The folklore enthusiast Izzy Young, mostly famous for booking an early Bob Dylan show in New York, once told me he thought musicians nowadays write too many new songs. "Young artists don't know how to manage the breadth of songs that already exists," the old man said. He had a point. There are songs whose true quality only comes out after they've been sung by a few different voices: speaking of Dylan, he still plays his 1967 song "All Along the Watchtower" in the style of Jimi Hendrix's 1968 cover version.
2013 hasn't exactly brought us any monumental musical reinventions like Hendrix's Dylan cover, but what can we expect? Here are 10 good covers from the year that has passed.
10. Daughter - Get Lucky
Original by Daft Punk
Here's a cover version that strips the original to its fundamentals, and builds it up again, using bass, kick drum, and ambience. What we're left with is a haunting rendition that sounds little like the funk of Daft Punk. It puts the lyrics in focus, and really makes one think about how strange it is that humans stay up all night just for the off-chance of getting lucky.
9. Scout Niblett - No Scrubs
Original by TLC
Scout Niblett's grungy take of TLC's R&B hit "No Scrubs" makes the message clear: she really doesn't want no scrubs. No ambiguity there. Her version is mournful and slow, very unlike the up-tempo source.
8. Eddie Berman and Laura Marling - Dancing in the Dark
Original by Bruce Springsteen
A singer from southern California and one from London get together to cover the Boss. They bring strings and an accordion. The result is a version of "Dancing in the Dark" that highlights the melodies and omits the high energy. It would have made sense if this was how Springsteen meant "Dancing in the Dark" to sound. Surely even the most fanatic Bruce fans must agree this is good.
7. ASAP Rocky - Who's Gonna Save My Soul
Original by Gnarles Barkley
ASAP Rocky busted this one out during a BBC radio performance. Ill-rehearsed and monotonous, it shows a vulnerable side of the Manhattan rapper. After the closing freestyle rap, Rocky exclaims, "I feel like a wino singing!" Which is precisely what he sounds like, too.
6. Flaming Lips - All You Need is Love
Original by The Beatles
Covering classic songs is hard. If the song is very well-known your best bet is to make your cover version in sharp contrast to the original, to avoid ending up with a bleak copy. The Flaming Lips disregarded all of this and recorded a pretty straightforward, only more psychedelic and strange, version of The Beatles' "All You Need is Love." Now, kids, only because they got away with it doesn't mean you should try this at home.
5. Tame Impala - Prototype
Original by Outkast
While we're on the subject of straightforward covers, Australian psych rockers Tame Impala made their version of Outkast's "Prototype" sound impressively alike the original. It must have been fun figuring out that bass line.
4. Arctic Monkeys - Hold On, We're Going Home
Original by Drake
On September 13, little over a month after Drake's mellow R&B jam "Hold On, We're Going Home" was released, Arctic Monkeys played their version of it on stage for the BBC's Live Lounge series. Drummer Matt Helder loves to pretend he is a drum machine, and singer Alex Turner is currently in his nightclub crooner phase, so the song works great for the Monkeys.
3. Bruce Springsteen - Slo le Pido a Dios
Original by Len Gieco
When his tour stopped by Buenos Aires in September, Bruce Springsteen recorded this video of himself covering Len Gieco's 1978 anthem "Slo le Pido a Dios" ("All I Ask of God"). It is a song that criticizes, in abstract terms, the military junta that ruled Argentina in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Springsteen plays the song as if it was one of his own folk compositions, and it's great. Also, kudos on the Spanish, Bruce!
2. Beyonce & Andre 3000 - Back to Black
Original by Amy Winehouse
Baz Luhrmann assembled a star-studded gang of musicians to record the music for his film The Great Gatsby. But no stars shone brighter than Beyonce and Andre 3000, who contributed a version of Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black." It is an even darker rendition than the original, with a slow, murderous beat and sly vocals.
1. Thao and The Get Down Stay Down - Train in Vain
Original by The Clash
The recent release of the Clash box set Sound System was promoted with four covers of Clash songs by contemporary artists. Two were dull - Corey Taylor's "London Calling" and Surfer Blood's "Spanish Bombs" - and two were good - Kurt Vile's "Guns of Brixton" and this one: Thao & The Get Down Stay Down's groovy take on "Train in Vain," the closing track off The Clash's 1979 album London Calling. Check out the singer's golden shoes!