.

Listen: Spotify

45. “So Long, Marianne” (Leonard Cohen Cover) by Naima Bock

As you can imagine, Naima Bock’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s boundless goodbye “So Long, Marianne” is a jazzy, lumbering journey. Cohen’s words are never tethered to time or place, while Bock’s music and voice are rooted in an aged, unknowable heartbreak—it’s a potent combination.

Listen: YouTube | Bandcamp | Spotify

44. “Islands In the Stream” (Dolly Parton & Kenny Rogers Cover) by Crooks & Nannies

If Dolly Parton (77 years old) ever heard this glitchy cover of “Islands in the Stream” by Crooks & Nannies, and if it was loud enough, I am confident it would be the last thing she would ever hear. And I mean that endearingly.

Listen: Bandcamp | Spotify

43. “Different Now” (Chastity Belt Cover) by Courtney Barnett

There is a desperation that runs through “Different Now,” a feeling that intensely defines most of Chastity Belt’s music—a distant, hungry yearning that you can’t shake. Courtney Barnett’s energy is different, often content yet deeply melancholic. Musically her take on “Different Now” isn’t terribly different, but it’s hopeful in a way that the original is not, arguably as hopeful as she’s sounded singing something in a long time. The cheeky pitch is CB does CB, but the result is far more tender than that.

Listen: YouTube | Bandcamp | Spotify

42. “Green Arrow” (Yo La Tengo Cover) / “Silver Cycles” (Melvin Jackson / Eddie Harris Cover) by Prairiewolf

Prairiewolf’s thoughtfully and delicately covered Yo La Tengo’s comforting instrumental “Green Arrow” for Aquarium Drunkard, delivering an interpretation that folds in on itself beautifully. If you needed any information on it, just know that they did think to “replace the cicadas in the original recording (with) field recordings of Iowan birds drifting through the mix.” That song flows effortlessly into their pondering cover of the sparse jazz conquest “Silver Cycles,” a one-two stack of blissed-out, musical wandering. If every artist was out here throwing field recordings of Iowan birds into their covers, the world would be a better place.

Listen: Aquarium Drunkard | Bandcamp

41. “Closedown” (The Cure Cover) by David Nance

I can’t say enough about David Nance’s rollicking, lo-fi tribute SHAMELESS KISS, a full-album send-up of The Cure’s DISINTEGRATION. It’s the best cover album of the year, a full-on re-contextualization of the goth classic that throws in hypnotic, looping country quirks and psychedelic, one-man blues numbers. The cover of “Closedown’ (here titled “Out of Step”) is this grungy, impassioned bedroom recording that is cutting in an entirely new way. He nails the spirit of Smith in a decidedly American way. Nance is no stranger to immersing himself into the material, and with something as textured and at times bleak as DISINTEGRATION, it yields perhaps his best cover work yet.

Listen: Bandcamp

40. “Slide” (Goo Goo Dolls Cover) by Hazel English

On my first brush with Hazel English’s Day Wave-produced cover of the Goo Goo Dolls’ alt-rock radio mainstay “Slide,” I wanted more out of it. But the more I’ve sat with it throughout the year, it’s something charming that it never rises above a whisper; the quieting final moments in particular are remarkably affecting, the quiet layering of pieces resulting in far more than nothing.

Listen: YouTube | Bandcamp | Spotify

39. “Dancing In the Dark” (Bruce Springsteen Cover) by Deer Tick

There are so many flavors of “Dancing In the Dark” covers, and Deer Tick’s, while less rowdy somehow than Downtown Boys’ horn-filled barn-burner, is still a shit-kicking hoedown in its own way. A brutish, bullish rock number, the Rhode Island band don’t bring a ton of nuance to a song that at this point is a part of the American songbook, but just a no-nonsense bar band interpretation is refreshing.

Listen: YouTube | Bandcamp | Spotify 

38. “My Sweet Lord” (George Harrison Cover) by Troye Sivan

THE IDOL will probably be remembered in the same breadth as VINYL or LUCK in 20 years, if the Zoomers choose to remember it at all. But there are a handful of fascinating covers across the episodes that did air (surprise, the music was never going to be the problem with this show). Among that list is it-boy Troye Sivan’s sparse, appropriately meditative take on George Harrison’s immortal “My Sweet Lord.” The quiet synths build into something more tense and dramatic, and Sivan’s vocals are fittingly smooth for such a vibey take.

