There’s something about a good cover song. Experiencing the familiar and unfamiliar simultaneously can be jarring, but when it’s done right it can be downright magical. But today’s top 5 isn’t about a band doing someone else’s song well. Oh no, that would be too easy. Instead I’ll be focusing on artists who have put together entire albums of cover songs and have, in their own special way, nailed it.
I rediscovered this 2004 tribute to Modest Mouse last month while flipping through a forgotten CD case in my car. My kids, ages 7 and 9, looked at me like I was nuts until they recognized the lyrics to ‘Ocean Breathes Salty’ and started giggling hysterically. Now they request “cowboy Modest Mouse” regularly. Yes, I do have super cool kids. Anyway, Iron Horse is a bluegrass band out of Alabama with an undeniable gift for crafting albums full of fantastic covers. This one happens to be my favorite, but they’ve also paid tribute to Guns N Roses, Metallica (twice), Black Label Society, Ozzy Osbourne, The Shins and Van Halen.
Tokyo Police Club – 10x10x10x10
This project made the cut for its sheer ambitiousness. On August 23rd, Canada’s Tokyo Police Club set out to make ten covers spanning the last ten years. They gave themselves ten hours to rehearse, record, mix and release a song everyday for ten days straight. And the results were actually pretty impressive. The songs chosen ranged from mainstream pop (like 2004’s selection, ‘Since U Been Gone’ by Kelly Clarkson) to more obscure indie jams (‘Strictly Game’ by Harlem Shakes from 2009). And for a bunch of Canucks, they sure know how to ‘Party in the USA.’ The project is getting its own release on October 4th, but you can hear all of the songs on the band’s SoundCloud (http://soundcloud.com/tokyopoliceclub/sets/tokyo-police-club-10-days-10).No matching videos
Kendrick Strauch – Kendrick O’s 48 Hour Fever
Speaking of Harlem Shakes, the keyboardist for the now defunct NYC band took on the monumental task of covering the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs phenomenal 2003 debut Fever to Tell in its entirety in 48 hours. Why? To win a bet, of course. His “impressionistic, masturbatory act of devotion” ended up being the stuff of covers legend. Strauch’s bizarrely beautiful, lounge-esque interpretations could not get any further from the originals, but, wow, are they something special.
The duo known as Pomplamoose became YouTube sensations for their “VideoSongs,” a special kind of music video unique in that there’s no lip-syncing, no hidden sounds and 100% transparency. Through the power of split screen you’re able to see every aspect of how their songs are made, from the vocal tracks to the cowbell. The band’s original tunes are great, but it’s their covers that truly launched them into the limelight. Songs by Michael Jackson, Beyonce, Aerosmith, Lady Gaga and a host of others have had the cutesy-cool Pomplamoose treatment. And it should be noted that their songs are just as fun to listen to on your iPod as they are to watch on your computer screen.
Granted, not all of the songs are covers on this particular record, but it belongs on this list anyway. Cash’s hauntingly stripped-down version of Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Hurt’ is heartbreaking and there’s a sincerity to his rendition of ‘Personal Jesus,’ originally by Depeche Mode, that gets me every time. American IV was one of many mostly-covers records Cash did towards the end of his life and each has a gem or two, but this particular album has an emotional depth that’s hard to top.