11 December 2009

Music: Best Cover Songs of the Decade

Michael Andrews featuring Gary Jules – “Mad World”
Originally by Tears for Fears
It's only on the rarest of occasions that a cover outdoes the original in both chart success and emotional resonance, but this version--from the Donnie Darko soundtrack--topped the UK charts and was used in pretty much every television series in the last decade. But that hasn't lessened the impact one bit.
Recorded in the twilight of his life, this is the standout from the last album released before his death. Here, he turned Trent Reznor's what-have-I-done lament into a humble final amends. Perhaps the most powerful song of the decade.

One of the measures of a great cover tune is how it can pull even more emotion out of a song without changing any words. Chan Marshall did this on her contribution to the Juno soundtrack. To paraphrase 50 Cent, she was a seasoned vet when it came to this stuff, but if you think she'd ever slack, just take a listen to her wistful take on the '50s classic.

Christian or otherwise, David Crowder*Band was among the best artists of the decade, and his 2009 album Church Music is a mixture of lovingly crafted originals and stirring re-recordings of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Here, the Waco native condensed McMillan's eight-minute acoustic ditty and injected it with serious emotional heft. It's a slow burn of a song, but it's one you won't be the same after hearing.
Goofy, sure, but the Texas band never took themselves seriously and--for better or worse--essentially kicked off trend of ridiculous acoustic covers of rap songs. A note to haters: "Come talkin' that trash and we'll pull your card."

Scarlett Johansson – “Anywhere I Lay My Head”
Originally by Tom Waits
Many people loathed this album, and I can kind of see why. Tom Waits is such a legend and such a distinct voice that really no one should touch his stuff. But I suppose you’d have to say that about a lot of artists. Seeing as how there are no sacred cows in music (at least not to me), I’m more than OK with this cover. It evokes the mood of the original while taking it in bold new directions. And the production is both haunting and beautiful.
While the idea of a Brazilian troubadour singing Bowie covers may sound gimmicky, there's an added level of poignancy here, even if you don't understand a lick of Portugeuse. An honest performer, Jorge deserves far more recognition than "that dude from Life Aquatic."

Joey Ramone – “What a Wonderful World”
Originally by Louis Armstrong
Like Johnny Cash and Warren Zevon, Joey Ramone succumbed to disease, but not before recording especially poignant and painful songs. His version of one of the most famous songs of all time is big middle finger to Death. Even though his time is short, he's lived in this "Wonderful World" long enough to appreciate it.
I would hardly describe myself as a TV on the Radio fan, but this--along with "Staring at the Sun" and "Wolf Like Me"--is an absolutely killer track. With layers upon layers of vocals and synth wizardry, it's an especially haunting take on one of Bowie's best songs. Here, the emphasis is on the "ghosts [that] shot above our heads."

For those who have seen the documentary (and if you haven't, get up and go find it immediately), one of the final songs on the group's set list is the film's centerpiece--and its emotional heart. Seeing the clip on YouTube is moving as it is, but viewing it in context will reduce you to a blubbering mess (but for all the right reasons).


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