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

37. “Glycerine” (Bush Cover) by Allison Lorenzen and Midwife

By ‘90s maximalist standards, songs like “Lightning Crashes” and “Glycerine” are always fascinating radio artifacts, the former ostensibly a removed MTV Unplugged cut. A slowcore version of the song just makes a lot of sense given the impassioned slow burn of the original, and Allison Lorenzen and Midwife trade strings in for aching, downtempo guitars and whispering melodies. It’s near-Gregorian at points, their voices entrancing as the song drones on.

Listen: YouTube | Bandcamp | Spotify

36. “UMI Says” (Yasiin Bey Cover) by Joey Bada$$

I’ve struggled this year with the fact that the essential hip hop albums of the last two decades have felt increasingly absent in modern culture; some of that is the genre moving into new and admittedly exciting places, but some of it is just the genre’s immediacy and vitalness vanishing, at least in more indie spaces. Oddly this could apply to the music of both Yasiin Bey (fka Mos Def) and Joey Bada$$, the former a backpacking trailblazer whose work would go on to influence artists like the latter, but neither of whom feel particularly current right now. This is, I suppose, the way genres ebb and flow, and Joey Bada$$’s cover of “UMI Says” for triple j’s Like A Version is an updated, understated jazz odyssey that makes clear that a generation of rappers have fully turned over and away.

Listen: YouTube

35. “Shiny Happy People (R.E.M. Cover)” by Micky Dolenz

There are always a few “What the fuck?” covers each year, and Monkees’ member Micky Dolenz delivering an EP of R.E.M. covers is high up there (especially because he covered the tremendous, but mostly forgotten, single “Leaving New York” from 2004’s AROUND THE SUN). Honestly, all four songs are quite listenable, but turning “Shiny Happy People” into a ‘60s parade march of sorts is the one worthy of a highlight. Listen so you can ask yourself “What the fuck?” but stick around, because it’s a remarkably fun interpretation.

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

34. “We Laugh Indoors” (Death Cab for Cutie Cover) by CARRION SPRING

Among the noisiest Death Cab for Cutie songs in their discography, and a long one at that, you don’t have to squint too terribly hard to see why “We Laugh Indoors” would work as a CARRION SPRING song. Their hardcore rendition starts off straightforward enough, loud but faithful, before eventually becoming a shaky, post-screamo moshpit in the final minute. It’s a yearning, angry delivery that amplifies how much we love Guinevere.

Listen: YouTube | Bandcamp | Spotify

33. “Believe” (Cher Cover) by Joshua Ray Walker

JRW remains country’s best-kept secret, a motherfucker of a songwriter with a voice of gold. His covers collection, WHAT IS IT EVEN?, has a number of interesting, diva-penned pop cuts, perhaps the best among them being Cher’s “Believe,” which goes from a proper Hollywood club anthem to a moonlit Texas slow dance. Walker often seems like a shooting star, someone whose unique brilliance is liable to combust and disappear at any time; “Believe” and the rest of these covers are perhaps the closest tether we’ve seen to him and the common man.

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

32. “Thank You” (Dido Cover) by Sam Blasucci

Sam Blasucci, probably best known as one half of the shaggy psych outfit Mapache, released his solo debut this year, OFF MY STARS, a pleasant piano record that features a handful of covers, including takes on Jimmy Fontana and The Cranberries. The best of the bunch is a version of Dido’s “Thank You,” a slow churning and percussive vision that falls right in line with much of the focused, jammy singer-songwriter material on the album. The Melodica provides a fascinating backbone to a late-night AM radio classic. It may not be ready for Delilah, but late-night KCRW perhaps. 

Listen: YouTube | Bandcamp | Spotify

31. “Hejira” (Joni Mitchell cover) by Fleet Foxes feat. Daniel Rossen, Greg Pecknold, and The Westerlies

Fleet Foxes and friends released a few live covers on Bandcamp this year, including this overwhelming, maximal take on Joni Mitchell’s infinite “Hejira.” Every song on HEJIRA is perfect, but the title track is a journey, and few are as equipped to get lost in the woods as Fleet Foxes; Robin Pecknold’s voice is cool and collected as he puts beatnik flourishes on each line, and the band just sounds remarkably tight. Full album of studio covers when?

