I love a great cover. I have my own rules about what makes a good cover, of course—I can’t respect cover-only artists, which YouTube has made readily present, and if you’re doing basically the same thing as the original get outta here—but God, I love a good cover. I’m not sure how hot a take this is, but the 2010s were easily the best decade ever for covers; live covers are all over YouTube the morning after they debut, the news cycle has become steadfast in covering them ad nauseum, and they’ve quickly become a way for us to show grief en masse. When David Berman died in 2019, for instance, it was met with professionally recorded covers, a tribute album, and live performances of his various songs within days.
The best covers, and I mean the best, are when the track reveals something new about the original song, when a performer makes it their own to such a degree that the source material is elevated, or altered, or warped, so as to reconsider what made it good or bad or interesting in the first place. “Hurt” went from a song by a frustrated young man radiating pain to a dying old man’s swan song to the end. While generally speaking the trend of reimagining songs as slowed down has done more bad than good (although you’ll see plenty of the contrary below), and the major-to-minor or minor-to-major move is tiresome and overplayed, if the right band or artist finds the right song, magic can happen, and I genuinely live for that magic.
So here we are. My top 100 covers. I’ll throw in a couple caveats as to how I made this list! It doesn’t include any primarily cover-only artists, or artists whose careers are indebted to a playlisted cover—I’m talking about Birdy’s version of “Skinny Love,” or like that Mr. Little Jeans cover of Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs.” I tried to focus on artists whose larger body of work is interesting and vital, to varying degrees. And it doesn’t include any true “live” covers, and by that I mean cell phone next-day type footage (sorry to Boygenius doing The Killers). It includes late night performances, awards shows, or tracks from live records where the recording is, to some degree, professionally mixed, and it includes internet show recordings (RIP to AV Undercover). And of course there are a ton of studio recordings in the mix, including the rare but exciting album cut! I’ve included words on each below. Cheers, and to another 100 great covers in the 2020s!
100. “Corduroy” (Pearl Jam Cover) by Robin Pecknold and Daniel Rossen
At the time of writing, this cover only exists as a 240p version on YouTube and for the life of me I cannot find an MP3 rip of a higher quality version—perhaps you reading this in the future will have better access to a better version. If for some reason you HAVE found this list in the future, and it’s gone, wiped off the face of the internet, well, I’m sorry, you get a solid 99 beyond this. That disclaimer out of the way: My god, what a perfect marriage of two artists taking on one of Pearl Jam’s best songs, the epic growl of the open curious and observant in ways only Pecknold can be. Certainly a far cry from either Fleet Foxes or Grizzly Bear, I’d take these two doing Pearl Jam any way I can get it.
99. “Wonderful Everyday” (ARTHUR Theme Song Cover) by Chance the Rapper and the Social Experiment
I mean, did anything do more to forecast how goddamn corny Chance the Rapper would be than this? The later part of the decade saw him genuinely making music that seemed like it should be on an afterschool special, and yet the writing was on the wall the whole time. This cover is absolutely fun, particularly for a brand of Only ‘90s Kids Whose Parents Didn’t Have Cable Will Remember millennial, but don’t get it twisted: It’s corny. When the shoe fits?
98. “Allison Road” (Gin Blossoms Cover) by White Fence
Full disclosure: I’m an Arizona homer. My home state tragically doesn’t move the most product, as it were, from the music side of things. Years ago for AV Undercover, Cursive and Cymbals Eat Guitars covered Gin Blossoms’ “Hey Jealousy” and basically trashed the song in the open, saying that it was fun to be covering a song from a bad era of ’90s alternative rock. I have lived with this chip on my shoulder this whole decade, but White Fence doing “Allison Road” has calmed me somewhat. Tim Presley covered the song for Aquarium Drunkard, where he told the pub: “This Gin Blossoms song came on and it had a harmony and chord change that reminded me of the Grateful Dead and the Byrds. I never heard the Gin Blossoms besides their big hits, so I was pleasantly surprised to hear this song.” It’s the nicest thing ever said about an Arizona band, probably (don’t fact check that), and it’s a delicate and sweet cover of one of the bands best songs.
97. “Dance Hall Days” (Wang Chung Cover) by Okkervil River
“Dance Hall Days” is about as yacht rock-ish as new wave and synthpop could get without officially donning a sailor’s cap. It’s thus pretty satisfying to hear Okkervil River finally push the track to its logical conclusion. The highlight of course are those horns, which brighten the whole track up, but Will Sheff makes that guitar pop a bit while generally slowing things down for a breezy version that could totally be playlisted after Christopher Cross’ “Sailing” without seeming suspect.
96. “Jokerman” (Bob Dylan Cover) by Built to Spill
Built To Spill’s version of ‘80s Dylan is marginally less epic in scope than their original material, naturally, but this cover of “Jokerman” is hardly without some elevated grandness. The reggae-rock opening track on Dylan’s peak ‘80s-sounding album INFIDELS is divisive, to say the least. That whole complicated era of Dylan’s life was sent up on A TRIBUTE TO DYLAN IN THE 80S: VOLUME ONE, which is where they turn it into a bobbing, midtempo ‘90s indie rock song. Dylan’s wordy anecdotes remain ever-present, but some of the slice-of-life tone that Dylan’s trying to communicate is gone, probably for the best. No one asked, but a top five cover of the 2000s is Built To Spill doing “Cortez the Killer.”
95. “Warning Sign” (Talking Heads Cover) by Local Natives
I’ll say something perhaps blasphemous, but in the larger pantheon of Talking Heads albums, I rarely think about SONGS ABOUT BUILDINGS AND FOOD. And I know, it was the sea change that transformed them into something of an art rock powerhouse thanks in part to their work with Brian Eno—it’s a good album, I get it. I just don’t think about it. I think about REMAIN IN LIGHT or TALKING HEADS ‘77 or “(Nothing But) Flowers” or Talk Talk or the X-Press 2 remix of “Lazy” way more often, and so to me “Warning Sign” is kind of a lost relic. Of course Local Natives’ sound works in direct contrast to David Byrne’s vocals or Eno’s production, their lush harmonies overtaking the angular nature of the original in every way. It’s a relatively left-turn cover on their debut that they totally make their own, undoubtedly fooling plenty of LA hipsters at the time of release.
94. “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” (The Band Cover) by Glen Hansard, Lisa Hannigan, and John Smith
“The Weight” is traditionally the song to cover around the campfire, but Glen Hansard, Lisa Hannigan, and John Smith lend their harmonies to the equally powerful “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” for AV Undercover and each bring their distinct, unique vocal textures into one for really sublime results. Also fun to see non-Americans covering such a quintessentially American song.
93. “Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am” (Fela Kuti Cover) by My Morning Jacket, Brittany Howard, and Merrill Garbus
RED HOT + FELA was Red Hot’s second Fela Kuti tribute and inarguably the more appealing one to Western audiences. It’s worthy of a look in, with guests like ?uestlove, Childish Gambino, and Kronos Quartet it’s built to be accessible, but it’s especially demanding of a listen if you’re even a passive fan of Flea Kuti. While most of the songs on the release are either shorter cuts or pare his occasionally rambling Afrobeat jazz odysseys to a more manageable length, they let My Morning Jacket cook, tapping into some of their jammy past while pairing them with two dynamic and compelling singers in Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard and tUnE-yArDs’ Merrill Garbus. It’s a slow, deliberate shuffle, with some amazing horn parts and infectious rhythms worthy of following through to the end of its 14-minute run.
