Strong emotional intelligence is often required to face ones challenges and overcome most hardships. That has never been more true than during 2020. The useful weapons employed to combat this never-ending year may vary individually, but a comprehensive menu of music can work miracles.
Cover songs can potentially reanimate careers of the originating bands but can also sometimes be a train wreck. Mostly, though, the cover is recorded as an homage to a band, a sound, or an era in musical history. Many of these 15 tunes are not literal translations, meaning the cover artists added their own branding and voice to the songs.
Here’s the list…some of the best covers of 2020, in order of the date the original was released. Check out videos of the cover versions followed by a playlist of the covers and the originals.
Brittany Howard – “You’ll Never Walk Alone” by Rodgers and Hammerstein from the musical Carousel, 1945. Eighteen years after its debut as the show closer in Carousel, Gerry & The Pacemakers had a hit with it. Howard transforms this into a soul song. As the singer with Alabama Shakes, she brings some clout to this recording.
Bat For Lashes – “We’ve Only Just Begun” by The Carpenters from Close to You, 1970. Bat For Lashes is British singer Natasha Khan. This recording features the London Contemporary Orchestra.
Larkin Poe – “Ramblin’ Man” by Allman Brothers Band from Brothers and Sisters, 1973. Hailing from Marietta, Georgia, sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell have gained critical acclaim since their 2013 debut The Sound of the Ocean Sound. This song was taken from their new release, Kindred Spirits, which includes covers of such musical influences as Neil Young, Bo Diddley, and Elton John.
Sharon Van Etten feat. Josh Homme – “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding” by Brinsley Schwarz from The New Favourites of Brinsley Schwarz, 1974. Van Etten hails from New Jersey but relocated to Los Angeles last year. Her recording of this song is a thoroughly SVE tune in her own indie rock style. Joining her in this beautiful rendition is Queens of the Stone Age singer Josh Homme. The song was written by Nick Lowe, who has a brief cameo in this video.
Bill Callahan with Bonnie “Prince” Billy – “Deacon Blues” by Steely Dan from Aja, 1977. These two unique artists have paired up once more on this cover. Check out their other collaborations which include renditions of Hank Williams, Cat Stevens, and Billie Eilish songs.
Green Day – “Dreaming” by Blondie from Eat To The Beat, 1979. Billie Joe Armstrong has kept busy during the pandemic with his series of covers from the semi-solo No Fun Mondays. “Dreaming” was released this year as a Green Day song. It’s a fine tune with drummer Tré Cool doing his best Clem Burke.
BoDeans – “King of Pain” by The Police from Synchronicity, 1983. While pain may be the word of the year for 2020, Kurt Neumann gives it his all on this cover. In the video, scenes of protest – including a shot of George Floyd with that knee on his neck – are sung with the lyrics, “There’s a broken man laying on the ground / There’s a beautiful world left for dead” (Neumann took some artistic liberties with Sting’s words).
Dizzy – “This Must Be the Place” by Talking Heads from Speaking in Tongues, 1983. Katie Munshaw heads up this four-piece from Ontario with her smooth and ethereal vocals. The band just released their sophomore effort The Sun and Her Scorch following last year’s critically acclaimed debut Baby Teeth. This particular tune comes from the recently released EP Basement Covers which includes covers by The National, Britney Spears, and Sylvan Esso.
Orville Peck – “Smalltown Boy” by Bronski Beat from The Age of Consent, 1984. Canadian Peck released this cover exclusively for the 2020 Pride edition of the Spotify Singles series. His name is a pseudonym and he wears a mask when performing, so there is only speculation on his true identity. His debut album Pony was released in 2019 to excellent reviews.
Dan Mangan – “Have a Little Faith in Me” by John Hiatt from Bring the Family, 1987. Mangan’s new release, Thief, explores some of his favorite artists from the likes of R.E.M., Neutral Milk Hotel, Elliott Smith, Cake, and Lauryn Hill. On the covers, Mangan states, “My approach is that it’s nearly impossible to do a great song justice, and so I need to change it enough from its original form that it can no longer be compared to the source.” He definitely overhauled these songs.
A. A. Williams – “Lovesong” by The Cure from Disintegration, 1989. While on lockdown in London, Williams took suggestions from fans on potential cover songs. She began a series called Songs From Isolation, consisting of videos of her performing the songs. An official release is scheduled for February, 2021. She truly expands upon the darkness Robert Smith likely had in mind when he wrote this one.
Don’t Sleep – “Runnin’ Down a Dream” by Tom Petty from Full Moon Fever, 1989. The legend of Tom Petty remains intact with millions of fans – many musicians – keeping the sound alive. Dave Smalley (Dag Nasty) is a TP fan and shows it on this recording. Here, he gives the song a punk edge without straying from its original charm.
Miley Cyrus – “Zombie” by The Cranberries from No Need to Argue, 1994. Cyrus has covered several songs this year, including Blondie’s “Heart of Glass,” Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe,” and The Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane.” This is a new direction towards rock for the singer.
Overcoats – “No Surprises” by Radiohead from OK Computer, 1997. The list of Radiohead musician-fans is long. With such a unique sound it is a joy to hear tunes from their catalog covered by others in a multitude of styles. Overcoats truly get the Abingdon quintet.
Molly Tuttle – “Fake Empire” by The National from Boxer, 2007. Tuttle is a California Americana/Bluegrass artist who has covered a classic. She comes from a family of bluegrassers (The Tuttles) and was awarded merit scholarships to the Berklee College of Music for music and composition.
Listen here. The first 15 songs are the covers, followed by the originals. NOTE: Artists earn little to nothing through Spotify. Please support these and other artists directly as we struggle through this pandemic. Thank you.
Categories: Pertinent Playlists
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