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September 21, 2023

Cover songs for trying times

I love covers of great songs: they provide the comfort of something familiar with the interest of something new. I compiled a Spotify list, unintentionally skewing 80s originals, of some of my favorite covers. The cover musicians include both legends and artists you might not have heard of. I hope I introduce you to something new.

1. The Butchies, “Your Love” (The Outfield)

Queer all-woman punk band The Butchies transformed “Your Love” by the Outfield into a whispery ballad. While The Outfield’s original has a defiant edge, the Butchies slowed-down remake highlights the song’s vulnerable notes. Writes liveaboutdotcom, the cover’s “gender-switch deconstruction of the tune makes the song feel even more tortured and moving.”

2. Civil Wars, “Billie Jean” (Michael Jackson)

When you’re reinventing a megahit by the King of Pop, you want to be careful what you do. (This is the only time I did this, I promise.) Country folk duo Civil Wars’ acoustic duet of “Billie Jean” does honor to the original with a “sultry bayou-esque jam that you can just listen to while sipping wine at a speakeasy” (Country Thang Daily).

man and woman performing on stage


3. Jonathan Coulton, “Baby Got Back” (Sir Mix-a-Lot)

Instead of rapping to a catchy beat, Coulton earnestly sings the lyrics of “Baby Got Back” accompanied by country/folk guitar, and it is hilarious. I love the contrast between the raunchy lyrics and the Ken-serenading-Barbie style.

album cover thing a week one Jonathan Coulton


4. Liza Minnelli, “Single Ladies” (Beyonce)

I have a particular love of covers in which an icon is covering another icon, like Liza Minnelli doing Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.” Nothing beats Minnelli’s alto with attitude, which possibly rivals Queen Bey’s.

Liza Minelli


5. Johnny Cash, “Personal Jesus” (Depeche Mode)

As the The Financial Times writes, Johnny Cash’s stripped-down version of “Personal Jesus” is “humble [in] voice and presentation,” which is a 180 from the original pop synth hit. Depeche Mode didn’t write it as a Christian song, but Cash thought of his cover that way, calling it “probably the most evangelical gospel song I ever recorded.”


6. Etta James, “Welcome to the Jungle” (Guns ‘N Roses)

Etta James turned a headbanger featuring Axl Rose melodiously screeching about the mean streets of L.A. into a suggestive R&B number. Because she’s Etta James.

album cover Etta James the dreamer


7. Murder by Death, “Holiday Road” (Lindsey Buckingham)

Being a huge fangirl of Lindsey Buckingham, best known as Fleetwood Mac’s guitarist, I consider it my duty to include his music in a list of great songs. Murder by Death’s bluegrass version of Buckingham’s pop hit features fiddles and harmonicas and a cute smattering of piano. I also love that the band is named after a funny, ridiculous 70s movie written by Neil Simon.

Record title murder by death


8. Chocolate Starfish, “You’re So Vain” (Carly Simon)

Chocolate Starfish vocalist Adam Thompson’s very deep voice gives their version of “You’re So Vain.”


9. Fountains of Wayne, “Baby One More Time” (Britney Spears)

Without the sexual undertones, Fountains of Wayne’s “Baby One More Time” is wistful. Music critic Robert Christgau called it “as redolent and fetching as any of their peaks.”

four men performing on stage with guitars and drums


10. Maiysha, “Sledgehammer” (Peter Gabriel)

Maiysha’s sexy blues version of “Sledgehammer” is even better because it’s a live recording. Apple Music called the track “the biggest eye-opener” from her album “This Much Is True” and noted it shows off her ability “to fire up a crowd.”

album cover Maiysha this much is true


11. Save Ferris, “Come on Eileen” (Dexys Midnight Runners)

In Save Ferris’s hands, “Come on Eileen” becomes a marching band song, in a good way. Billboard wrote that their version showcases a “deft way of serving from jittery guitars to sunny horns.”

album cover save ferris come on eileen


12. Young Divas featuring Savage, “Turn Me Loose” (Loverboy)

Young Divas “Turn Me Loose” is a slick girl-group version of the original. Although it doesn’t have the emotion of Loverboy’s original, it’s got that girl-power-anthem feel that’s great for blasting after a break up.


13. Danny Hutton Hitters, “Wouldn’t It Be Good” (Nik Kershwin)

I really adore Danny Hutton Hitter’s cover of “Wouldn’t It Be Good.” It could just be that this version was featured on the “Pretty in Pink” Soundtrack, and I listened to that repeatedly in my impressionable junior high years. But I do think Hutton’s vocals are stronger, and he brings out some heart that I don’t feel in the original. It’s not available on Spotify, but you can listen to it on Youtube.


Bonus: Hanson, “We Are Never Getting Back Together” (Taylor Swift)

Hanson charmingly performed “We Are Never Getting Back Together” at a radio station in 2013. After watching it, I fell down a Hanson-covers rabbit hole on YouTube and discovered they are very talented, not just cute boys. By the way, Swift loves it.

What are your favorite covers?

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