92. “This Is How We Do It” (Montell Jordan Cover) by AlunaGeorge
If you’d asked me in 2013, I’d absolutely 100% have told you AlunaGeorge would be megastars in two to three years—BODY MUSIC at the moment felt like it had the goods, a tremendous collection of pop songs with smart, sleek production and a compelling voice. That never quite happened, an easily playlistable pop act, sure, but no global domination, unfortunately. Still, BODY MUSIC brings the goods, including the bonus track where they cover motherfucking Montell Jordan. In the UK garage duo’s hands, the track is a haze of bright lights, trying to minimize the dated quality of the song by surrounding Aluna Francis with a current of hazy dancefloor beats—at one point Francis does a bit of a Nicki Minaj during a breakdown, which rules. Their modern electropop update is welcome, star turn or not.
91. “Swingin Party” (The Replacements Cover) by Lorde
If you ever doubted the gravitational pull of Lorde, consider this: “Swingin Party,” essentially a deep cut on The Replacements’ best album, TIM (fight me), is their most played on Spotify by at least two million plays. By most metrics it’s not even the most conventionally popular song on TIM, that’d almost have to go to “Bastards of Young,” or perhaps “Left of the Dial” or “Here Comes a Regular.” But when Lorde takes notice of something, the children follow. And it’s a curious take—I’d be curious to see one of those Buzzfeed videos where kids who are only familiar with the cover listen to the original for the first time, although that also sounds like something that would make me depressed. Rather than a loose, drunk, late-night jaunt, almost an interlude of sorts on TIM, the noted New Zealand pop star delivers a moody, focused interpretation that carries a lot of the emotive darkness that came with her debut PURE HEROINE, and even if The Replacements’ cut is more fun, it’s exposed a bunch of unknowing teens to the Minneapolis punk band, and that’s just nifty.
90. “Best Thing I Never Had” (Beyoncé Cover) by The Horrors
If The Horrors cover something, it just instantly turns into a song by The Horrors, EVEN Beyoncé’. Much of the produced pop panache of her turbohit “Best Thing I Never Had” (which incidentally feels like a strange radio relic of the 2000s after the decade she had) is thoroughly stripped away for swirling shoegaze, the chorus hidden in delivery; there’s something surreal about hearing the track relegated to conventional indie rock, but the whole thing works, a testament to The Horrors’ overwhelming and keen sense of their own sound.
89. “Pure Imagination” (Gene Wilder Cover) by Fiona Apple
The weirdest thing that happened in the 2010s was huge companies bankrolling strange music projects—remember when Converse had that weird music thing where they’d pair like Matt & Kim and Andrew W.K. and Soulja Boy? Wild times. Chipotle, purveyors of E. Coli and breakfast menus they refuse to release, were behind two surreal covers, Willy Nelson doing Coldplay’s “The Scientist,” which by most metrics is interesting but never lifts off with Nelson’s voice being what it is this decade, as well as Fiona Apple taking on the immortal “Pure Imagination.” As you can imagine, the results are haunting and splendid.
88. “Immigrant Song” (Led Zeppelin Cover) by Trent Reznor and Karen O
As a self-proclaimed expert on movie trailers, I can tell you David Fincher often has the best ones. The trailer for GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO whips ass primarily because Trent Reznor got one of the all-time great edge-of-your-seat rock vocalists to take on Led Zeppelin’s furious “Immigrant Song.” Filling in for Robert Plant is a huge ask, but Karen O crushes it behind a pounding ‘90s industrial beat. The whole package works.
87. “Kid A” (Radiohead Cover) by Punch Brothers
The least accessible song on Radiohead’s KID A has to be the title track, and in bluegrass wizards the Punch Brothers’ hands the glitchy, steely abstract beats turn analog with an experience that remains impressively true to the original’s intent despite a whole shift in instrumentation, each stringed instrument mimicking Radiohead’s impeccably designed melodies with great care. Bluegrass covers are easy to wow with, but the detail here is fantastic.
86. “The Modern Leper” (Frightened Rabbit Cover) by Julien Baker
Tons of tremendous covers emerged after the passing of Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchison, and the best among them was Julien Baker’s soaring, heartbreaking take on “The Modern Leper,” the anthemic chorus made all the more devastating both in the wake of Hutchison’s passing and with Baker’s searching, comforting voice. Hutchison’s words in Baker’s hands makes for a tremendous but tragic listen.
85. “Better Off Alone” (Alice Deejay Cover) by Salem
Salem were a peak blog band at the turn of the decade, making competent witch house with some hip hop undercurrents and doing it at a high level. Though they only released an album and a few EPs and were mostly never heard from again (“King Night” is fantastic and a clear throughline precursor between what acts like S U R V I V E and Zola Jesus were sonically trying to capture down the line), their cover of the immortal house classic “Better Off Alone” transforms it into a grimy free-fall, seven minutes of overwhelming synths and distant vocals that turn the otherwise effortless dance cut into a chilling, slow-motion rave.
84. “Video Killed The Radio Star” (The Buggles Cover) by Joyce Manor
I’d like to ask the nice boys in Joyce Manor if when they chose to include a cover of The Buggles’ historical footnote “Video Killed The Radio Star” on their second album, OF ALL THINGS I WILL SOON GROW TIRED, they were attempting to emulate Cap’n Jazz’s cover of “Take On Me.” Both are ‘80s one-hit-wonders, both are scrappy and colorful punk rippers, both (like many pop punk and ska covers) feel somewhat detached from the actual source material. Like most Joyce Manor songs, it’s a scant two minutes of firy energy and it’s at this point the hallmark of their sophomore record.
83. “Passionfruit” (Drake Cover) by Paramore
Words sound good coming out of Hayley Williams’ mouth, and “Passionfruit” is about as carefree a pop hit as there was this decade. Hearing Paramore take the synth-washed sound they vibed to on 2017’s AFTER LAUGHTER and deconstruct Drake’s hit just makes some degree of sense, and the results are fun, Williams in particular embracing the kind of stream-of-consciousness, disconnected beauty of the song.
82. “White Flag” (Dido Cover) by Jay Som
“White Flag” was kind of built for Jay Som to cover, her rich, deeper vocals and ‘90s dream pop instincts paying huge dividends on the early millenium pop hit. I think 17 years after its initial release, we can admit to ourselves that Dido’s song is tremendously uncool (I think I heard it played during fucking Delilah as a kid, peak uncool), so an update of it was necessary. The relatively sparse build of the original is exchanged for a robust and layered indie rock sound, plenty of guitars being stacked on top of one another by the end of the song, which concludes with a satisfying flame out where Melina Duterte whispers the signature lines: “I will not go down with this ship / And I won’t put my hands up and surrender / There will be no white flag above my door / I’m in love and always will be.” She nails it, and collectively everything clicks.
81. “REALiTi” (Grimes Cover) by Natalie Prass
The demo for “REALiTi” is better than the studio version. I lead with that only because I didn’t get to write the blurb for Grimes’ ART ANGELS in our best albums of the decade feature, but had I, it would’ve been my lede. While I didn’t much get the singer-songwriter fare of indie darling Natalie Prass’ self-titled debut, she leaned into more indie pop grooves with 2018’s THE FUTURE AND THE PAST, and in a lot of ways you can hear this much earlier cover of “REALiTi” in some of that music. As choppy as the mixing is in this, it’s made all the more charming as the homespun flip to such a digitally perfected track. But remember: Demo > Album Cut.
80. “Wrecking Ball” (Miley Cyrus Cover) by Billy Corgan
Billy Corgan loves a good cover. From his immortal take on Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” (which peaked at #3 on the Billboard Alternative charts, for the record) to the stomping, mean-mugged version of the Cars’ “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight,” his specific vocals up the intensity of whatever he’s singing. Now, Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” is a pop hit that’s already oozing intense passion, and stripping it down to an acoustic guitar was especially en vogue in the months after the song became a hit, but with Corgan’s vocals, the track becomes filled with a hollow heartbreak absent in Cyrus’ highly produced Top 40 play.
