When I was in high school, judging a cover song was easy: How close could we get to the original when playing Drivin’ N Cryin’ and The Clash in my high-school talent show. But my view of what makes a great cover song has changed over the years. The artists who made our list below transformed the songs they chose, playing to their own strengths while keeping the core elements that made the song great in the first place.
Thanks to tribute albums, corporate projects and viral YouTube videos, there were an abundance of cover tracks to choose from this year, and your favorite may have gotten left on the clipboard. Let us know what we got right or what we missed in the comments section below. Here are the 20 best cover songs of 2010.
20. Peter Gabriel – “Flume” (Bon Iver)
On his latest album, Scratch My Back, Peter Gabriel tackles Arcade Fire and Radiohead, and adds some gravitas to Justin Vernon’s “Flume.”
19. Passion Pit – “Tonight, Tonight” (Smashing Pumpkins)
For the Levi’s Pioneer Sessions, the jeans company asked artists to cover a song that inspired them. Dirty Projectors chose a Bob Dylan tune, and The Shins covered The Squeeze, but we liked imagining Michael Angelakos as Billy Corgan.
18. Sondre Lerche – “Bluish” (Animal Collective)
In Lerche’s hands, “Bluish” is stripped of its embellishments, leaving nothing but a lovely melody.
17. The Tallest Man on Earth – “Graceland” (Paul Simon)
Kristian Matsson’s gentle banjo picking transforms Simon’s polyrhythmic hit.
16. Billy Bragg – “On a Good Day” (Joanna Newsom)
Part of the Voices Project cover chain that also has Dawes covering Edward Sharpe and Peter Gabriel covering Tom Waits, this track benefits the women survivors of the war in Northern Uganda.
15. Punch Brothers – “Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box” (Radiohead)
Chris Thile’s mandolin pierces through this iTunes exclusive track (live version below).
14. Grace Potter & the Nocturnals – “White Rabbit” (Jefferson Airplane)
This psychedlic 1967 song fits Potter’s vibe well in this cut from the Alice in Wonderland soundtrack, Almost Alice.
13. Amanda Palmer – “Fake Plastic Trees” (Radiohead)
Amanda Palmer performs this popular hit of Radiohead on ukulele from her cryptically titled EP, Amanda Palmer Performs The Popular Hits Of Radiohead On Her Magical Ukulele.
12. Nada Surf – “Enjoy the Silence” (Depeche Mode)
Dave Gahan never sounded like he appreciated the fact that all he ever wanted and all he ever needed was there in his arms, but Nada Surf embrace the joy of the chorus.
11. Amy Winehouse – “It’s My Party” (Lesley Gore)
Part of the Quincy Jones tribute album Q: Soul Bossa Nostra.