Listen: Bandcamp

30. “Blues Run the Game” (Jackson C. Frank Cover) by Shannon Lay

Minstrel Shannon Lay’s quiet, cooing covers record from earlier in the year is rife with lovely, lived-in acoustic renditions of faves from artists like The Velvet Underground, Nick Drake, and collaborator Ty Segall. Her quiet whimsy, as it does for all who have covered before it, carries such emotional weight on Jackson C. Frank’s unearthed ballad “Blues Run the Game.” You can’t elevate something so simple and perfect, but you can carry the torch for it, and Lay’s is devastating and beautiful.

Listen: YouTube | Bandcamp | Spotify

29. “Dark Star” (Grateful Dead Cover) by Jeffrey Alexander + the Heavy Lidders

Look: DAY OF THE DEAD aside, it feels like genuinely great studio covers of Grateful Dead tunes can often feel few and far between, especially those attempting to actually find the cosmic center of whatever Garcia and company were creating live on stage. Jeffrey Alexander and the Heavy Lidders’ “Dark Star” is rare in that sense, both a lengthy exploration of one of the Dead’s most prolific and complex songs and a conversation with the hundreds of versions that came before it. You can read all about that cover via my conversation with Alexander here!

Listen: YouTube | Bandcamp | Spotify

28. “Have A Little Faith In Me” (John Hiatt Cover) by Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem

John Hiatt’s “Have A Little Faith In Me” is no stranger to the cover treatment, from SYML to Bon Jovi to Mandy Moore (who actually charted with her by-the-books singer-songwriter take). And I mean, we can be real: the Muppets can cover whatever they want and probably make this list. They’re the fucking Muppets. And if you think about it too long, John Hiatt kind of sounds like a Muppett, so perhaps that’s what makes this cover from THE MUPPETS MAYHEM OST work—yes, Dr. Teeth is mostly a caricature of Dr. John, but that over-the-top booming vocal lands here. Throw in some gospel twinges on the chorus and, like pretty much anything Muppets related, you’ve got more than the sum of your parts.

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

27. “Telepath” (Manchester Orchestra Cover) by Jimmy Eat World

“Telepath” missed me when it was released in 2021 (transparently, I can’t recall spending more than maybe a passing listen on a new Manchester Orchestra album in a long time). But if noted Arizona Diamondback fans Jimmy Eat World give it a thumbs up, I’m here for it. The original, from 2021’s THE MILLION MASKS OF GOD, certainly feels like a response to a different pseudo-hit cover, the one Phoebe Bridgers did of their 2017 song “The Gold”—quiet, downtrodden acoustic guitars and beautiful vocal harmonies, finding the emo middle ground of where mainstream singer-songwriters mine influence. Manchester Orchestra were obviously familiar with this beat before Phoebe Bridgers’s sign of approval gave them 100+ Million streams on Spotify, but nonetheless, why not dip your pen back in that ink if you can. Of course, Jimmy Eat World don’t really give a shit about any of that—they’re here to make the quiet part loud, and for Jim Atkins to blow out that quiet singer-songwriter performance. They do both with gusto. (And for those who want to hear the same process in reverse, scope out Manchester Orchestra’s great, winding cover of CLARITY opener “Table For Glasses.”)

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

26. “Did you know there’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd” (Lana Del Rey Cover) by The Reds, Pinks and Purples

Fewer bands were as prolific this year as The Reds, Pinks and Purples, who ground-and-pounded quivering, Smiths-y indie rock like their lives depended on it. Amidst their prolific output (much of which was quite good!) lay a few covers, including a take on Lana Del Rey’s 2023 tune “Did you know there’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd.” It doesn’t take a lot to build on a Lana cover (which is frankly why you won’t see many of her own drab covers here), but I think TRP&P’s brings a spritely jangle pop vibe to the original, turning it into a dingy, galloping rock hit Lana could never produce herself.