79. “He’s A Rebel” (The Crystals Cover) by Chumped
The ‘50s or ‘60s doo-wop or soft rock classic converted to punk trick is always at risk of losing the bright personality of the original, but Chumped (RIP) for AV Undercover absolutely nail the conversion of that Phil Spektor sound on their version of The Crystals’ immortal “He’s A Rebel.” The drums provide a sunken-sounding bedlam against Anika Pyle’s powerhouse performance, a nice update of the track for the 2010s.
78. “I’m In Love With A Girl” (Big Star Cover) by Lucero
A tender, bar rock version of the Big Star classic, Lucero take “I’m In Love With A Girl” and give it a flowery hit of alt-country passion. The production is warm, truly a sendup of the original complete with a co-sign from Jody Stephens and recorded at Ardent Studios in Memphis 44 years after we first head it.
77. “The Chain” (Fleetwood Mac Cover) by The Highwomen
Recorded for the forgotten-upon-release mobwives film THE KITCHEN, easily the most memorable thing to come out of the films was supergroup The Highwomen’s cover of Fleetwood Mac’s hopelessly badass anthem “The Chain.” That group of women with those vocal harmonies in the opening? I’m weak in the knees. The whole thing rips the way a cover of “The Chain” should.
76. “Schley” (Joyce Manor Cover) by Field Mouse
Joyce Manor’s version of “Schley” is cutting pop punk mastery. Field Mouse makeover the song to take on a genial, dreamy vibe while, and this is key if you cover Joyce Manor, keeping it at only two minutes. Peers of the same scene covering each other, you love to see it.
75. “Favourite Colour” (Carly Rae Jepsen Cover) by Wild Pink
Wild Pink make tender, wooly heartland rock—please stop reading this and go listen to one of the best albums of 2018, YOLK IN THE FUR—and they slow things down with a masterful, building cover of our queen Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘80s pop banger “Favourite Colour.” Found on a charity release that covers the rest of CRJ’s excellent EMOTION, Wild Pink standout with a slowly creeping but beautiful rendition of the track.
74. “The Sound of Silence” (Simon & Garfunkel Cover) by James Blake
Some things make a lot of sense, and James Blake bringing his quivering croon and strikingly bold but minimalist electronic sound to Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” is one of them. He brings a Biblical intensity to it that is truly chilling. It’s a cover that lives exclusively in the Sad Boi hours, and that’s perfectly fine.
73. “Rock Lobster” (B-52s Cover) by Shame
The post-punk cover of “Rock Lobster” felt kinda inevitable given it’s already got such a dark and mysterious underbelly to it anyway (the way the B-52’s Fred Schneider says “We were at a party” is wedged in my brain forever, a perfect mix of creepy, fun, and compelling) and Shame stick the landing, speeding it up and making delivering on a scuzzy, hectic surf rock explosion that is both fun and dizzying.
72. “The Tourist” (Radiohead Cover) by Pile
If you wanted the broken, DIY, Boston version of Thom Yorke’s voice, which I’m not sure why you would but go along with it, I think Rick Maguire fits the bill. The Pile frontman knows how to throw his vocals around in utterly dynamic ways, and he puts that to the test on one of OK COMPUTER’s prettier cuts, “The Tourist.” The razor-thin chaos that radiates just below the surface of the best Pile songs can be felt here, and even though it’s the even more raw version of the original in a lot of ways, the unnerving energy throughout pushes it over the top.
71. “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around (Stevie Nicks & Tom Petty Cover) by Shearwater and Sharon Van Etten
I’d like Sharon Van Etten to duet with me, if only because the way she stares at whoever she is performing with carries a powerful energy unlike any other (see: Her performing “Seventeen” with Norah Jones). She is unwavering in the Stevie Nicks’ role on “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” her and Shearwater’s rough-around-the-edges take a nice indie rock version of the famous duet. And even though Jonathan Meiburg is clearly Petty-ing up his voice a bit, I’d argue he was always a kind of Tom Petty-ish singer? Regardless, the combination is a delight.
70. “Rhinestone Cowboy” (Glen Campbell Cover) by Bruce Springsteen
Don’t overthink it: It sounds utterly amazing to hear Springsteen do Campbell, and the backup singer on this track only helps push some already over-the-top production over the top.
69. “I Would Die 4 U” (Prince Cover) by Lydia Loveless
Lydia Loveless gives her go-for-broke voice a spin on Prince’s eternal funk and the results are as impassioned as you might imagine, a fuzzy guitar medley that still has the power to make you want to dance. Prince can be a hard artist to cover because of how specific his brand of funk and R&B was, but Loveless does this one justice.
68. “Maps” (Yeah Yeah Yeahs Cover) by Anderson .Paak
One of Anderson .Paak’s earliest releases, COVER ART delivers some really transformative and interesting covers (including White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army”). The forlorn wisdom of “Maps” is helplessly sexy under .Paak’s power, a bedroom pop-R&B sway almost overwhelming as he croons “They don’t love you like I love you.” If you ever wanted to make a song more Prince-like, there are plenty of lessons here.
67. “PDA” (Interpol Cover) by Day Wave and Hazel English
“PDA” as a duet makes a ton of sense and I’m shocked it took this long to happen. Day Wave and Hazel English take Interpol’s tireless couchsurfing New York City anthem and give it a lo-fi dream pop sound, and while the anti-Interpol backlash feels like it has been gaining steam this decade, if you (like me) love TURN OFF THE BRIGHT LIGHTS and the fallout of indie rock that came after, I’m sure you’ll eat this up.
66. “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” (The Smiths Cover) by Dum Dum Girls
If you were wondering, I’ll save you a Google and let you know that yes, Dum Dum Girls DID break up (back in 2016)! Even though their brand of shoegaze is, in all likelihood, due for a reappraisal as we stretch further away from their if-memory-serves-correctly decent debut, this is a Good cover of a song that’s frequently covered and overthought. You don’t have to do a ton to “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” to make it a good cover, up the fuzz and you have a good one. Dum Dum Girls do that here.
65. “Hold On, We’re Going Home” (Drake Cover) by Arctic Monkeys
When I shortlisted this cover prior to re-hearing it, I did kind of instantly write it off. Not that it wasn’t good in the moment (it was), but it felt like the kind of right moment, right sound collision that made for good but vapid internet fodder back in 2013. Both artists were dominating their respective genres, but frequently a big modern band covering another big modern band leads to bad or boring results—there aren’t a TON that fit that bill on this list, but we did already do this with Drake back on #84. But Alex Turner giving a sneering British riff on Drake’s earnest R&B pleas works, and the band does a great job blurring rock and pop across the whole track. It’s still vapid internet fodder, but it’s of a high quality.
64. “Everybody’s Talkin’” (Fred Neil Cover) by Weyes Blood
My first note would be that most people know this song as being an excellent Harry Nillson hit from MIDNIGHT COWBOY, but I urge you to give Fred Neil’s actual original a try, a rambling troubadour country version in the vein of Lee Hazelwood or Gene Clark. Weyes Blood already makes music that sounds like it comes from either Nilsson or Neil’s era, albeit making music more in the modern sonic wheelhouse of, say, The Carpenters or Carly Simon, but she gives a powerfully stark and minimalist take on the traditionally freewheeling song here. Natalie Mering’s voice is absolutely stunning on a cover that gives added dimensions to an oft-covered powerhouse.
63. “Sharp Dressed Man” (ZZ Top Cover) by Xiu Xiu
Xiu Xiu wouldn’t be an obvious pick for ZZ Top’s “Sharped Dressed Man,” and fittingly the results are pretty out there, an off-kilter, distant, and delightfully surreal take on the source material. ZZ Top sound overly in control on their most famous song, and Xiu Xiu’s chaos takes a lot of the piss out of it here and it’s a wild listen.
