December 21, 2007

Do It Again: Top Cover Songs of 2007

Something intriguing occurs when an artist or band takes on someone else’s song. The interpreter may cover that song by adhering to hallmarks of the original version, but hopefully enough distinctiveness shines through to make it a worthwhile performance and not merely a facsimile. Here are ten of the best cover songs from this past year.

10) “Can’t Get It Out Of My Head” – Velvet Revolver

One of ELO’s sweetest brews gets spiked with something a bit more virulent. Velvet Revolver plays in hard-rock mode yet preserves the original track’s melodic sensibilities. Slash stirs in a beguiling guitar performance, and the song sounds intoxicating in a whole new light.

9) “Paper Moon” – Erin McKeown
Sing You Sinners

Ms. McKeown plays it cute and sassy, turning this swingin’ old song into a bouncy little ditty that would’ve made Sinatra blush.

8) “Goin’ Out West” – Queens of the Stone Age
Sick, Sick, Sick [EP]

One of Tom Waits’ most fuel-injected tracks shifts into high-octane overdrive with QOTST behind the wheel. One can almost picture Waits and QOTST racing cross-country, barreling toward the same squalid destination.

7) “Stuck Inside Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again”: Cat Power
I’m Not There OST

At times it seems like she’s trying to inject Bob Dylan’s inflections on this, but Cat Power can’t escape the viscous essence of her own voice. For a woman known for delivering remarkable covers, this one ranks as one her finest.

6) “Court And Spark” – Herbie Hancock featuring Norah Jones
River: The Joni Letters

Norah Jones slips into this song with sophisticated ease, her sultry voice wafting above Hancock’s sparse and measured arrangement. Joni Mitchell’s songs pose a certain amount of complexity for any interpreter, but Norah Jones consummately succeeds.

5) “Longer” – Babyface

Babyface’s tender rendition of this timeless love song would have made this list by its own merit anyway, but now it holds added poignancy in light of Dan Fogelberg’s untimely passing.

4) “You Sexy Thing” – Stereophonics
Radio 1 Established 1967 [UK import]

To start, Kelley Jones wails his raspy voice over a crude guitar and it almost feels like we’re in for a slow, folksy rendition of this Hot Chocolate gem. Then, at the 25-second mark, Stereophonics lay down the proverbial funk and proceed to get their ever-loving groove on.

3) “I Am The Walrus” – Bono & Secret Machines
Across The Universe OST

Chaotic music and trippy effects swirl and scrape as Bono brings an unbridled ferocity to one of The Beatles most psychedelic compositions. Goo goo g’joob.

2) “Gimme Shelter” – Patti Smith

The Rolling Stones made an ominous apocalypse sound erotic and eerie. Patti Smith, with her unembellished yet poetic gravitas, makes such a prospect seem unnervingly imminent.

1) "(Just Like) Starting Over" – The Flaming Lips
Instant Karma! The Amnesty International Campaign To Save Darfur

By distilling John Lennon’s original to its quintessence, the Flaming Lips impart this song with ethereal tenderness. Wayne Coyne sings it almost with a lump in his throat. His vulnerable sincerity will surely put a lump in yours.