Well, the first mid-year lists are starting to come out — I’ve seen “Best Albums of 2012 So Far” and “Best Videos of 2012 So Far” lists already, and we barely just started June. And since reading lists and making lists is a lot of fun, I decided to get in on the action with a list of the Top 10 Cover Songs of 2012 So Far, since one of the focuses of The Tune is cover songs.
Below, listen to, read about, and download my favorite reinterpretations of the year, from John Mayer‘s instrumental take on Lana Del Rey to Marilyn Manson‘s collaboration with Johnny Depp. I realized when I was halfway done with the list that nearly every single one of the Top 10 were available to download for free, so I’ve added an additional 5 bonus tracks that are only available for streaming at the end. Enjoy!
1. Active Child – “Sweet Dreams (Eurythmics cover)“ MP3
Wow-ow-OW. Harpist Pat Grossi and his band Active Child stopped by Triple J in Australia to perform a cover of Eurythmics‘ classic song “Sweet Dreams.” All I can say is… wow. That harp. It might even be better than the original. You’ll definitely want to see this.
2. The Paper Crows – “Disarm” MP3
I’m absolutely in love with this track from London band Paper Crows. It’s a cover of The Smashing Pumpkins‘ “Disarm,” my long-time favorite track from the band’s seminal 1993 alt-rock album Siamese Dream. But Paper Crows flip it on its back, turning it into a wonderfully enormous arena-sized anthem while not losing the song’s utterly despairing tone. Beginning with a ringing bell and a tense strikes from a string section, a huge synthesized stomp-stomp-clap, stomp-clap beat enters suddenly and escorts the song into the chorus, where Paper Crows juxtapose sickly, distorted sounds with a soaring synth riff.
3 . John Mayer – “Video Games (Lana Del Rey instrumental cover)” MP3
Earlier this year, John Mayer uploaded a cover version of Lana Del Rey‘s 2011/2012 hit “Video Games“ onto his new Soundcloud account. The cover is performed on solo electric guitar with a healthy amount of reverb, and as Mayer currently cannot sing due to vocal chord problems, it’s an instrumental. Somehow, Mayer manages to bring out another side of “Video Games,” one that we’ve never heard despite the endless covers and remixes of the song. It’s a soulful, mournful, absorbing side that is buried beneath the mix of the original, and that guitar… oh god, that guitar.
4. The Knocks – “Midnight City (M83 cover)” MP3
Here we’ve got NYC duo The Knocks and singer Mandy Lee covering M83‘s “Midnight City,” one of the indisputably best tracks of 2011. This version is even more of a dance song than the original, and that “BEE-doop-boo-BEEP” has been adapted into a vocal part, which suits the interpretation perfectly. It builds tension and explodes at all the right moments, showing a great grasp of dynamics from The Knocks. I’m lovin’ it.
5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. – “Like a Prayer (Madonna cover)” MP3
Detroit-based indie pop group Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. released a new covers EP entitled We Almost Lost Detroit (in reference to the Gil Scott-Heron song covered first), and it contains this masterful percussion-heavy interpretation of Madonna‘s sexy hit “Like a Prayer.” It’s my favorite since punk rock band Rufio covered the song 10 years ago
6. Avec Sans – “Perth (Bon Iver cover)” MP3
Judging by Bon Iver‘s ever-growing popularity and their songs’ open-ended construction, we’ll be hearing plenty of wonderful interpretations of their work over the next few decades. One of the first that’s really caught my attention is this electropop cover by London’s Avec Sans (French for With Without). The band chose to reinterpret the leadoff track on Bon Iver’s 2011 Grammy-winning album Bon Iver, Bon Iver [read our review], “Perth” — a great selection for their rolling, hectic beats. They so fully reimagine the song that my fiancée and I, Justin Vernon fans both, couldn’t even recognize it — at least until that telltale “Still alive for you, love” line. Overall, it’s one of the more original cover songs I’ve heard in awhile, but you cannot truly appreciate it until you’re familiar with the original — so get on that!
7. Barricades Rise – “Down Under (Men at Work cover)” MP3
I’m not entirely sure why, but I’ve always considered Men at Work‘s 1982 single “Down Under” to be one of the gayest songs ever. I don’t mean that in a negative way — on the contrary, it’s a compliment. But that doesn’t change the fact that the song is just plain fucking gay. Like, assless-leather-chaps-and-rainbow-lisps gay. And I love it! Anyway, U.K. band Barricades Rise have covered the song with acoustic guitar and piano, a banjo, and shakers, and somehow the tune works just as well as bluegrassy pop. It’s fun, energetic, and guaranteed to bring out your gayest side.
8. MuteMath – “Fallin’ (Alicia Keys cover)” MP3
MuteMath stopped by the Triple J studios in Australia at the beginning of May to perform their soulful cover of Alicia Keys‘ neo-classic “Fallin’” live in studio for the Like a Version series. It’s a wonderful performance!
9. Niia – “Mad World (Tears for Fears cover)” MP3
Whether you know “Mad World” from Tears for Fears‘ original 1982 version or the Michael Andrews & Gary Jules cover for the movie Donnie Darko in 2001, you probably know the song. It’s become a definitive tune of the early-’80s, and its relevance only seems to grow with each passing year. I predict an eventual “Don’t Stop Believing“ status for the song if it can keep the momentum it’s built up over the last decade. And now jazzy pop singer Niia, who scored a #12 hit in 2007 as a featured artist on Wyclef Jean‘s “Sweetest Girl (Dollar Bill),” has covered the song in neo-synthpop fashion. No matter how many times you’ve heard “Mad World,” this version seems fresh in its melancholy disco-ness.
10. GHXST – “Dragula (Rob Zombie cover)” MP3
Earlier this year, NYC alternative rock band GHXST turned out a creepy, midnight-grunge cover of Rob Zombie‘s biggest hit, the charging 1998 industrial-metal song “Dragula.” It’s full of that kind of hyper-tension and paranoia that few bands can accomplish, and it is a worthy cover of the original (which is one of my favorite guilty-pleasure songs ever).
5 More Great Cover Songs from 2012
11. Oberhofer – “Runaway (Kanye West cover)” MP3
13. Jake Shimabukuro – “Rolling in the Deep (Adele cover)”