62. “Surrender” (Cheap Trick Cover) by The Dirty Nil
The Dirty Nil recklessly cover music like a group of teenagers who just discovered their dad’s vintage record collection, hacking and slashing through power riffs and indulgent solos with abandon, and it rules. After they covered Metallica’s “Hit The Lights” as the closer to their slept-on album MASTER VOLUME, they unleashed a slew of classics in 2019, from Harry Nillson to Led Zeppelin to Van Halen to Big Star — they’re all awesome. But I’ll highlight 2018’s “Surrender,” if for no other reason than Cheap Trick seem like they share the most DNA with the Dirty Nil, a garage rock band with reckless punk energy making power pop hooks with arena rock ambition.
61. “Someday” (The Strokes Cover) by Julia Jacklin
Julia Jacklin turning The Strokes’ best song (fight me) into a lullaby is really sweet. She does an excellent job on her triple j cover at turning the uptempo indie rock classic into a shuffling ballad, and of course her voice is a magnetic wonder during the a capella interlude in the middle of the song.
60. “Jesus, Etc.” (Wilco Cover) by Laura Stevenson
Laura Stevenson can sing anything and it will be great, full stop. Her take on the YANKEE HOTEL FOXTROT classic is jaw-dropping, really drawing out the melancholy and pain of a song that gets away with masking some of that feeling through the strings, slide guitar, and simple dodding pace of the original. It’s kind-hearted yet devastating.
59. “Somebody’s Baby” (Jackson Browne Cover) by Sidney Gish
An open idea for any filmmakers reading this: Use Sidney Gish’s playful bedroom pop version of “Somebody’s Baby” in your movie. I find it hard to believe that BOOKSMART had room for as many fun indie rock and pop songs as it did and couldn’t at least make a fun FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH reference. Embrace the bouncy fun, let Gish nail this version for a new generation.
58. “Young Turks” (Rod Stewart Cover) by Priests
Priests (RIP) are an intense band on record, but seem like genuinely sweet and fun people in real life. Covering Rod Stewart’s admittedly corny but iconic hit “Young Turks” perfectly captures that duality; Katie Alice Greer’s swagger and G.L. Jaguar’s guitar shredding are almost unprecedented for a song this silly, but the whole thing clicks.
57. “I’m On Fire” (Bruce Springsteen Cover) by Soccer Mommy
People love covering Bruce Springsteen’s horniest song. You can add Sophie Allison to a strange and long list! At this point a cover of “I’m On Fire” really comes down to how much you like the artist that’s performing it and less what they can actually do with it, because it really is kind of obscene how often this song is covered. And I’m a Soccer Mommy fan! Honorable mentions from this decade: The powerless-feeling Bat For Lashes take, Chromatics playful, synthy late-night cut.
56. “Gates of Steel” (DEVO Cover) by The Men
The bombast of lo-fi fuzz and blown-out guitar and vocals can’t mask how goddamn fun “Gates of Steel” is, and while The Men aren’t the first band to offer a punk take on DEVO’s synthpop weirdo pseudo-hit, they certainly find a way to make it their own: as disorienting as that scuzzy tone can be elsewhere in their early discography, it works here.
55. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (Nirvana Cover) by Meat Puppets
Some nice symmetry here seeing as Nirvana famously covered a few Meat Puppets songs on their MTV UNPLUGGED IN NEW YORK. On a compilation of NEVERMIND covers, Meat Puppets took the biggest hit of them all and gave it the art punk treatment with a cover that lands both frantic acoustic strumming and squelching electric soloing, conventional but competent, straightforward but compelling. No version of the song could nail the dynamic, combustible excitement of the original, but it’s a true delight to hear decades of rock history contained in one five-minute tribute.
54. “Panama” (Van Halen Cover) by Reggie Watts
A “reworking” Reggie Watts generously calls it in the open. Anyone familiar with Watts’ comedy stylings will obviously find his looping and vocal style familiar, and he strips the song to basically just the instantly recognizable chorus, but it’s zany fun. And look, in a lot of ways no one actually wants to hear a real cover of Van Halen’s “Panama” anyway, so what comes out here is kind of the best version of all the things that come from saying “Reggie Watts covers Van Halen” out loud.
53. “Maneater” (Hall & Oates Cover) by Lower Dens
Converting the fun of Hall & Oates songs into a different kind of energy should be more a more common practice than it is currently. Lower Dens get that on “Maneater,” turning it into the soundtrack of a neo-noir where only the streetlights and stray cats are your friends. It’s a dark, hushed version of the regularly springy pop hit and the flip is successful. And don’t worry, it’s just as fun to hear Jana Hunter sing “mind over matter” as it is Daryl Hall.
52. “Unbelievers” (Vampire Weekend Cover) by Ezra Furman
Ezra on Ezra. Furman’s messy, breakneck cover instantly communicates such a kinetic punk energy that it’s kind of dizzying the first time; “Unbelievers” is already one of the more hectic songs on MODERN VAMPIRES OF THE CITY, but hearing it reimagined with Furman’s raspy voice chaotically spitting all over a hissing, frantic interpretation of the track just instantly clicks—by the time he’s making “rawrrrr”-ing noises at the end, you’re just along for the ride and it’s a thrill.
51. “A Forest” (The Cure Cover) by Frankie Rose
For Turntable Kitchen’s SOUNDS DELICIOUS series, Frankie Rose covered all of The Cure’s SEVENTEEN SECONDS, and anyone who fucked with Rose’s previous dream pop exploits in any capacity should glean that this is a good idea. Her take on “A Forest” somehow doubles down on the mystery and darkness of the original, as though she was performing at the Roadhouse in TWIN PEAKS. It stays close to the original, but Rose’s beautiful vocals of course give it a different dimension entirely.
50. “Leave Me Alone” (New Order Cover) by Thurston Moore
Even though “Age of Consent” is probably the gun-to-my-head best song on POWER, CORRUPTION & LIES, “Leave Me Alone” is an extremely close number two, and quite frankly one of the best deep-cut New Order songs (if that kind of a thing exists on such a well-known album). Thurston Moore, he of Sonic Youth fame, recently covered it of all songs and does an immaculate job, exchanging the frantic, hurried pacing of the original for a sparse acoustic version that ends in a psychy, wizened malaise.
49. “Don’t Dream It’s Over” (Crowded House Cover) by Flock of Dimes feat. Sylvan Esso
Jenn Wasner Sing Me The Phone Book Challenge. But for real, the Wye Oak member’s side project as Flock Of Dimes joined Sylvan Esso for a glitchy, textured take on ‘80s classic “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” Amelia Meath occasionally coming in for the vocal harmonies. The whole thing is, as the kids say, a vibe, and a nice sendup of one of the best songs of the ‘80s.
48. “Bastards of Young” (The Replacements Cover) by Titus Andronicus w/ Craig Finn
“We gotta do that old school Minneapolis shit,” Patrick Stickles says to pride of Minnesota and Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn. It’s an anarchic house party cover, recorded at Shea Stadium in Brooklyn and oozing a youthful exuberance from, at this point, two well-established rockers. From Finn letting fans sing along, to (if you watch the video), a sweaty and shirtless Stickles, it’s the kind of veteran karaoking that should probably be annoying but given how important the song is, is nothing but absolutely endearing. Truly a lot of fun.