Listen: YouTube | Bandcamp | Spotify

25. “Lullaby” (The Cure Cover) by The KVB

There are quite a few interesting covers on JUST LIKE HEAVEN, the blandly named compilation that Cleopatra Records put out earlier this year that largely focuses on The Cure’s biggest hits. Most of the takes push the band into more cold wave or industrial directions, including Manchester post-punk duo The KVB, who turn “Lullaby” into an Italians Do It Better DJ set staple. The skittering hi-hats and quiet dancefloor synths transform one of The Cure’s most mesmerizing and dreary songs into something slightly more dimly lit and groovy.

Listen: YouTube | Bandcamp | Spotify  

24. “Breakaway” (Kelly Clarkson Cover) by Shallow Pools

As always, you can find a treasure trove of great cuts on Future Teens’ annual Something Merry charity compilations. This year’s was titled SIDE ONE, TRACK ONE: A TRIBUTE TO ALBUM OPENERS, and within a fascinating stable of rising emo and indie rock talent you can find Shallow Pools, an earnest, Boston-based group who absolutely tear up Kelly Clarkson’s “Breakaway.” Admittedly, Clarkson’s megahit has the reputation of being a karaoke staple that you’ve seen people bring the house down with in the past, so the degree of difficulty isn’t too terribly high. Shallow Pools go for the easy, albeit emotional, W; singer Glynnis Brennan bodies the performance, and the band blow out the sonic edges in true emo fashion. Like all the covers on the comp, everyone is having a good time and you can hear that.

Listen: Bandcamp

23. “No One Can Hurt Me” (Jon Brion / The Grays Cover) by Mo Troper

In some ways, “No One Can Hurt Me” off of MO TROPER SINGS BRION is the only technical cover on his Jon Brion send-up, as every other song is a realized version of one of Brion’s demos from the mid-‘90s, “passed around on unofficial fan forums before winding up on YouTube.” But “No One Can Hurt Me,” while a cut that certainly existed next to the fan forum fodder, was also released officially with The Grays, a short-lived project with Jellyfish’s Jason Falkner and Aimee Mann collaborator Buddy Judge. As he is wont to do, Mo’s version is a more realized power pop ballad—a shaggy slacker anthem that jangles and struts with noisy solos and muddy, psych-y recordings. Troper’s abilities as a covers artist are seemingly limitless, but nonetheless,a project like MO TROPER SINGS BRION is meant to test his powers and the results are genuine and exciting.

Listen: YouTube | Bandcamp | Spotify

21. “You’re Still The One” (Shania Twain Cover) by Maple Glider

Nothing needs be said about this cover that Maple Glider doesn’t say at two minutes and 41 seconds, as she sends Shania Twain’s eternal ballad to the heavens and back in absolutely devastating fashion.

Bonus: Hear Courtney Marie Andrews’s quieter and equally haunting cover for Aquarium Drunkard!

Bonus Bonus: Listen to boygenius take it on for the BBC!

Listen: YouTube | Bandcamp | Spotify

20. “Ordinary World” (Duran Duran Cover) by Valerie June

Valerie June, just by proxy of having one of the most striking voices in music, will always be in contention for this list (see: 2022’s Nick Drake cover). Her listless take on Duran Duran’s “Ordinary World” has a gothic folk lilt to it, the haunting whisper on the verses giving way into the huge pop chorus, with the ache and bend of pedal steel on the choruses recontextualizing one of the great turn-of-the-decade synthpop ballads.

Listen: YouTube | Bandcamp | Spotify

19. “She’s Fine, She’s Mine” (Bo Diddley cover) by Spoon

Spoon’s LUCIFER ON THE COUCH featured our #2 cover of 2022, a sweaty take on Smog’s “Held” that also acted as the opener to the album. They’re back again this year with a similarly hypnotic and fevery cover taken from the same sessions, Bo Diddley’s “She’s Fine, She’s Mine.” The original is about as woozy a blues cut as there is, a dingy alleyway performance defined by Diddley’s blistering harmonica, and Spoon stomp their way through it with snarling reverb as though it’s a wavering mirage in the distance. You could correctly explain LUCIFER ON THE COUCH as Spoon trying to combine Diddley and Smog, and to hear two covers bring that explanation and influence to life is rewarding.

