The beautiful thing about writing a song is the life it takes on once it leaves you. These 20 songs found new life this year, interpreted by some of our favorite artists. Here are the 20 best cover songs of 2011:
20. Ingrid Michaelson – “Somebody That I Used To Know” (Gotye)
Michaelson tones down the over-earnestness of this Australian hit song, though the video (while cool) can’t touch the original.
19. Wanda Jackson – “Thunder on the Mountain” (Bob Dylan)
It wouldn’t be a list without a Dylan cover, and this roadhouse blues number is the most fun song on The Party Ain’t Over, her project with Jack White. And her take on Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good” leads us to believe that, were there not five decades and an ocean between them, she and the young Brit could have raised a lot
of hell together.
18. The Low Anthem – “Ghost Woman Blues” (George Carter)
Opening an album with someone else’s song seems like an odd decision. The Low Anthem, however, hauntingly let this George Carter original ease listeners into Smart Flesh, paving the way for the stunning collection of songs that follow.—Max Blau
17. Rhett Miller – “Wave of Mutilation/I Wanna Be Sedated” (Pixies/The Ramones)
Recorded live at L.A.’s Largo, The Interpreter features Old 97’s frontman Rhett Miller covering more than a dozen iconic artists with help from Jon Brion. Here’s a different live version below with Ben Kweller singing backup:
16. The Morning Benders – “Last Night” (The Strokes)
Stereogum put together a Strokes tribute album for the Is This It’s 10th anniversary, and the Brooklyn-by-way-of-Berkeley band stands out putting an almost dance-pop sheen on the original.
15. Middle Brother – “Portland” (The Replacements)
There’s a wonderful road-weariness that reverberates throughout Middle Brother. John McCauley’s vocals lend an air of melancholy to a first-rate cover of The Replacements’ “Portland.” It’s hard not to believe him when he sings “shared a cigarette for breakfast, shared an airplane ride for lunch,” and he does so with such ease that we almost—almost—forget it was Paul Westerberg and not McCauley who penned the track.
14. Surfer Blood – “Territorial Pissings” (Nirvana)
The members of Florida indie-pop band Surfer Blood likely weren’t yet in grade school when Nevermind came out, but they channel their inner punks for Spin’s tribute album.
13. mynameisjohnmichael – “Go Outside” (Cults)
Why wait to tackle an old song when you can get it while it’s hot? This New Orleans collective brought the brass to one of our favorite Live at Paste covers this year.
12. The Roots – “Lyin’ Ass Bitch” (Fishbone)
Despite going lyric-free, The Roots’ recent choice for walk-on music for Michele Bachmann got the band—and their boss—in some hot water with NBC. Whatever your political persuasion, you kind of have to appreciate the subversive humor.
11. LCD Soundsystem – “Live Alone” (Franz Ferdinand)
We didn’t know it was already time for the Franz Ferdinand tribute album (oh, phew, it’s just an EP), but we’re just thankful to find something new from James Murphy.