47. “Doin’ Time” (Sublime Cover) by Lana Del Rey
The cultural discourse can’t seem to agree whether Sublime are cool or cancelled or corny, which kind of makes them the perfect act to rifle through for potential covers. Lana Del Rey’s obsession with the West Coast is well-documented, and “Doin’ Time” is such a perfect choice for her beach side vibe checks and summer bummer aesthetic, those vocals an unquestionable upgrade compared to the original. That it fits on NORMAN FUCKING ROCKWELL! without feeling out-of-place says a lot about what a fascinating artist she is, and continues our inability to assess Sublime.
46. “Where Is My Mind?” (Pixies Cover) by Trampled By Turtles
Certainly Trampled By Turtles taking on one of the all-time covered alternative rock classics should be trite or boring, but like I said way back on #88, bluegrass covers are easy to wow with, and strip those drums away and replace it with mandolin plucking and violin swelling, you’re in for a bit of magic. It’s perhaps overly referenced as one of the definitive covers of the decade, especially in the playlisting world (as most “Where Is My Mind?” covers are, for the record, see: Maxence Cyrin) but all these years later the passionate spirit of the song holds up.
45. “Farewell Transmission” (Songs: Ohia Cover) by Kevin Morby and Katie Crutchfield
That opening guitar lick is so iconic, as is Jason Molina’s distant voice. Kevin Morby and Katie Crutchfield play it pretty straight on this cover beyond trading off verses, but that slide guitar radiates in an awfully familiar way. It’s a kind-sounding cover, slightly quicker, with both their voices finding a bit more of a comfortable groove than Molina was ever known for (part of his charm). We lost Molina in 2013, perhaps a bit too early in the decade to experience the dirge of tribute covers that are now common practice to hit Stereogum in the weeks following a death, but of the Songs: Ohia covers that do exist out there, this is among the best.
44. “Dreams” (The Cranberries Cover) by Japanese Breakfast
Certainly anyone who has heard a Japanese Breakfast song could see how Michelle Zauner could be attracted to the soaring dream pop of something like “Dreams,” and she does a great job making the mainstream hit even more lush and stringy, with vocals that correctly don’t try and nail the late Dolores O’Riordan’s powerful yodels, but bring the song back down a smidge to Earth. It’s an obvious cover, but it totally fits.
43. “Moon River” (Audrey Hepburn Cover) by Frank Ocean
Frank Ocean has a lot of fun with the vocal production on his take on “Moon River,” opening with a ton of different effects and layers. Not that the original was exactly a production powerhouse by any stretch, Ocean’s version works particularly well because, like lots of cuts on BLONDE, it places a large emphasis on his voice and what a powerful, singular instrument it can be. Everything here is sparse, and it’s an affecting version of a classic that doesn’t find much modern shine.
42. “Semi-Charmed Life” (Third Eye Blind Cover) by Frontier Ruckus
A rootsy, slowed-down cover of “Semi-Charmed Life” that essentially opens up with a singing saw is gonna be a pass for plenty of people, and that’s fine. But I like what Frontier Ruckus do here, trumpets, tempo changes, and all. Most covers of songs in the ilk of Third Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life” make you helplessly and hopelessly aware of how dumb the lyrics of these late-90s/early 2000s rap rock tracks are, but Frontier Ruckus somehow manage to avoid that pratfall during their AV Undercover session while capturing the fun highs of the song.
41. “Come Pick Me Up” (Ryan Adams Cover) by Superchunk
I loved “Come Pick Me Up,” but it’s a track that for obvious reasons I’m not planning on playing any time soon. Feel free to reclaim that song by giving the extremely uncancelled and extremely good band Superchunk and their version a listen. Reimagined as an upswinging power pop rock song rather than a slowed-down folk ballad, Mac McCaughan puts in the work with a version that brings a daringly more optimistic energy, which I think given the context of the situation is needed.
40. “Eyes Without A Face” (Billy Idol Cover) by Stef Chura
“Eyes Without A Face” is absolutely the best Billy Idol song (fight me), and while the soft, building ballad nature of it is what makes it such a fascinating contrast to Idol’s other hits, I adore Stef Chura’s grungy, lo-fi take on it. Chura closes out her excellent album MIDNIGHT with a slowly building, snarling guitar fest, and her voice upends Idol’s measured calmness (sexiness?). It rules and that she uses it as an album closer makes it somehow better.
39. “My Girls” (Animal Collective Cover) by Tears For Fears
Tears For Fears basically released four songs the whole decade: a surprisingly competent original single (their first in 11 years) entitled “I Love You But I’m Lost,” and covers of Hot Chip’s “And I Was A Boy From School,” Arcade Fire’s “Ready To Start,” and Animal Collective’s “My Girls”—someone was paying attention to their kid’s iPod Nanos in 2010. Honestly every song they put out was interesting, modern-sounding, and genuinely exciting, certainly suggesting that if they were to ever to release a new album the Pitchforks of the world might actually take note.. Their take on “My Girls” is the kind of grasp for relevance that should really not work, but in reality it feels both in-tune with what makes the original such an important breakthrough while playfully exploring its synthy, dancey edges, which is to be expected by a band like Tears For Fears. In a lot of ways, some of the production is almost more dizzying than the original, almost a hint at Animal Collective’s more ragtag and raw past—perhaps a fun accident, perhaps a keen ear on the band’s part, perhaps a bit of both. Let’s get a new Tears For Fears album in the 2020s, please.
38. “Joey” (Concrete Blondes Cover) by Shovels & Rope w/ Nicole Atkins
There’s a ton of interesting tracks to comb through on Shovels & Rope’s BUSTED JUKEBOX series. Guests like Rhett Miller, Brandi Carlile, Caroline Rose, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band (among many others) cover stuff like “Perfect Day” by Lou Reed or “Untitled 1” by Sigur Ros. So needless to say there are about 15 covers that could easily be on this list without question, but for my money, the best one is ‘90s one-hit wonder “Joey” by Concrete Blonde with singer Nicole Atkins. Hearing all three singers rotate through singing parts of the song as its ‘90s alternative rock DNA is stripped for parts in favor of a building blues gas up that’s always seconds away from lighting up. More people should listen to Concrete Blonde’s kind-of-forgotten original, and certainly more people should listen to Shovels & Rope. Remedy both today.
37. “With Or Without You” (U2 Cover) by Twin Shadow
U2 covers are hard. Their sound is so specific, from Bono’s singular ascending vocals to The Edge’s distant, reverberating guitar tone, you can’t just simply “do” a U2 cover unless stars align. Enter Twin Shadow, whose vocals happen to be absolutely perfect for something like the aching “With Or Without You,” and whose synthy build does wonders to make one of the greatest love songs feel lived in.
36. “Dreaming” (Blondie Cover) by Say Sue Me
I have to imagine Say Sue Me are going to be one of the great world exports in the next few years, so bookmark this one for bragging rights (and while you’re at it listen to 2018’s excellent WHERE WE WERE TOGETHER). The South Korean band make dreamy surf rock, like if Mojave 3 tried to cover Dick Dale. and it’s awesome. Their version of Blondie’s “Dreaming” slows things down a smidge, lead singer Choi Sumi elongating Debbie Harrie’s punkish instincts in favor of something with a bit more scuzz and fairy dust. It’s a nice introduction to the band and a good reason to revisit some Blondie.
35. “Whip My Hair” (Willow Smith Cover) by Bruce Springsteen and Jimmy Fallon (as Neil Young)
Look, I hate Jimmy Fallon. I really do. But his Neil Young is pretty serviceable? I wish this was a joke, me putting this cover THIS high up on the list, but just like Jimmy Fallon, I’m not that funny. The transformation of Willow Smith’s perfectly average “Whip My Hair” into a Neil Young song, and then the added inclusion of Bruce Springsteen (but as ‘70s Springsteen)? Surreal and lodged in my dumb brain forever. Great. Fun. Far better than it genuinely has any right to be.
