Some covers are good!
(according to me, as is everything in this newsletter)
Heyyy, time for a little something for the paying subscribers. Thank you for being a paying subscriber!
So the theme of this one is song covers. I find them VERY hit-or-miss. I like it when a cover reinterprets the song somehow — enough to be interesting — but not too much. Fuck out of here with that Postmodern Jukebox shit!
Here are some song covers that I love. Several of them are on Spotify for your playlist-compiling pleasure, but I went with YouTube links here so everyone can preview them equally. Feel free to drop your favorite cover in the comments if one is burning a hole in your head!
Wolf Alice x Charli XCX
I first heard of Wolf Alice through their excellent Song Exploder episode. They’re great! They’re an alternative rock group and here they cover one of the best pop songs of the decade, Charli XCX’s “Boys.” The original is a perfect pop song, transcendent and bubbly and dreamy. Sometimes when rock bands take on pop songs it can just sound like a warmup exercise or, much worse, a high school talent show — just a group of musicians performing another song with no added character other than the new instruments they bring to it. But I love, love, love what Wolf Alice do to this song. The electric guitar makes this horny song hornier in a different way — if the original was doodling the name of your crush all over your notebook, then this one is making out in a car. In the 80s. Because there’s also those beautiful synths that come in that make it feel like an 80s teen movie, and right when you’re like “Whoa, this is kinda Cure-esque,” bam! A lovely little Cure interpolation gets thrown in there to make it even cooler. Suddenly you’re in a different 80s teen movie, maybe a Cameron Crowe one now. Ugh, and all the backup vocals added? Love it! Love. This. Whole. Deal.
Arctic Monkeys x Drake
What a blessing that “Hold On We’re Going Home” came out in 2013, right when the Arctic Monkeys were on their whole “it’s last call and I wanna go home with someone” vibe. This could have been an AM bonus track, easily. The condescension of “you’re a good girl and you know it” works so well with Alex Turner’s consistently ironic delivery!
Allison Weiss x Robyn
The first time I heard Robyn was in the gym. The song was “Dancing on My Own” and I was confused and horrified by the lyrics about standing IN THE CORNER, creepily watching an ex kiss someone, while she just dances alone (sobbing, in my mental picture, like that weeping TikTok girl or struggling baby).
The second Robyn song I heard was “Call Your Girlfriend” and I was like “is this artist just a stalker, or…?” I have since learned to love Robyn but “Call Your Girlfriend” isn’t my favorite of hers. (USE IN THIS VIDEO BEING THE OBVIOUS EXCEPTION.) I much, much prefer this beautiful cover. It’s so vulnerable, becoming less a demand than a plea.
Catfish and the Bottlemen x The Killers
The Killers might be my favorite band. I go back and forth between them and No Doubt. The way this cover strips down “Read My Mind” — taking the Vegas out of Sam’s Town, if you will — works really well with the meandering lyrics. This performance is very endearing because of the way the singer stumbles over the weirdness of the lyrics.
Miley Cyrus x Paul Simon
Every time Miley performs a cover I think “Her voice is so good! I would listen to a whole album of her singing!” and then I remember her albums that exist. It’s always a letdown. Anyway, there are two versions of her “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” cover on YouTube, but I think this one from the SNL 40 special is better than the Backyard Sessions one. Her voice is stronger and more controlled here. I also like the chillness of her “Hey Ya!” cover, even if that live recording apparently features someone being dragged out of the concert in front of her.
Passion Pit x Smashing Pumpkins
How do we feel about this cover? In terms of 90s songs covered by Passion Pit, I think this one edges out their version of the Cranberries’ “Dreams,” just because their “Tonight, Tonight” offers more of a change from the original. I think the swelling, sparkling Passion Pit production is a good substitute for the swelling alt rock of the Smashing Pumpkins’ version. (Have you seen that music video, by the way? The lead actor is Tom Kenny, aka SpongeBob and the Ice King, and that actress is his wife, aka Plankton’s computer wife Karen.)
This is a cover that I like, but it will never supplant the original for me. However, my mom loves Passion Pit and didn’t know this was a cover, and when I played her the original she found Billy Corgan’s voice horrible. So, mixed opinions on this one in my family.
Janelle Monaé x the Jackson 5
This post is getting long, so let’s end on Janelle’s perfect voice.