Listen: YouTube | Bandcamp | Spotify

18. “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding” (Nick Lowe Cover) by Cheekface

“(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding” has been covered a billion times, including most notably by Elvis Costello, whose 1978 version is basically the default. It’s about as timeless as they come, and it’s hard to think of a more colorful current band than Cheekface to throw their hat in the ring. The Los Angeles trio are outspoken, wordy, and brash, and while their music tends to skew drier than the sincere Nick Lowe tune, hearing Greg Katz drop the deadpan amidst this rousing punk rendition is a joy.

Listen: YouTube | Bandcamp | Spotify

17. “Possum Kingdom” (Toadies Cover) by Ryan Bingham and The Texas Gentlemen

This TEXAS WILD compilation (which, you guessed it, is all Texas artists covering Texas artists) is one worth spending time with, but not only does it feature the Toadies covering Kelly Clarkson, it also features Ryan Bingham and the Texas Gentlemen teaming up to in turn cover “Possum Kingdom.” It’s a gruff roadhouse version, with squelching guitars and strings. Bingham and co. somehow accentuate the bleak subject matter through drawn-out and strained vocals. It’s possibly more of a bummer than the original, but in a way that honors the intent. 

Listen: YouTube | Bandcamp | Spotify

16. “Jealous Guy” (John Lennon Cover) by The Weeknd

The main selling point for this is as simple as saying it aloud: The Weeknd is covering John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy.” I’m sure there were discussions with executives and writers and showrunners during the process of making THE IDOL that led to this moment (me listening to it on a random streaming service in November of 2023), but in a vacuum, it is truly as simple as The Weeknd doing his deviant, synthy, slinky modern R&B on a very good Lennon song (one that also appeared on the same album as “Imagine,” lol, lmao even). I suppose the larger irony is that neither The Weeknd nor Sam Levison want anything about this show to be overthought despite most of the music choices being created in a lab. Still, The Weeknd doing his slick, sexy shtick to a song that never quite broke globally is still charming enough to get most Boomers on board (just don’t tell them it’s from HBO Discovery’s THE IDOL).

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

15. “Lisa’s Birthday” (Drive-By Truckers Cover) by Florry

When Mike Cooley wrote “Her car’s not where she parked it, it’s with her wallet and her phone” in 2008, the Motorola RAZR was the most popular cell on the market. Florry mined one of the greatest songbooks in modern history and landed on “Lisa’s Birthday,” a deep cut from Drive-By Truckers’ BRIGHTER THAN CREATION’S DARK. Sheridan Medosch’s vocals and the winding pedal steel transform it into a delightful, modern cowgirl waltz. THE HOLEY BIBLE is one of the year’s best albums, and their DBT take is one of the year’s best covers. Long live Florry and long live Drive-By Truckers.

Listen: YouTube | Bandcamp | Spotify

14. “1979” (The Smashing Pumpkins Cover) by Two Minutes To Late Night (feat. Touché Amoré, Alexisonfire, AFI, and Deafheaven)

I’d listen to Jeremy Bolm sing just about anything—for my money among the most compelling vocalists in hardcore—and throw in Wade MacNeil from Alexisonfire and Gallows howling in the background and you have a pretty formidable combination, one that exhausts the quiet coolness of Corgan’s on “1979.” Two Minutes To Late Night consistently churn out exciting metal and punk collaborations, and this one is no exception.

Listen: YouTube

13. “Sunflower” (Post Malone Cover) by Yasmin Williams

Not to be overthought, having one of our finest modern guitar players take on one of the modern pop canon’s sweetest melodies is a winning combination. A cover that benefits from being a video, Yasmin Williams’s inverted lap tapping is always its own vibed-out hypnosis, but watching her pick and pluck her way through the notable SPIDER-VERSE anthem is especially sublime. The pop hooks of 2021’s excellent breakthrough URBAN DRIFTWOOD were not always apparent on first listen, but hearing “Sunflower” bloom with similar sonic textures should only help grow Williams’s own myth. 