34. “Blank Space” (Taylor Swift Cover) by Father John Misty
In a decade filled with surrealist Father John Misty stunts, covering Ryan Adams’ cover of Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” in the stylings of the Velvet Underground gets high marks, not only because it took the piss out of Adams’ bland acoustic interpretations, but also because the nuances are perfectly executed. Josh Tillman’s Lou Reed impression is the real revelation here, the affectation and attention to detail surprisingly brilliant, but just the ability to uncannily turn the pop song into a sparse talkalong fitting for The Factory is pretty impressive.
33. “Welcome To The Black Parade” (My Chemical Romance Cover) by Alex Lahey
When I saw Alex Lahey at the Troubadour a few years ago (humble brag, I know) she covered Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated,” a sure sign of the times for where our young rockstars saw early influence. Needless to say she crushes My Chemical Romance’s biggest anthem, adding her brand of seamless punk stitching to a speedy interpretation that even dares to add some “shoobop shoobops” at the close. Also she nails every key change like a Goddamn pro. This will seem like a dig, but I’m the one who wrote about 100 covers for this piece, so trust me when I say that I’m excited for another decade of Lahey taking on Hoobastank or Good Charlotte.
32. “Anything Anything” (Dramarama Cover) by Beach Slang
James Alex wears his influences on his sleeve, his love for punk and classic rock bordering on banal if it weren’t so earnest. Beach Slang’s cover of Dramarama’s classic “Anything Anything” is a curio in the current music landscape in so much as the original version has had no streaming presence this decade outside of a live version of the track. Beach Slang’s impassioned version is as close as you could get to being able to properly playlist the song, which is honestly fine. Alex does total justice with his hot-blooded rasp and fervent power chords.
31. “Every 1’s A Winner” (Hot Chocolate Cover) by Ty Segall
Kinda shocked this one hasn’t been synced for a Budweiser commercial or something by now. Ty Segall goes fully primal on this cover of Hot Chocolate’s infectiously groovy “Every 1’s A Winner” with some pretty one-track-minded fuzzy blues guitar riffing. Even if the words Ty Segall + *insert name of song* is going to instantly recall anything you could need to know about what the song would sound like, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t rule. He takes the song back to the lab, AKA his garage, and works wonders.
30. “Don’t Speak” (No Doubt Cover) by Pllush
A quick PSA: Pllush’s STRANGER TO THE PAIN is an excellent slice of dream pop that more folks should check out. If you want a quick taste, try on their excellent cover of No Doubt’s crushing hit “Don’t Speak.” The band turn it into a lackadaisical dream pop romp that’s loose-feeling, handedly emphasizing the hazy, dreary heartbreak that was always so central to the original version, but without as much of the pop veneer.
29. “Wicked Game” (Chris Issak Cover) by Widowspeak
Turning “Wicked Game” into an indie rock desert odyssey seems like a kind of obvious thing to do given the song is already a Mississippi half-step away from being there in the first place, but Widowspeak nail the aesthetic. Molly Hamilton’s beautiful cries capture that iconic longing while musically the tempo moves from a downturned ballad to a dust bowl waltz effortlessly.
28. “Bang Bang” (Nancy Sinatra Cover) by Pharmakon
Margaret Chardiet’s experimental noise project Pharmakon wouldn’t be my first choice for a Nancy Sinatra cover, per se, especially given how many female vocalists in this decade could’ve crushed her parts. As such, Chardiet nails the vocals of this, but where as many would zig with pretty, lush instrumentals and cinematic idealism, she zags with an uncomfortably sparse, anxiety-ridden production where the titular bangs are jarring. It’s a pretty masterful reinterpretation, especially for anyone with even a passing interest in the Sacred Bones mainstay.
27. “Shake It Off” (Taylor Swift Cover) by Screaming Females
Marissa Paternoster’s quivering, guttural voice is a thing to behold. Punk as fuck, hearing the New Jersey rockers take on “Shake It Off” would be hilarious if it wasn’t so utterly badass, and Paternoster delivering the song’s iconic “You could have been getting down to this sick beat” is worth the price of admission alone. Among the best cover acts of the decade (skip ahead to #22, or check out their version of Neil Young’s “Cortez The Killer”), “Shake It Off” is perhaps their most magical.
26. “Physical” (Olivia Newton John Cover) by Juliana Hatfield
I mean it doesn’t get more joyous than this. Juliana Hatfield strips away the cheese of Olivia Newton John’s “Physical” and turns it into an ultra-catchy indie rock anthem that’s horny as all hell. Yes, by definition the song was always horny, but upping both the tempo and the rock ‘n roll only makes it a sweatier experience, which is good for everyone.
25. “Olympia, WA” (Rancid Cover) by Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band
Here are two facts: “Olympia, WA” is the best Rancid song (fight me), and no one plays the guitar like Reverend Peyton. Hearing him and the Big Damn Band turn the rallying punk anthem into a lawless outlaw blues explosion is an utter joy, his guitar bouncing around against Breezy’s signature washboard with true exuberance. There are a lot of fun covers on HOOLIGANS UNITED: A TRIBUTE TO RANCID (shout out to Arizona’s own Authority Zero on “I Wanna Riot”), but Rev. Petyon unquestionably makes the biggest splash with his unique sound.
24. “In The Pines” (Leadbelly Cover) by Thou
Thou have to be in the conversation for best metal band of the decade. One of their weird ticks is their love for Nirvana. They’ve performed whole sets dedicated to the band’s music, and have covered a few tracks on record as well, notably “Something in the Way.” Even though it’s not technically a Kurt Cobain joint, Leadbelly’s “In The Pines,” one of the most famous blues songs ever written, was interpreted by the grunge legends under the name “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” on their MTV UNPLUGGED IN NEW YORK, so it makes sense they’d be attracted to the source material. Naturally in the hands of Thou it was always going to be a homerun, but I don’t think I was prepared for just how sludgy and heavy it would ultimately be, those vocals filthy over massive guitar chords. Cobain’s perceived anger on the unplugged session obviously carries over here, and it’s the best metal cover I heard this decade, not a gimmick but a true expression of admiration for the source material.
23. “Love Is Blindness” (U2 Cover) by Jack White
Many will recognize Jack White’s version of “Love Is Blindness” from THE GREAT GATSBY trailer, and while that unquestionably popularized the excellent ACHTUNG BABY deep cut, it actually originated on a great covers compilation entitled AHK-TOONG BAY-BI COVERED which featured covers from The Killers, Nine Inch Nails, Patti Smith, and Depeche Mode, among others, so that’s worth highlighting for you U2-heads out there. But “Love Is Blindness” remains the big takeaway, so much so it wasn’t just on the Leo DiCaprio led film’s soundtrack, it was also a bonus track on White’s BLUNDERBUSS. It makes U2’s song utterly epic, the perfect sync song but also a great angry re-interpretation of the source material.
22. “If It Makes You Happy” (Sheryl Crow Cover) by Screaming Females
It was a dead heat between this and Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” (see: #27) for best Screaming Females cover of the decade, but at the end of the day, hearing Marissa Paternoster wail the chorus of Sheryl Crow’s best hit is just more satisfying. That it’s fundamentally a better song than T-Swift’s helps too, and that sick guitar solo at the bridge gives it points, but really I just like turning it up to 10 and singing along to one of the best pop-rock songs of the ‘90s, and few could sing that chorus with such intensity or passion—even Crow should be in awe.
