Best of 2012

Popservations’ Top 25 Cover Songs of 2012

December 24, 2012 6 Comments

The year provided a plethora of spectacular re-dos of others’ tunes, but these 25 cover songs are Popservations’ absolute favorites.

Madonna’s discography once again proved popular in 2012, securing three spots like last year. But reviewing the list, what’s striking to me is how well represented the ’90s are this time through. Various sounds of the decade are celebrated in no less than seven covers below.

1. “Only Love” (Ben Howard cover) – Queen of Hearts

I wasn’t at all familiar with Ben Howard’s “Only Love” when I heard Queen of Heart’s rendition of the British folkie’s then-current single. And frankly, that’s how things remain. As Prince discovered after Sinead O’Connor recorded “Nothing Compares 2 U,” some of the best covers surpass the original. With her luscious electropop recasting of “Only Love,” Queen of Hearts has done that in spades. [Original Post]

2. “Selfmachine” (I Blame Coco cover) – Juliana Hatfield

Juliana Hatfield’s 12th studio album is an impressive all-covers affair that finds the singer-songwriter tackling source material from an eclectic bunch of artists (Foo Fighters, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Liz Phair, Led Zeppelin). Hatfield’s take on I Blame Coco’s “Selfmachine” is the self-titled set’s absolute standout, as if the indie rocker was meant to sing about lonely, rusting robots all along. [Original Post]

3. “That I Would Be Good/Use Somebody” (Alanis Morissette/Kings Of Leon) – Kelly Clarkson

Kelly Clarkson’s superb medley of Alanis Morissette’s “That I Would Be Good” and Kings Of Leon’s “Use Somebody” was a highlight of the singer’s All I Ever Wanted Tour a few years ago. Though she certainly took her sweet time, Clarkson finally released a studio version on The Smoakstack Sessions Vol. 2, a 5-song EP available exclusively on her website. [Original Post]

4. “Silver Springs” (Fleetwood Mac) – Lykke Li

Taken from the highly recommended Fleetwood Mac tribute album, Just Tell Me That You Want Me, Lykke Li’s reverb-heavy cover of “Silver Springs,” has an immediacy that is completely captivating. I dare you to attempt to multi-task while listening to her version. And as you’re sure to notice while listening with rapt attention, Li sounds eerily like Stevie Nicks in parts.

5. “Stars” (Grace Potter and the Nocturnals) – Amanda Brown

Like Queen of Hearts’ cover of “Only Love,” I hadn’t heard Grace Potter and the Nocturnals’ “Stars” until Amanda Brown sang it on The Voice. Delivering an amazing, emotional performance, I’m still shocked the Bronx-born backup singer didn’t walk away with the whole damn thing. Forget the stars, I couldn’t look at The Voice when Brown was later dismissed from the top six.

6. “Together In Electric Dreams” (Giorgio Moroder & Philip Oakey) – Wolfette

Giorgio Moroder and Philip Oakey’s “Together In Electric Dreams,” which plays over the end credits to the 1984 film, Electric Dreams, is made an absolute delight by Wolfette. No surprise that the London-based singer-songwriter would choose to re-do the synthpop legends’ collaborative track, as her own music takes inspiration from the work of such retro-electro giants. [Original Post]

7. “Hard Candy Christmas” (Dolly Parton) – Tracey Thorn

Like many of the songs Tracey Thorn covers on her new Christmas album, Tinsel And Lights, “Hard Candy Christmas” isn’t really about the holiday at all (the Christmas reference is a simile), nor is it particularly cheery — “I’m barely getting through tomorrow.” But Dolly Parton’s classic number from The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas has become quite the chestnut, and Thorn’s wintry voice wraps around “Hard Candy Christmas” quite well. [Original Post]

8. “What Is Love” (Haddaway) – [STRANGERS]

[STRANGERS]’ cover of Haddaway’s 1993 dance-pop classic isn’t entirely faithful, keeping the chorus intact while rewriting the verses and some musical bits to better fit their own dark pop sensibilities. So the band’s take on “What Is Love” is less likely to elicit SNL-inspired head-nods than some downward glances toward the dance floor. By subtracting the insistent beat, there’s no hiding the pain at the song’s center — “Baby, don’t hurt me no more” — making [STRANGERS]’ new rework a wonder. [Original Post]