Listen: YouTube

12. “Here” (Pavement Cover) by Soccer Mommy

Look: The Sheryl Crow cover is rightfully the one you’re playlisting. The Taylor Swift cover is the one you’re sending around to the girlies. The Slowdive cover is quietly direct and probably the best pound-for-pound reinterpretation. And the R.E.M. cover is a cry-worthy closer. But the Pavement cover is the one that you’re gonna turn to the most. The original contains an unprecedented amount of catharsis, and Soccer Mommy’s take is a good ol’ fashioned cry at 1 a.m. in your car, handled with an appropriate amount of care for an EP called KARAOKE NIGHT.

Listen: YouTube | Bandcamp | Spotify

11. “LADWP Hold” (“Opus Number 1” by Tim Carleton and Darrick Deel Cover) by Osees

I’ll ride for any cover that demands context—what is being young on the internet if not just wasting time researching shit? A shout out to MGRM contributor Jack Probst for putting me onto Osees’ very specific hold jingle (here associated with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power), a piece of muzak entitled “Opus Number 1” crafted by Tim Carleton and Darrick Deel, the latter of whom would go on to work at Cisco Systems and used it as hold music for various companies. You can read about the history of the song here, but we love an unconventional (if slightly grating) PURE MOODS-adjacent ear worm with backstory.

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

10. “Little Fury Things” (Dinosaur Jr. Cover) by Maz

“Little Fury Things” is among J. Mascis’s slackest performances, which says something. Rising pop purveyor Maz opens by bringing a funky haze to one of Dinosaur Jr.’s earliest singles, with a dreamy groove converting a college rock staple into the kind of laid-back oddity you’d find on 8tracks a decade ago; her performance feels spiritually connected to Mascis’s in the sense that Gen Z coolness carries a similar detached sonic apathy aesthetically similar to what J. has been doing his whole career. It may be unrecognizable next to the original, but it’s a vibey reinterpretation that unfolds like a brand new song and it’s a ton of fun. 

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

9. “Wolf Like Me” (TV On The Radio cover) by Katie Alice Greer

The former Priests front person finds a new kind of primordial intensity in TV On The Radio’s “Wolf Like Me.” A ramshackled product of the NYC indie rock scene two decades ago, the original song already has a vehement dizziness to it. But Greer’s minimalist art rock twists and turns Tunde Adebimpe’s words into something more sonically straightforward and less overwhelming than the original while remaining arguably more gripping—on the edge of your seat, you hang on every one of Greer’s line deliveries, down to the distant fading chorus at the end.

Listen: YouTube | Bandcamp | Spotify

8. “Push” (Matchbox Twenty Cover) by Ryan Gosling

There have certainly been covers that crossed over into the larger pop cultural zeitgeist in years past, but Ryan Gosling belting out a mid-tier Matchbox Twenty hit from 1996 in a movie based on a Mattel toy is not only an unlikely mainstream crossover any way you chop it, but the kind of thing that feels like a messy Mad Lib out of context. It was de facto the year’s biggest cover when the movie released in July even when there were several songs from BARBIE that had larger moments and longer staying power (including Gosling’s own “I’m Just Ken”). And yet, we’ll always have a genuine musical sequence set to “Push.” Gosling’s own interpretation of Rob Thomas’s admittedly unique vocal affectations is over-the-top in the way we all try and sing the Tom DeLonge parts of blink-182 songs, and the in-sequence number feels like a fever dream, both a hilarious recreation and a sincere love letter to post-grunge ‘90s music. Nothing I’ve pointed out should surprise us from a director who redeemed Dave Matthews Band’s “Crash Into Me” in LADYBIRD, and yet nonetheless “Push” is a random, joyful moment in otherwise bleak times.

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

7. “Don’t Bring Me Down” (Electric Light Orchestra Cover) by Juliana Hatfield

Juliana Hatfield is perhaps the most comfortable cover artist working today. Her third full tribute album in the last five years (next to ones for Olivia Newton-John and The Police), JULIANA HATFIELD SINGS ELO is chock-full of her signature, saccharine indie rock tone. Like the previous two collections, it cannot be understated how remarkable it is to hear Hatfield bend and twist some of the great radio pop songs in the modern canon and make them even more sugary. With a mall pop bounce and elevated vocal harmonies, “Don’t Bring Me Down” has never been sweeter.