21. “Seconds” (The Human League Cover) by LCD Soundsystem
DARE is an excellent album. While most will know it simply for The Human League’s biggest hit, “Don’t You Want Me” (ohhhhh, THAT one), other singles like “The Things That Dreams Are Made Of” or “Love Action (I Believe in Love)” are equally fun new wave dance cuts. Perhaps the album’s best song is about the assassination of JFK, although “Seconds” feels perhaps as vital and urgent now as it did then. James Murphy, who of course name checks The Human League in “Losing My Edge,” gives a regimented and stately take on Philip Oakey’s vocals and makes the marching beat all the more intense. LCD Soundsystem accentuate the song’s vitality by emboldening the sound, turning it into a richer, more staggering synthpop cut that makes the exceedingly relevant chorus “it took seconds of your time to take his life” a painful truth to dance through.
20. “The Whole Of The Moon” (The Waterboys Cover) by Kirin J Callinan
This sounds like David Bowie covering The Waterboys’ underrated turntable hit “The Whole of the Moon” and to think that description could possibly play is kind of amazing. It’s got twinges of electropop and funk amping up the original, and the vocal performance is central to the whole thing working. Some say it’s better than the original (read: MGRM contributor Jacob Martin) to which I would take pause on, but that I have to pause in the first place says a lot.
19. “My Body Is A Cage” (Arcade Fire Cover) by Peter Gabriel
The heavens begin to open up at 2:30, the strings forebodingly pulsing with warning before Peter Gabriel re-enters proclaiming: “My Body Is A Cage.” Gabriel amps a lot of the melodramatic tension of the original, making it more cinematic and tense, maximizing the emotions of the song to a Biblical level.
18. “Linger” (The Cranberries Cover) by Real Estate
I couldn’t think of a better band to cover “Linger.” The eager romance of the song is so tender and plush when it comes from Real Estate—the words themselves feel eerily right coming from Martin Courtney, who is no stranger to writing nostalgic dreamlike stories. Even though his voice could never match that of Dolores O’Riordan, the luxurious indie rock interpretation, with its soft guitar noodling, relies far more on the instrumentation than it does the central vocal performance, which lets the beauty of the song shine. “Linger” is an all-timer and Real Estate do it tremendous justice.
17. “Fade Into You” (Mazzy Star Cover) by J Mascis
J Mascis and Hope Sandsoval are contemporaries. Both were kicking it in the ‘90s and feeding from the same indie-turned-major music scene, but for whatever reason Sandsoval will always be young and Mascis will always be old, even when he was young. (In 2020, this all seems surreal to me, but then again if you write that Mazzy Star and Dinosaur Jr. are contemporaries, the whole thing makes more sense.) Latter-day J Mascis’ recent solo records have a kind of playful tenderness to them, a forlorn love and aged perspective playing against light, acoustic-leaning production. All this to say that “Fade Into You” is kind of the perfect J Mascis 2010 song, a cover that captures a lot of the great elements of his solo work this decade complete with a really engaging guitar part and a fresh, brighter sonic update that could really only come with a bit of navel-gazing on the legendary indie artist’s part.
16. “Into The Black” (Neil Young Cover) by Chromatics
It’s a tremendous flex to open a double album with a cover of one of Neil Young’s most popular songs, but that’s just how confident Johnny Jewel is. Chromatics have been one of the more consistently reliable cover artists this decade, from the slow motion “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” to their vibrant, clock-ticking synth work on “Running Up That Hill” to even flexing again by opening up CLOSER TO GREY with a cover of “Sound of Silence.” But they all pale in comparison to their version of Neil Young’s “Hey Hey My My (Into the Black),” Ruth Radelet’s shadowy vocals a perfect complement to the mysterious, reimagined atmosphere of the track. The ticking beeps and mourning synths at the end collide against Jewel’s guitar playing in a perfect way. We’ll be seeing Neil Young covers for the rest of time, and this was the decade’s best.
15. Jeff Rosenstock and AJJ Medley
My jaw hangs agape when I watch it. It shouldn’t work, really, and yet for multiple reasons it does. Rather than do one singular cover for AV Undercover, Jeff Rosenstock and AJJ, tourmates at the time, were tasked with covering a plethora of past tracks from the popular web series, and while seeing either of them take on just one song would rule, seeing them do a whole mess of tracks rules. And while both take different approaches, Rosenstock stringing together the likes of New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle” and Frank Ocean’s “Thinkin Bout You” with a coherent and bombastic deluge of punk energy, AJJ layering choruses to create one of the most impressive medlies I’ve ever seen. You have to see it to believe it, but once you have, you won’t forget it.
14. “All My Friends” (LCD Soundsystem Cover) by Gang of Youths
“All My Friends” will, undoubtedly, be over-covered at some point—even right now I can think of several prominent indie covers, from John Cale and Franz Ferdinand to Baths and Tokyo Police Club. But given it’s one of the pre-eminent greatest songs of the 2000s and one that many, many, many consider to be one of the all-time best (myself included), I take all comers. Enter Australian Gang of Youths, who make punkish heartland rock music, Springsteen by way of the Wild West of Australia with hints of The Replacements or Husker Du. And as you can imagine from that description, it’s a particularly energetic, exuberant take on “All My Friends,” proud and defiant and still utterly cutting given the context of the song. Artists who choose to cover the song in a faster tempo are on to something exciting, I think, and Gang of Youths really nail the heartbreaking sentiment of the song without getting lost in the sentimentality too much. That it proudly deserves a place on the “All My Friends” shelf of covers says everything you need to know.
13. “Touch of Grey” (Grateful Dead Cover) by The War on Drugs
Honestly there are about 20 amazing covers from DAY OF THE DEAD that could appear on here, but I’ll go with its best-known product and its first single because I do think it’s probably the best fusion of a band’s sound into a classic product. It is a cover that is somehow 100% “Touch of Grey” while 100% being a song by The War On Drugs, the chugging drum machines and Adam Granduciel’s guitar playing and vocals as idiosyncratic as they’ve been for most of this decade. While the Drugs could probably try their hand at just about any Grateful Dead song at this point and be successful, the straightforwardness of “Touch of Grey” perfectly suits their heartland synth sound. Other highlights from that impeccably curated compilation: the bluesy uptempo swing of Jenny Lewis and Phosphorescent doing “Sugaree,” the fierce stomp of Ed Droste and Bikini Shapiro’s “Loser,” the undeniable psych-funk of Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s wired “Shakedown Street,” the twangy minimalism of Hiss Golden Messanger’s “Brown-Eyed Woman,” and of course the 16-minute “Terrapin Station (Suite)” featuring *takes deep breath* Daniel Rossen, Christopher Bear, The National, Josh Kaufman, Conrad Doucette, So Percussion, and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus.
12. “Carry On My Wayward Son” (Kansas Cover) by GWAR
GWAR are the GOATs, and that’s all you need to know. Shut the fuck up and watch them body the hell out of “Carry On My Wayward Son.”
11. “I Only Have Eyes For You” (The Flamingos Cover) by Beck
On paper this should be weirder, especially with how oddly mainstream and over-thought much of Beck’s 2010s were. The smoky, disintegrating nature of his update to The Flamingos’ perfect “I Only Have Eyes For You” just kind of makes sense, his unique, flexible baritone crooning over a dreary, sleepy late-night prom classic. The whole thing is slow-moving and beautiful, Beck’s mesmerizing voice a perfect complement to the doo-wopping last-call romance of the whole affair.
10. “The Promise” (When In Rome Cover) by Sturgill Simpson
On the list of ‘80s one-hit wonders I’d like to see live, “The Promise” is relatively high on that list, as I imagine that chorus to be an all-time live experience. Otherwise I couldn’t tell you a thing about When In Rome other than that Sturgill Simpson absolutely has their number. On METAMODERN SOUNDS IN COUNTRY MUSIC, he makes it the perfect dusty country ballad, the pain more fully realized in a traditionally joyful sounding chorus. One of the best explorations of genre this decade, the way Simpson and When In Rome’s Clive Farrington start the line “I’m sorry, but I’m just thinking of the right words to say” is so different that it’s really a treat that both exist.