9. “Absolute Beginners” (David Bowie) – Cary Brothers feat. Butterfly Boucher

Written and recorded by David Bowie for the 1986 film Absolute Beginners, in which he also starred, Los Angeles singer-songwriter Cary Brothers takes what was a pretty straightforward, rock love song and shapes it into something utterly transcendent. Some fantastic synth bits and Butterfly Boucher’s vocals make “Absolute Beginners” sparkle and shine like brand-new. [Original Post]

10. “1901” (Phoenix) – Birdy

Slowing down the tempo of the French synth rockers’ 2009 breakthrough tune, “1901″ nests comfortably in Birdy’s beyond-her-years voice, with piano, guitar, and some twinkly bits providing atmospheric support. The vocal-less last minute is the sound of destruction and rebirth. Like a phoenix, see. [Original Post]

11. “How To Love” (Lil Wayne) – School Of Seven Bells

Lil Wayne’s oeuvre isn’t exactly on my radar, with perhaps the exception of his feature on Madonna’s “Revolver,” but there’s something special about “How To Love,” a showcase for the surprisingly tender side of the über-tattooed Weezy. New York City dream-pop duo School Of Seven Bells must have found the song similarly endearing to cover it, and in Alejandra Deheza and Benjamin Curtis’ hands, “How To Love” is rendered spectacularly beautiful. [Original Post]

12. “If You Love Me” (Brownstone) – Jessie Ware & BenZel

Rising London soulster Jessie Ware teams with Japanese production duo BenZel to cover Brownstone’s “If You Love Me,” one of the great R&B girl-group gems from the ’90s. Ware wraps her gorgeous voice around the melody as if the match was always fated. [Original Post]

13. “Waiting For My Real Life To Begin” (Colin Hay) – Frankmusik

Originally featured on Colin Hay’s 1994 album, Topanga, the positive sentiment of “Waiting For My Real Life To Begin” meshes nicely with Frankmusik’s fresh perspective on his career (2012 was a ‘rebuilding year’ for the talented Vincent Frank). Swapping Hay’s guitar for a piano, Frankmusik delivers a heartfelt interpretation. I don’t think he’s ever sounded in better voice, and that held note? Beautiful. [Original Post]

14. “Hideaway” (De’Lacy) – Steed Lord

Steed Lord’s cover of De’Lacy’s 1995 dance classic, “Hideaway,” owes a sonic debt to the decade previous to that. The pulsating synths draw upon early ’80s house music, but their cover also conjures up another, much more mainstream source — the breakdown in Harold Faltermeyer’s “Axel F” — with vocalist Kali turning it out. De’Licious. [Original Post]

15. “Lights” (Ellie Goulding) – Wanderhouse

This rendition of Ellie Goulding’s “Lights” by Wanderhouse (producer Doctor Rosen Rosen and singer-songwriter Marie Moreshead) is no carbon-copy cover. With muted guitar that recalls The Cure, the duo turns the lights down low on Goulding’s #2 smash and illuminate the powerless dread that’s always lurked at the heart of the song. [Original Post]

16. “Lucky Star” (Madonna) – Purple Crush

Madonna superfans Purple Crush paid proper homage to the Queen of Pop this year, serving up the MadonnaWannaBe EP featuring three covers and related material. On “Lucky Star,” the duo refreshes Madonna’s Ray-Ban classic with a nearly five-minute rendition that makes fans of both the luckiest by far. Isla Cheadle and Jared Selter’s bridge re-build is especially impressive. [Original Post]

17. “Big Jet Plane” (Angus & Julia Stone) – DWNTWN

Los Angeles electro-pop duo DWNTWN brings in a beat for this sparkling redo of Angus & Julia Stone’s “Big Jet Plane.” Jamie Leffler and Robert Cepeda’s dreamy synth sensibilities are a fantastic complement to the gorgeous original single, with the background vocal samples particularly well done. [Original Post]

18. “Enjoy The Silence” (Depeche Mode) – Saint Saviour

Saint Saviour not only conjures up both Dionne Warwick and Kate Bush for her cover of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy The Silence,” the London singer-songwriter also quite amazingly inserts a bit of Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls.” Saint Saviour’s funereal recording of the synthpop band’s 1990 #8 single becomes utterly transcendent at the halfway mark. [Original Post]

19. “Give Me All Your Luvin'” (Madonna) – The KDMS

London-based duo The KDMS give Madonna’s record 38th top 10 hit a sultry, streetwise spin. Chucking the cheerleader chant (save a single “Madonna!” at the end) and the Nicki Minaj/M.I.A. raps, Diamond and Skiba amazingly have managed to bring “Give Me All Your Luvin’” closer to the early ’80s disco orbit of “Lucky Star.” So good, I still wish this had been the song’s original template. [Original Post]

20. “King’s Cross” (Pet Shop Boys) – Claudia Brücken

Claudia Brücken isn’t the first to revisit Pet Shop Boys’ “King’s Cross” (hello, Tracey Thorn), but the former Propaganda frontwoman earns bonus cool points for having the song’s original producer, Stephen Hague, behind the board for her new take. Twenty-five years separate the two productions, and though they share a similar feel at the outset, Hague gets to work building something much bigger for Brücken. He projects “King’s Cross” onto a Spectorian Wall of Sound, incorporating a “Be My Baby” drum beat and unleashing some wild horns at the song’s close. [Original Post]

21. “The Winner Takes It All” (ABBA) – The Vaccines

The Vaccines give their typically raucous indie rock a rest for a cover of ABBA’s “The Winner Takes It All.” Framing frontman Justin Young’s gentle vocals, the London band’s acoustic version of this classic 1980 pop ballad is pure heartbreak. You want teardrops on your guitar, Taylor Swift? Give this winner of a cover a whirl. [Original Post]

22. “Heart” (Pet Shop Boys) – Field Music

Field Music’s David and Peter Brewis were introduced to Pet Shop Boys by their mom, who frequently played the synthpop duo’s 1987 album, Actually, during car trips. Besides “Heart” (originally penned with Madonna in mind), Field Music also covered “Rent” for a limited-edition 7″ single, and the results prove the brothers were paying close attention to that cassette all those years ago. [Original Post]

23. “Midnight City” (M83) – The Knocks feat. Mandy Lee

Featuring Mandy Lee on lead vocals, The Knocks transform M83’s transcendent, synthastic “Midnight City” into a irresistible, beat-heavy dance track. The sublime saxophone solo has been scuttled, but you’ll be too busy moving your feet to mind. While Anthony Gonzalez’s original conjures up visions of riding in the back of a black town car, traversing the city streets and taking in the bright lights, B-Roc and JPatt’s new cover makes me want to tell the driver to pull over and blast the stereo, so I can get out and dance wherever there’s some empty space. Sort of like what Mandy Lee does in the music video. [Original Post]

24. “Burning Up” (Madonna) – Magic Wands

Anyone covering Madonna has got to deliver the goods, because shoddy covers of the Queen Of Pop simply won’t do. Nashville/Los Angeles dream-poppers Magic Wands have done Her Madgesty proud, adding some New Order-eqsue bass that serves to set their cover of “Burning Up” on fire. [Original Post]

25. “Little Fluffy Clouds” (The Orb) – Dinowalrus

The Orb’s 1990 ambient house classic, “Little Fluffy Clouds,” would seem beyond the reach of being re-done, considering how sample-heavy the track is, particularly the snippets snatched from an old Rickie Lee Jones interview. Amazingly, Dinowalrus pulls it off, sans the very samples that would seem absolutely essential. Taking the words from the interviewer’s question that kicks off the original — “What were the skies like when you were young?” — and adding a new topline melody, the Brooklyn psychedelic dance-rock band have delivered an impressive Madchester spin on “Little Fluffy Clouds.” [Original Post]

HONORABLE MENTION – “Dance Hall Days” (Wang Chung) – Theophilus London

Similar to [STRANGERS]’ cover of Haddaway’s “What Is Love,” Theophilus London uses Wang Chung’s 1984 single “Dance Hall Days” as a jumping-off point. The genre-hopping rapper-singer replaces the verses with new rhymes while retaining the still-brilliant chorus. I love that London’s not shy about reveling in the retro, and has no qualms about revisiting a straight-up pop song like “Dance Hall Days.” [Original Post]

What were some of your favorite covers of 2012?