For my money, the best covers see the artist make a song their own. This doesn’t necessarily just mean reinventing the tune from the ground up, just finding a way to either make it work with the new artist’s sound or give the song a new sense of voice. From Deftones to Punch Brothers, here are 7 great covers for your playlist — for really no real reason at all. Onward!
Deftones – Drive
Don’t get me wrong: Ric Ocasek is a genius, and Heartbeat City is a wonderful, wonderful record. ‘Drive’ deserves its classic status. However, what Deftones do to the tune is still really enjoyable. The band, predictably, tend to make it a bit darker. Ringing snares, hollow keys and that dull synth make the song sound empty and bootleg; the original’s tinges of 80s cheese are all but stamped out. It’s a nice take and still sounds quite Deftones, with Chino breathing all over the damn thing and sounding borderline atonal at times (in a good way!). It fits pretty great as a digital bonus track on the band’s best album Saturday Night Wrist, too, which is where I first discovered it. Listen! Go!
The Voidz – Think Before You Drink
This might be the weirdest track here. It’s a cover of a song from 1978 by Michael Cassidy, a tune which absolutely nobody had heard of until the Voidz picked it up (less than 3,000 plays on Spotify). It’s a bizarre reinvention; the band turns truly obscure disco lite into a hushed, acoustic ballad whose sonics vaguely resemble early Mountain Goats. Julian’s singing is brilliant and the song builds nicely — the lyrics that tell of growing old (among a range of other ideas) are placed front and center and made a lot sadder than the original’s upbeat tempo and brass arrangement would allow. There are some really great lines, and it sounds sort of aching and moralistic in the way that Dylan’s good stuff does. It’s strange that this cover exists, but I’m glad it does.
Weezer – No Scrubs
OK, so I lied when I said the last one was the weirdest cover on this list. I think this one tops the original song thanks to its meme value: hearing Rivers Cuomo sing TLC’s 90s classic with this much confidence is deeply hilarious and weirdly endearing. In fact, just hearing that ‘No Scrubs’ harpsichord and knowing that it’s Weezer of all bands playing it is just some kind of big, juicy, ironic delight. The forgettable Teal album was maybe all worth its frustrating existence to hear the band put their signature crunchy guitars over that bridge; it’s just too funny. That’s about all I have to say about this beautiful abomination.
Phoebe Bridgers – You Missed My Heart
What a way to end your debut album. I absolutely adore Mark Kozelek’s original; the 2013 rendition from Live at Phoenix Public House Melbourne is heart-wrenching, masterfully written and probably won’t be beaten (I could take or leave the studio version on Perils from the Sea). Bridgers gives it a cracking go, though, with her take every bit as haunting as Kozelek’s. There isn’t quite that element of beauty or bittersweet-ness led by the original live’s reverb vocals and fingerpicked guitar, but it’s replaced here with a muted keyboard and generally sparse sonic palette which make the cover feel even more black and despairing than the original. From just those first few keys, you know what you’re in for.
Punch Brothers – Another New World
Ahoy! Punch Brothers’ take on Josh Ritter’s fantastic ‘Another New World’ is worth it just for the final minute. The cascading instrumentation and initially rhythmic mandolin explodes into a glorious din that reflects the song’s exploration of obsession and trauma. Chris Thile’s vocals thread an inevitable line between soft and soaring and the band’s great sways of baroque strings complement the foreboding sound of the tune. The general slow build is wonderful; it constantly feels tense and evolving and as though something is slightly wrong. It’s a chaotic way to interpret Ritter’s more sombre and haunting (though in some ways similarly climactic) slice of storytelling, yet Thile and co. deliver a tight, worthy cover.
B.B. King – Sweet Little Angel (Live At The Regal)
I really have no idea if this is allowed to count as a cover considering that it’s derived from a blues standard. But we’ll go with it: the opening and ending licks are to die for (what else would they be from B.B.?) and the 6/8 swing stands great with a firm brass section. Its sonic roll-on to the subsequent ‘It’s My Own Fault’ — and the duality of the two’s lyrics, as King points out — is sort of a bit genius, too. Live At The Regal is obviously fantastic, and this version of the tune in particular captures a perfect sense of live energy. It’s very difficult to hear that audience and those instruments and not want to be in the room.
Father John Misty – One of Us Cannot Be Wrong
Wanna hear Mr. Tillman scream his guts out over a full-band cover of 60s Cohen? This is the most recent item here as the final track on Misty’s July covers EP Anthem +3, which was a nice collection of folk songs that fit the singer-songwriter’s style rather well. This one in particular takes the cake, though; the distant brass section, strangely powerful vocals and fuzzy/slide guitars that pepper the song add something genuinely new to Cohen’s great original. The lyrics are just as witty as in 1967, and the big-band, room-performance sonic reinterpretation actually does it a lot of favours. This is not to mention Tillman’s vocal-shredding screaming toward the end, which just sends the dark humour and nihilism of the track to startling extremes.