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.
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
10. Wilco – “I Love My Label” (Nick Lowe)
As part of their first-ever 7” on their newly-launched dBpm records, Wilco released “I Might” as a single with Nick Lowe’s “I Love My Label” as the b-side. For a band who has cleverly amused fans from time to time over the years, it was the perfect cover choice to christen their record label.—Max Blau
9. JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound – “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” (Wilco)
Covering Wilco will always be a daunting task, but reworking a near-seven-minute experimental masterpiece into a soul-spewing breakup seems almost unthinkable. JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound manage to pull it off, putting out one of the year’s best covers.—Max Blau
8. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. – “We Almost Lost Detroit” (Gil-Scott Heron)
For a band who adeptly walks the line between seriousness and satire, they use this Gil-Scott Heron song to make light of today corporate world. The cover, which officially came out two weeks after Heron passed away, doubles as a tip of the cap to another social commentator. Here it is at the Paste party at SXSW.—Max Blau
7. James Blake – “Limit To Your Love” (Feist)
This was the world’s introduction to the 21-year-old, paving the way for one of the most original debuts of the year.
6. Wye Oak – “Strangers” (The Kinks)
It’s hard to expect anything less than the best when you bring together one of the top Kinks songs with the band behind one of our favorite records of 2011, and Wye Oak didn’t disappoint, when the band played it for The Onion A/V Club’s Undercover Project.—Bonnie Stiernberg
5. Dum Dum Girls – There Is a Light That Never Goes Out (The Smiths)
When Dee Dee put out her He Gets Me High EP this past March, she told Paste the song acted as a “soothing mantra” as she prepared for her mother’s death (she died later in the year). In covering this classic The Smiths’ song, she sings with a controlled desperation as if it was her own work.—Max Blau
4. The Black Keys – “Dearest” (Buddy Holly)
The Black Keys’ minimalist take on this track from Rave On: Buddy Holly strays just far enough from the original without getting too caught up in itself. It’s simple, passionate and to the point, and it was enough to earn Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance.—Bonnie Stiernberg
3. The Civil Wars – “Billie Jean” (Michael Jackson)
In addition to debuting their own set of songs at the highest position for an independent band in the history of Billboard (#12), The Civil Wars also dropped a few brilliant covers into their live set, The Smashing Pumpkin’s “Disarm” and this one from Paste’s SXSW party.
2. Bon Iver – “I Can’t Make You Love Me” (Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin)
Made popular by Bonnie Raitt, Justin Vernon transforms it with just a piano as a bonus for his “Calgary” single.
1. Trent Reznor & Karen O – “Immigrant Song” (Led Zeppelin)
This combination for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo—Nine Inch Nails’ Reznor The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Karen O heavy Zep—looks great on paper and sounds even better.