Intersections posts

Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better: Cover Songs

Originally published Aug. 26, 2012 on Intersections.

I’m sort of obsessed with covers. I’m the type of person who will hear a song, love it, listen to it and only it on repeat for days and learn every word, so when I hear that another artist has put his or her own spin on a beloved tune, I’m all over it.

After the jump, this and a few other favorites.

N.B. I’ve excluded Glee covers from this list, a) because there are only a handful worth your time anyways and b) because it would just be a list of all the songs Naya Rivera has ever sung. I’ve excluded all the covers of “Hallelujah” because there are too many great ones to choose from (I’m partial to Rufus Wainwright’s myself, and anyone who can find me a perfect female cover will win all the awards). I’ve tried to stray away from covers that are too similar to the originals, because as much as I love Florence Welch’s voice, her cover of the Beatles’ “Oh! Darling” sounds almost exactly like the way the boys did it back in the day, and I don’t have time to scour YouTube for the best version of “Bad Romance” out there.

Your Love
Original: The Outfield
Cover: Bon Iver

I can’t stop listening to this. It’s become a bit of an obsession. I may or may not have created this post just so I could share this. Bon Iver’s take on this ’80s hit turns what was originally a power-pop-rock anthem into a floaty, wistful piece of nostalgia perfect for that late-afternoon haze. Justin Vernon’s yearning voice skates over the gorgeous, stripped-down guitar riff; the crowd swells with him, not over him; I could listen to this recording for days.

The Suburbs
Original: Arcade Fire
Cover: Mr. Little Jeans

Last summer, every one of us suburbia survivors took to Arcade Fire’s Grammy-winning album like the birds to the feeders in our childhood backyards. The title track gets an electronica-influenced retake in this cover, with a syrupy female voice layered onto a halting, skipping beat. In the original, the lyrics get swallowed somewhat by the jangly, echo-y production on the lead male vocal, but they’re crystal-clear in this version.

You’ve Got the Love
Original: Florence + the Machine
Cover: The xx

Florence’s version is all about the storm: her booming, echoing voice, buoyed by the drive of the song’s instrumentation, create a whirlwind that perfectly mimics what it feels like to crash headlong into love. The xx’s take is more about the aftermath: it strips it all down into their trademark murmuring, understated vocals, pulling the tinker of the harp out from the maelstrom of sound and harnessing Florence’s impassioned wail into a thrumming, skipping beat.

Rolling in the Deep
Original: Adele
Cover: John Legend

If you’ve been anywhere near a radio this summer, Rolling in the Deep has become impossible to escape. It’s a tad unfortunate that the song is getting overplayed, if only because it’ll make you less likely to listen to this cover. John Legend’s version puts his rich, soulful, soaring voice over a gospel-like, a capella take on the song’s driving beat. Also of interest: Linkin Park’s version.

Original: Passion Pit
Cover: Ellie Goulding

I’ve already written about the sheer genius that is this cover. Ellie has a whole slate of fantastic covers (see also: her cover of Robyn’s “Be Mine”, Elton John’s “Your Song”, Sam Sparro’s “Black and Gold”), but this is by far my favorite.

Original: The Zutons
Cover: Amy Winehouse

Odds are, you’ve already heard this, but I can’t write about covers without mentioning this piece of genius. Plus, I found this live, acoustic video of Amy singing this that I just needed to share. Who knew Amy Winehouse’s raspy, brassy voice would be so perfectly suited to a song originally conceived as a guitar-driven alt-rock jam fest? Credit goes to British producer Mark Ronson, who worked with Amy for his 2007 album and gave us this gem. Those crazy Glee kids have done a couple of versions too, including a live version with an accompanying swing dancing number, if you’re interested.

Whatever You Like
Original: T.I.
Cover: Anya Marina

Anya Marina’s coy, cottony voice turns T.I.’s ode to the male provider into…an invitation, we’ll call it. It actually works really, really well. Not-so-surprisingly, it was featured on an episode of Gossip Girl.

Bitches Ain’t Shit
Original: Dr. Dre
Cover: Ben Folds

If you haven’t heard this, you haven’t lived.


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