Confessions of a Shameless Cover Songs Lover
There are few subjects I feel as strongly about in music as I feel about cover songs. You know, the age-old tradition of artists taking a timeless classic and making it their own, keeping the basic melody and words but adding their own flavor and tone. Or totally butchering it, killing the original song’s spirit and the spirits of any listener.
You could say I have a pretty hot and cold relationship with cover songs. I either love them or hate them—but a good cover? It’s almost as good as discovering the original—sometimes even better. Not only does it give you a totally different perspective on the lyrics but it can transform the meaning and the feel of the original. It can turn an upbeat song somber or a serious topic lighter.
One of the best parts of streaming-music platforms like Spotify is the ability to find lesser-known covers. But no matter how good I am at finding killer cover songs from my favorite and lesser-known artists, I know there are many I’m missing.
How about I share my top list and you share yours?
Let’s start with an ‘80s classic that definitely played in your dentist-office waiting room on repeat. “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” was among Tears for Fears biggest hits (along with “Shout,” their dark rebellion anthem) and tackles similar themes of searching for power and the struggle it creates.
A trio of sisters from Portland who call themselves Joseph decided to tackle the TFF beat on their 2017 album Stay Awake, and it’s perfect in every way. Joseph is a folk band, so the tune is decidedly more mellow than the synth-pop original, but the cover’s quieter tone forces the lyrics forward, creating an tune that feels as relevant as ever.
(And if you like it, you’ll love all of their work. Thank me later.)
There are several covers of the Leonard Cohen’s gorgeous, gutting “Hallelujah,” and it’s honestly hard to choose which one I love the most. Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright (the piano in his version is to die for)—they are all beautiful in their own way. But in 2010, k.d. lang took the stage at the Winter Olympics opening ceremony and belted out what is to this date the most beautiful rendition of any live song I’ve heard, anywhere.
There’s nothing more to say that will do it justice—but it’s worth a listen if you happen to be unfamiliar and it’s important (I think) to watch her sing it live:
This might be an unpopular opinion but I love Walk the Moon. They are a newer, pop rock band and they’ve had a few radio hits. I’m not generally one to fawn over pop music, but their music just makes me want to dance. I can’t help it. And their live shows are so much fun. In a world where everything feels so damn heavy all of the time, they are my escape. Some people have trashy TV—I have Walk the Moon.
Their last hit, “Shut Up and Dance” was overplayed on the radio, almost ruining its perfection as a great gym workout song. (I still love it.)
And it’s hard to see how it could feel like a ballad—and yet. Kina Grannis. A lovely human with an incredible voice and a penchant for turning popular tunes into art.
You can see where this is going. Her version of “Shut Up and Dance” stopped me in my tracks. “Felt it in my chest as she looked at me, ooh, we were born to be together” and you forget you’re listening to a song that made it to a 2015 Kidz Bop album. That is not a typo.
I could go on and on with cover recommendations—perhaps this deserves a Part 2? But it’s your turn: What’s on your top cover songs playlist and why? I’m itching to add some new tunes into rotation.
Ashley Daigneault knew she was a writer before she left kindergarten and has a particular
love for writing about tech, literature, music, and politics. She is currently the VP at Caster
Communications, a full-service tech PR and social-media firm, and works with B2B and
B2C tech brands. She lives in New England with her family, which includes kids and dogs
who think they are kids.