A great cover song can be a swift brushstroke that paints a moustache on the Mona Lisa.
Refreshing retouch, subversive statement or vandalism? All in your perspective but, either way, it forever changes the way you look at a work of art.
Here are the greatest retouches/statements/vandalisms from 2014:
1) Built To Spill — “Jokerman” (Bob Dylan cover)
Bob Dylan’s catalog has always been fertile ground for creating cover songs, however most tend to pull from his seminal 60’s period.
Which is why this year’s release ‘A Tribute to Bob Dylan In the 80s‘ was an interesting idea, if not a low bar to set.
Built To Spill shoot “Jokerman” out of a rocket that never comes down over the course of the song’s scorching six minutes, simultaneously making a case for Dylan’s lost years as well as well as reminding us why BTS is one of the most underrated bands of the past two decades.
2) Tame Impala — “Stranger In Moscow (Michael Jackson cover)
Another year, another Tame Impala cover makes this year end list (previously giving us memorable takes on Fleetwood Mac & OutKast in 2012 & 2013, respectively).
Here the Australian psych-rock outfit outshines one of The King of Pop’s 90’s ballads, maintaining the original’s pop-paranoia while adding layers of dreamlike shimmer.
3) Anna Calvi — “I’m the Man that Will Find You (feat. David Byrne) (Connan Mockasin cover)”
Anna Calvi’s 2014 EP ‘Strange Weather‘ contained five cover songs ranging from FKA Twigs to David Bowie to Suicide.
Quite honestly any of them could have been included here. But it was the Connan Mockasin cover that sticks in your craw, transforming this low-fi R&B ditty into a haunting, sinister slow-burner… like Julie London fronting the Bad Seeds.
4) Glass Animals — “Love Lockdown (Kanye West cover)”
‘808s & Heartbreak‘ is the album where Kanye got serious, giving us a nervy, minimalist, hypnotic electro masterpiece.
So one might expect a faithful cover of that album’s most recognizable track “Love Lockdown” from the nervy, minimalist, hypnotic electro group Glass Animals.
But the band actual loosens the bolts, injecting some playfulness and turning into something unexpected & impossibly fun.
5) Strand of Oaks — “Heat of the Moment (Asia cover)
The A.V. Club’s essential series ‘A.V. Undercover’ is a rich goldmine of cover song treasures, but it is Strand of Oaks heartfelt, incandescent version of Asia’s eighties slice of synth cheese “Heat of the Moment” that is this year’s standout.
Singer Timothy Showalter plays it straight and sincere, while seemingly in the midst of what could be a Tim & Eric skit, conjuring up more questions than answers
(Where are those hand motions coming from? What’s up with the drummer? And why won’t the keyboardist stop shoveling popcorn in her mouth?).
6) Cults — “Being It (Arthur Russell cover)”
The good folks at Red Hot concoct another standout release of cover songs to help benefit AIDS research, with this one pulling entirely from the work of the late Arthur Russell, who died from the disease in 1992.
The concept was so inspired and the catalog so rich for interpretation that they did two CDs worth, without a dud in the bunch.
My favorite has to be Cult’s swirling, epic turn at Russell’s minimal “Being It“.
7) Afghan Whigs “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic (Live on MBE)”
Greg Dulli & Co. have a history of taking sunny pop songs and enveloping them into shadows & darkness, with the latest catch being the Police hit “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic“, which they performed on their most recent visit to Morning Becomes Eclectic.
Chillingly sung with the tortured sentiment of a serenading stalker, keeping just outside a court-ordered radius of 100 yards.
8) School of Seven Bells “I Got Knocked Down (But I’ll Get Up) (Joey Ramone cover)”
It was the last song produced by Benjamin Curtis which might prove to be his most significant: while he was confined to hospital bed dying from lymphoma, Curtis orchestrated the creation & production of a cover version by his band School of Seven Bells of Joey Ramone’s “I Got Knocked Down”, a song Ramone wrote before succumbing to the same disease.
Aside from the profound context of this song, the SOSB version pulses and perseveres with an undeniable will to live on.
9) Nick Waterhouse “Pushin Too Hard/Gloria” (The Seeds/Them cover)”
Nick Waterhouse & his band offer up an unforgettable experience live, so when this churning R&B locomotive decides to pick up a cover song, you know the ride will be fast & riotous.
So this year at a performance at the Mayan in downtown Los Angeles, when they performed an encore medley of the psych & garage classics “Pushin Too Hard” & “Gloria“, the crowd had no idea where it would take them but everyone was on board.
Listen here to a live version of “Pushin to Hard” from MBE here.
10) Glass Candy — “Rise (Herb Alpert cover)”
I don’t believe I have ever selected an instrumental cover of an instrumental original for this year-end best covers recap, but “Rise” holds a permanent & undeniable position in pop music, largely thanks to its sampling in The Notorious B.I.G.’s monumental “Hypnotize“.
However, the warm-blooded yacht-jazz of the Alpert track is remodeled into Johnny Jewel’s trademark ice-cool, Morodor-esque ethereality. Sexy not saxy.