Everyone loves a good cover song, right? The best ones are songs that mix up the rhythm of the original and make it something totally new. These kinds of covers are the ones that make you stop and look at the original song in a different light. This way, you can reconsider the lyrics and think deeper about the meaning of the song.
Don’t get me wrong, some covers are bad. (You know the ones I’m talking about.) But if you’ve ever heard a cover so good it makes you forget that it’s a cover, then you know how I feel about the fourteen listed below.
I honestly never thought I could love "No Scrubs" non-ironically. (Did anyone?!) Then I stumbled upon this insanely gorgeous SiriusXM recording of Bastille performing it, and suddenly everything I thought I knew was a lie.
Yes, this is the song you've heard in those car commercials. But not like this! Instead of the masculinity of X Ambassadors, Whitney Woerz breaks it down. She abandons the almost tribal-esque nature of the original harmony and focuses instead on communicating softness. It's a cool way to hear an X Ambassadors song, because they are normally very rough.
I feel like I should be comparing Rufus Wainwright’s cover to Jeff Buckley’s. I thought for years that Jeff Buckley wrote the original. (Actually, I only realized that it was Leonard Cohen’s song while writing this article. Whoops.) Either way, by keeping the melody predictable, Rufus Wainwright presents “Hallelujah” as a story instead of a song, giving listeners an easier way to see the deeper meaning. And if any song deserves to be presented as a story, it's "Hallelujah."
Okay, so there’s little chance that you’ve even heard the original of this one. But both are so good, I couldn’t leave it off the list. Everyone Everywhere’s original includes a musical overture that is over a minute and a half long, while Into It. Over It. steps right into the singing. I don’t know if either can be considered “better.” But some people listen to songs specifically for the lyrics, and Into It. Over It. offers a neat alternative to Everyone Everywhere’s long opening.
This is the song that made Birdy, and for good reason. It displays her ability as a musician and a singer, but even more than that, her unique voice and the solo piano highlight the haunting nature of what Bon Iver wrote in a way that his folksy tunes could not.
If you don’t like James Vincent McMorrow, you’re wrong. He is the only person I can think of who can cover Steve Winwood and pull it off flawlessly. The original “Higher Love” is so fun, but in stripping it down, James Vincent McMorrow’s raw voice and delicate melody bring the lyrics to life.
Lyrically, this is one of the most straightforward, relatable songs I’ve ever heard. But the heavy synth-pop of the original feels too rigid and intentional for the delicate nature of the words. Jasmine Thompson does an amazing job of bringing the effortlessness of the lyrics into the actual performance of the song. (And her hand motions in the video are mesmerizing!)
It's a shame Chantell Truong hasn't made a studio recording of this song, because it's incredible. Her voice is clear and passionate, and like Jasmine Thompson's cover of "Rather Be," this cover takes an upbeat, pop-based song and allows the musicality of it to match the lyricism.
This cover starts with just a string of notes on the piano, tossing aside Bonnie Raitt’s guitar and drums. It gives the song an intense openness and vulnerability. Plus, Justin Vernon’s vocals are so pure, it’s as if you’re listening to actual emotion instead of emotion transferred through music. And the mashup is just plain genius.
There's a new movement going around certain crevices of the internet that is obsessed with "haunting" cover songs. Well, this is the best example that I have heard. Kings of Leon regularly relies on beat with their music, but the Scala & Kolancy Brothers choir rejects these classic rock vibes in favor of producing a borderline creepy (in the awesomest sense of the word) feeling.
When your cover is tweeted by the original artist and she asks you to open for her world tour, you know you’ve made it. Vance Joy’s laid-back, stripped version of Taylor Swift’s “I Know Places” is everything you never knew you needed from “1989.”
(First off, please tell me you’ve seen the Starship music video for this song. If not, go look it up immediately.) Only Grey’s Anatomy could discover a cover of this ‘90s hit heartbreaking enough to induce crying. Aron Wright and Jill Andrews harmonize beautifully, and the minimal music they use in the background is a far cry from Starship’s original in the best way possible.
The first time I played this song on a road trip with my best friend, she told me it “broke her.” If that’s your reaction to something, most of the time that means it’s good. With this cover, Bootstraps takes Whitney Houston’s party anthem and turns it into a poignant ballad. Like Aron Wright and Jill Andrews with “We Built This City,” Bootstraps gives “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” such a new feel that it can barely be compared to the original.
No Beach Boys cover will ever be as good as the original. None will even come close. That being said, if any could, it would be this one. BBC Music got a bucketful of top 2014 artists together with a full orchestra to pull off this cover of the classic love ballad. And they even brought in Brian Wilson for a cameo. You can't tell me you've heard a cover song cooler than that.
It goes without saying that these covers give listeners a new perspective on the originals. It takes a competent songwriter to put a really cool twist on something already written, and these musicians certainly achieve that. If this new movement supporting cover songs means that more cover songs will be recorded, count me in.