Listen: YouTube | Bandcamp | Spotify

6. “We Looked Like Giants” (Death Cab for Cutie Cover) by Car Seat Headrest 

This year featured a handful of Death Cab for Cutie and Postal Service covers in honor of their massive joint anniversary tour, but for my money Car Seat Headrest has them all beat, turning “We Looked Like Giants” into a Meet Me In The Bathroom-core ripper. Will Toledo channels his inner Beck or Paul Banks, delivering a memorably commanding performance—glassy-eyed and near-possessed in its intense authority. There are smart ways to cover DCFC, and oftentimes giving the songs a clenched-fist intensity does the trick. Car Seat Headrest wouldn’t have been an immediately obvious answer for pulling off said trick, but the commanding pace and sleazy NYC sheen transforms one of TRANSATLANTICISM’s standouts.

Listen: YouTube | Bandcamp | Spotify

5. “War Pigs” (Black Sabbath Cover) by T-Pain

T-Pain you have to stop. Your Sabbath too War. Your swag too different. Your scorching hot ’70s funk influences too bad. They’ll kill you.

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

4. “Like a Prayer” (Madonna Cover) by King Hannah

King Hannah will not stop until they’ve wrung the desperation out of each and every American icon; first it was their tremendous 2021 cover of Springsteen’s “State Trooper,” and now it’s Madonna’s “Like a Prayer.” The Liverpool duo’s eight-minute interpretation begins as a quiet, plodding funeral dirge, subverting the pop gospel yearning of the original into four minutes of white-knuckled cataclysm before the galloping drums and cold fuzz of the guitar just push the song into the barren desert King Hannah have been wandering around their whole careers. The powerful alchemy of the finale is worth remembering far into the future.

Listen: YouTube | Bandcamp | Spotify

3. “Lullaby” (The Cure Cover) by David Nance

I certainly didn’t anticipate having two covers of “Lullaby” on this list, but both are doing such dramatically different things that I hope people reading this use both (along with the cover) as a case study. I already waxed poetic about Nance’s brilliant tribute to DISINTEGRATION earlier on this list, but the hot, lo-fi banjo recording is genuinely bonkers sonically, a truly sinister pickathon that sounds worlds away from the goth chill of the original while doubling down on Robert Smith’s sneering depravity. “Lullaby” is capturing harrowing wickedness in any form it’s presented in, often speculated about with regards to addiction, depression, or sexual assault, but in Nance’s decidedly American hands it sounds like evil incarnate.

Listen: Bandcamp

2. “Just A Girl” (No Doubt Cover) by Florence + the Machine

This column in years past has waxed poetic about the played-out nature of the creepy chopped and screwed trailer cover, a fad that it feels like fortunately and finally we’re on the other side of. Ostensibly, the Florence + the Machine cover of No Doubt’s timelessly cheeky empowerment rocker was concocted under similar pretenses—it scored the teaser for Season Two of Showtime’s aimless plane crash mystery box show YELLOWJACKETS. And the first 30 seconds is a music supervisor’s wet dream, with Florence Welch hauntingly pushing Stefani’s SoCal oeuvre into something Victorian. And yet only 30 seconds does not a song make, and eventually the Machine turns the cover into this brawny, reckless stadium rocker—the pop melodies remain intact but the punky playfulness has become something far bigger and looser. It’s without fail the cover of the year that you can put on in the car with friends and make them lean in as the sum of its parts play out in real time.

Listen: YouTube | Spotify

1. “Good Good Things” (Descendents Cover) by DRAIN

It says something interesting (to me at least) about this current moment in hardcore that the best song on DRAIN’s breakthrough LIVING PROOF is a cover of Descendents’ “Good Good Things.” That’s not to take anything away from LIVING PROOF, which has some absolute rippers (“Devil’s Itch” is easily one of the best “open up the fucking pit!” songs of the year). Nor should it take anything away from DRAIN, who had themselves a banner year. DRAIN growing in the way they did is, inarguably, good for music and good for the genre!

But I think the fact that “Good Good Things” is the best performing song on the album by most metrics is a worthy thought experiment to engage in, one that stretches back to Michael Tedder’s much-discussed (and criticized) article on The Ringer earlier this year, Open Up the Pit: The State of Hardcore in a Post-Turnstile World—a great piece that, regardless of how much you want to hem and haw over it, is nonetheless a slight foretelling to what the genre will shift into going forward.

The lizard part of my brain hears “Good Good Things,” a song that DRAIN absolutely owns both in the context of the cover itself and in the context of the full album, and I can only think: this is what modern rock sounds like. It’s what it feels like. Beyond the glimmer of notoriety provided by the nostalgia of the TONY HAWK PRO SKATER soundtrack 20 years ago, the Descendants haven’t really gotten their due with a new generation even though you could argue that their sound is as much a factoring influence to modern punk and hardcore than any other artist of that era. And now there is this amazing send-up, a jagged-edged cover by one of the most exciting rising punk bands of 2023, placing the band back in the centerfold. More than any other cover released this year, DRAIN’s “Good Good Things” feels like a vital sonic commentary on a whole sect of music, less as a true creative exercise and more as a harbinger for what rock will be going forward. Is Turnstile hardcore? Were they ever? Does blink-182 or Green Day returning to the pop landscape mean anything? Is there room for DRAIN or SPY or Gel or Gulch or Regional Justice Center to get the Turnstile treatment? Is that was kind of happened to Militarie Gun this year, or is that just wishful thinking? I suppose we’ll find out in due time. But for now, I feel like we have “Good Good Things” coming.

Listen: YouTube | Bandcamp | Spotify 

Honorable Mentions: 

“Jasmine” (Jai Paul Cover) by Arlo Parks

“Kathleen” (Townes Van Zandt Cover) by Daniel Rossen

“Latch” (Disclosure Cover) by Beach Fossils

“Glory Box” (Portishead Cover) by St. Vincent and The Roots

“From The Morning” (Nick Drake Cover) by Let’s Eat Grandma

“Linger” (The Cranberries Cover) by Sam Blasucci

“Born in the U.S.A.” (Bruce Springsteen Cover) by Suicide

“Cut Your Hair” (Pavement Cover) by Midtown

“Lust For Life” (Girls Cover) by Jenny Lewis

“Padam Padam” (Kylie Minogue Cover) by Route 500

“Guinnevere” (Crosby, Stills, & Nash Cover) by Elkhorn

“Ballad Of A Thin Man” (Bob Dylan Cover) by Cat Power 

“Portions For Foxes” (Rilo Kiley Cover) by Lydia Loveless and Jason Hawk Harris

“Portions For Foxes” (Rilo Kiley Cover) by Spanish Love Songs

“Dreams” (The Cranberries Cover) by Animal Collective 

“See No Evil” (Television Cover) by Ghost

“Words Come Back” (The Hated Cover) by Skullcrusher

“Without You I’m Nothing” (Placebo Cover) by A.A. Williams

“Eyes of the World” (Grateful Dead Cover) by The Latin Dead

“Constant Headache” (Joyce Manor Cover) by Tigers Jaw

“Perfect Day” (Lou Reed Cover) by Al Green

“Fire Leap” (THE WICKER MAN Cover) by Katy J. Pearson

“You Get What You Give” (New Radicals Cover) by Prince Daddy & the Hyena 

“Since U Been Gone” (Kelly Clarkson Cover) by The Toadies

“Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” (Rolling Stones Cover) by Marcus King

“Chains” (Raveonettes Cover) by Dave Gahan

“Nobody Wants A Lonely Heart” (Arthur Russell Cover) by Elizabeth Moen 

“Last Resort” (Papa Roach Cover) by Two Minutes To Late Night

“Dry the Rain” (The Beta Band Cover) by Sara Noelle

“Medicine” (Momma Cover) by Narrow Head

“Hunger Strike (Temple of the Dog Cover)” by It Only Ends Once x Coma Regalia 

CJ Simonson
CJ Simonson is Merry-Go-Round's Editor-in-Chief and representative for all things Arizona. The only thing he knows for certain is that "I Can Feel The Fire" by Ronnie Wood is the greatest closing credits song never used in a Wes Anderson movie. Get on that, Wes.

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