9. “Bulls on Parade” (Rage Against The Machine Cover) by Denzel Curry
I say this based on the strength of this one cover: I think I’d prefer to watch Denzel Curry and his band from this cover do an entire set of Rage Against the Machine than I would watch whatever version of Rage Against the Machine is being begrudgingly out on stage 20 years past their peak. Like, can you hear the anger and vigor in his voice? Curry’s persona at the end part of the decade was playful and party driven, with pop-leaning swag enveloping a part of his narrative, but some of us remember IMPERIAL and what a roller coaster it could be, and it’s fun to see some of the angst that created that beast come out in this bonkers performance.
8. “America” (Simon & Garfunkel Cover) by First Aid Kit
That their two most recognizable covers come to us by way of Fleet Foxes and Simon & Garfunkel is a bit like stacking the deck given how perfect First Aid Kit’s harmonies are, but who am I to fight that? Tackling the best Simon & Garfunkel song (fight me), the Swedish sisters’ cover of the folk classic finds a new thoughtfulness coming from outsiders, a slower take that captures the hopeful, searching spirit of the original. The track remains as optimistic as ever, and First Aid Kit give it a lovely feeling update.
7. “All Apologies” (Nirvana Cover) by Lorde, Kim Gordon, St. Vincent, Joan Jett and Nirvana
I cry every. damn. time. I can’t help it. When Nirvana announced that their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame performance would feature a number of essential women from various parts of music history taking on Kurt Cobain’s classic vocals, I was intrigued, and certainly each and every performance of that night is fascinating, but it’s Lorde’s rendition of MTV UNPLUGGED IN NEW YORK’s “All Apologies” that ruins me. And part of it is the cover, certainly, Lorde’s vocals perfect on this version of the song, Krist Novoselic’s accordion filling out the atmosphere tremendously, but really it’s the concept of four generations of women in rock music transforming one of the most emotionally rich and iconic rock songs of the last several decades to honor the legacy of an icon that really gets me. And it’s beautiful.
6. “Changes” (Black Sabbath Cover) by Charles Bradley
Admittedly Netflix’s BIG MOUTH has taken a bit of the shine away from Charles Bradley’s cover of Black Sabbath’s “Changes,” but I also don’t skip the intro ever, so that has to say something, right? Remember the first time you heard this cover, how powerful Bradley sounds, how the song opens itself up with such an overwhelming sense of empathy and love not found in the original, the horns and bass guitar in the chorus almost the slightest bit tragic in spite of Bradley’s optimism. Even if an animated show where kids say “piss” and “shit” has stolen a bit of the song’s valor, its magic will far outlive that show.
5. “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” (Nancy Sinatra Cover) by Parquet Courts
The combination of Andrew Savage’s deadpan and Parquet Courts’ ability to bring things to the edge of chaos while being totally in control make “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” one of the most entertaining covers of the decade. The go-go swing playing out behind that noisy, fuckall feedback as the ship goes down at the end of the cover is always a good time, and Savage turns Nancy Sinatra’s famous cool into a detached sneer. Even if Parquet Courts are doing this ironically, they’re doing it very well.
4. “Johnny and Mary” (Robert Palmer Cover) by Todd Terje feat. Bryan Ferry
On Todd Terje’s proper debut, IT’S ALBUM TIME, “Johnny and Mary” kind of sticks out like a sore thumb. Placed right in the middle of the record, it’s a moment of respite from some of the funkiest and well-workshopped dance music of the decade, but it’s an incredibly methodical moment of pause nonetheless, and the only track on the record to feature vocals (courtesy of Roxy Music’s Bryan Ferry). Removed from that context, though, it’s a massive, crawling ballad, far more emotionally dramatic and lived-in thanks to Ferry’s weathered vocals than Robert Palmer’s pucky, buzzy new wave cut ever was, the synths clapping into the ether like Terje’s version of the theme to CHARIOTS OF FIRE. It’s a wonderful update that masterfully becomes a showcase for Ferry who, all these years later, still has it.
3. “Dancing In The Dark” (Bruce Springsteen Cover) by Hot Chip
When Lucy Dacus covered “Dancing In The Dark” at the end of 2019, I felt bad for her. Not only was she choosing to cover something relatively boring by the Boss’ standards, she was also going to exist forever in the shadow of what Hot Chip created. A vast, rising disco exploration of the song, their version of Springsteen’s megahit totally brings Courteney Cox dancing into the modern era; the highs of the chorus are euphoric, the snippet of LCD Soundsytem’s “All My Friends” is perfectly attuned to the aura that’s being carefully spun, and you can absolutely throw it on at a dance party and get the intended result. More Hot Chip classic rock updates in the 2020s, please.
2. “Stairway To Heaven” (Led Zeppelin) by Heart and Jason Bonham
I can only speak for myself, but I kind of dismiss “Stairway To Heaven” when I think of the larger rock canon for no other reason than in my youth it was always married to an unexplainable vision of uncool classic rock. But like, “Stairway To Heaven,” even if it’s not in my top 10 Led Zeppelin songs, is a part of that conversation because it’s the kind of sweepingly grand rock song that sounds unlike any other. When Led Zeppelin were honored at the Kennedy Center Honors, Heart, Jason Bonham, and an insanely talented group of musicians came together to play it in front of the living members of the band and the results are stunning, a full orchestra, Ann Wilson’s hall of fame vocals, Nancy Wilson’s guitars, Bonham channeling the spirit of his dad, a choir, a second god damn choir. Guys. They brought out a second choir, and when it happens, it’s probably the most emotional piece of music ever performed. That choir underscoring Nancy fucking Wilson? I’m getting choked up typing this. And look, if you think I’m overselling it, you go ahead and watch—it moved Robert Plant to tears and it’s his fucking song. And if Robert Plant cries when he watches it, I cry when I watch it. Dems the rules.
1 (Tied). “Mother” (Danzig Cover) by Wye Oak
Wye Oak were the greatest cover artist of the decade, and it’s not up for debate really. Every time either Wye Oak or Jenn Wasner’s side project Flock of Dimes set foot in the AV Club studios in Chicago, magic happened. And while the peak of their powers could be debated endlessly with no answer arrived upon, from “Running Up That Hill” to “Strangers” to “We Belong,” (even I have Wasner’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over” at #49, too powerful to be left off the list), for my money it’s their guttural, plodding, and heartbreaking take on Danzig’s “Mother” that is their best. Joined by Callers’ Don Godwin on tenor horn, who adds an essential melancholy hum to the whole recording, Wye Oak turn Danzig’s dark mystical power into something devastating, the final crescendo of “You wanna find hell with me / I can show you what it’s like” tragically soaring out of Wasner as though it had always been her song. It’s a work of dark magic and a brilliant reinvention.
1 (Tied). “With You” (Jessica Simpson Cover) by Waxahatchee
Recorded for HBO’s GIRLS, Waxahatchee made the most memorable cover of the decade, a genuine transformation of Jessica Simpson’s most defining pop hit, “With You.” In a decade that saw poptimism dangerously turn into a bad faith argument for accepting without questioning the larger pop culture, seeing genuine reassessment and remix of older, previously written-off pop culture touchstones became simultaneously exhausting and enlightening. “With You” is perhaps as enlightened a reassessment as I saw all decade, not so much because Simpson’s original required a cultural reintroduction as being “good,” but because it was a piece of somewhat forgotten pop culture magic that was dug up to be recontextualized at the right time and in the right way. Much like “Hurt” changing hands from Reznor to Cash, so does “With You” from Simpson to Crutchfield, a perfect cover for imperfect times.
Surprise! Here are 20 more unranked covers I couldn’t fit on the list but felt compelled to also share: