While I have a love-hate relationship with covers of songs, this year has shown me that not all covers are just less-authentic versions of the original song. In some cases, I even found that I could enjoy both the cover and the classic without cringing at either (this is a very rare case). Some of these songs have come out in the last few months, and some may have been out for at least a few years but I just got around to listening to them now. In no particular order, here is a list of song covers that I actually enjoy on their own, without comparison to the original work.
10. “Cover Me Up” – Morgan Wallen
Okay, okay. It’s a country song, so, most people automatically are going to discredit my music taste, but just hear me out. Actually, hear him out. I had no idea this song was a cover at first, and I kid you not my sister probably played it nonstop for at least a month before I took the time to listen to the lyrics. Wallen takes a song about someone struggling with PTSD and turns it into a romantic monologue for the woman he loves. Originally performed by Jason Isbell, whom Wallen makes sure to credit, “Cover Me Up” might just be my favorite cover of all time, because to me, it wasn’t a cover first.
9. “Heart of Glass” – Miley Cyrus
I’m just going to say for the record that my sisters introduce me to most of the good music I listen to. Miley Cyrus’s version of “Heart of Glass” is no exception to that statement, but it definitely does not make it any less of a piece of art. Cyrus embraces her inner “rock god” to cover Blondie’s original song, and breathes new life into a forgotten track. Sometimes I forget just how talented Cyrus can be if she is given the opportunity, and her raspy alto shines through in this 2020 cover to remind me.
8. “Vienna” – Ben Platt
Oh, “Vienna.” Your poetic words of slowing down the speed of life and taking a moment are more impactful than ever. Ben Platt is an unlikely cover artist for Billy Joel’s 1977 hit, but the young Broadway star’s smooth, emotion-rich voice carries the song to new depths. Yes, Joel wins with his father-like wisdom, but Platt brings the message down to a young adult level, uncovering the pain that most young adults feel at the prospect of life’s path. (For more on this topic, The Oracle’s Jake Mauriello wrote a column on “Vienna” that deserves an award).
7. “Can’t Help Falling In Love” – Kina Grannis
Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” is one of my all-time favorite songs. That being said, I also appreciate many of the covers that this song has acquired over the years. Grannis’ version played in the 2018 movie “Crazy Rich Asians” and has a nostalgic yet somber tone which I have learned to love. The slow strumming of the lone guitar as Grannis starts in with her hushed singing is what gravitates me to the cover, and watching it within the context of the movie was the selling point.
6. “Once Upon A Dream” – Lana Del Rey
If anyone knows anything about me, they know that I have a semi-unhealthy fascination with Disney and all associated media. This also makes me undoubtedly loyal to the original music of the princess movies. But when “Maleficent” came out in 2014 to tell the story of Sleeping Beauty’s villain, Del Rey created a haunting rendition of “Once Upon A Dream” that won me over.
5. “Landslide” – Dixie Chicks (The Chicks)
This one might be a bit contentious, but I grew up with The Chicks (formerly known as The Dixie Chicks) and was introduced to “Landslide” through their cover. Fleetwood Mac’s version is objectively better, but the three girls’ harmonies definitely make an argument. The country “twang” actually makes the song more wistful and lilting.
4. “Godspeed” – James Blake
Frank Ocean’s “Godspeed” is immaculate. But James Blake adds a softer touch to the song and the acoustic version makes it less doctored and more authentic. Nothing much to say other than it feels like a different song altogether, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
3. “Andante, Andante” – Lily James
I think this might be cheating, but I needed to include my love for “Mamma Mia” here somewhere. Lily James is not a singer by occupation, but she kills it in the second “Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again” and her rendition of “Andante, Andante” after finding herself alone on the Grecian island. James’ vibrato is the star of the show, and brings emotion to the song where ABBA falls short.
2. “Make You Feel My Love” – Adele
Bob Dylan’s not-so-popular song became Adele’s claim to fame. Personally, I thought it was an Adele song before I looked up the origins, and maybe that isn’t such a bad thing. It sounds like the lyrics were made for ballad-singer Adele, and though it has been covered time and time again she manages to add something new to the seemingly standard love song.
1. “Tiny Dancer” – Florence + the Machine
I debated forever about putting this song on the list, but Elton John’s ballad “Tiny Dancer” deserves some credit. While John put the song on the map, Florence and the Machine adds a litany of chords and an orchestral sound to the classic song and markets it towards a younger generation. While they don’t destroy the song with electro-pop beats, the smooth tone of Florence Welch’s voice humming throughout the tune makes it less of a song and more of an experience.