By: Ashton May
It’s Mixtape Monday! Apologies for missing last week. If you really liked the “Smells Like the 90s Vol 1” mixtape from two weeks ago, here’s a direct link to that playlist here.
This week I’m sharing some of my favorite songs covered by a different artist than the original. One of my favorite things about Spotify is the ability to easily discover tons of different versions of the same songs.
A few of these covers you might have heard before– some were popular enough to get radio play, some were from iconic live performances, and some have been present on movie soundtracks. There are sure to be some you haven’t yet heard, though, so let’s get going!
Mixtape Monday, 5/1, “Cover to Cover” – Listen while you read here!
- “Closer (feat. Sarah Hyland)” – Boyce Avenue: Most people who seek out good acoustic covers know Boyce Avenue. These guys have hundreds of covers available on Spotify. This is one of their newer ones, and I picked it due the original song’s current radio relevance and because Sarah Hyland (who plays Haley on ABC’s Modern Family) is a featured vocalist. Original song: “Closer” by The Chainsmokers.
- “This Must Be The Place” – Iron & Wine, Ben Bridwell: Iron & Wine’s Sam Bean collaborated with Band of Horses front man, Ben Bridwell, for a compilation of covers in 2015. This is my favorite on the album– a cover of the Talking Heads song from the ‘80s “This Must Be The Place.” It’s quite a beautiful cover full of pleasant, bouncy, folky instrumentation and tight harmonies. Original song: “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)” by Talking Heads.
- “Billie Jean” – The Civil Wars: I almost didn’t include this cover on this list, as my band The Hearsay covers this version of “Billie Jean,” and I am pretty over it. However, I realize that many people still haven’t heard it, and it is a very VERY cool take on the insanely popular song from the height of Michael Jackson’s career. Completely throwing out the iconic ‘80s bassline, synthesizers, and driving drum beat, the duo creates a bluesy, folky, haunting version of this ‘80s hit that is almost unrecognizable. Original song: “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson.
- “Lean On” – Lennon & Maisy: Real life sisters Lennon and Maisy Stella play sisters Maddie and Daphne Conrad on the TV show Nashville, but they are fantastic young musicians in their own right. They duo has been putting out covers via youtube and beyond for almost a decade. They released this really well-done Major Lazer cover last year when they were 16 and 12, respectively. They may be young, but they make music like #grownwomen. Original Song: “Lean On” by Major Lazer, MØ, DJ Snake.
- “Your Song”- Ellie Goulding: If you haven’t heard Ellie Goulding’s cover of “Your Song,” you might be living under a rock. It’s so well-known that I almost didn’t include it on the list, but it’s decidedly too lovely to leave off. Stripping down the pop feel of Elton John’s classic, Goulding’s version is a bit more emotive and poignant, with light orchestral instrumentation backing the piano and voice. Original Song: “Your Song” by Elton John.
- “Same Drugs” – MisterWives: Indie-pop group MisterWives gave Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book track “Same Drugs” an indie-pop makeout, putting their pop vocals twist on the soul powered rap song. It’s an excellent take on the song. Chance himself even tweeted about it, saying that the cover “made [his] heart smile.” Original song: “Same Drugs” by Chance The Rapper.
- “Seven Nation Army” – Zella Day: Singer-songwriter Zella Day released this stripped-down, folky cover of “Seven Nation Army” in 2012 when she was just 17 years old. It was actually her first released single. Her voice is potent and as haunting as the rollicking guitar. Original Song: “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes.
- “Free Fallin’ – Live at the Nokia Theatre” – John Mayer: Yeah, I know. Literally everyone and their mother has heard John Mayer’s version of “Free Fallin.’” But, I just couldn’t not include it. Despite the overwhelming arrogance Mr. Mayer exudes, you can’t deny his incredible guitar playing prowess and utterly beautiful, soothing, sexy voice. This is one of my favorite covers by anyone, ever. It keeps enough of the original to make it recognizable, but he also changes some major things, like the melody of the iconic chorus. We love you despite your terrible personality, John Mayer. Original Song: “Free Fallin’” by Tom Petty.
- “Sex And Candy” – Maroon 5: I was surprised when Adam Levine & Co. resurrected this 1997 one hit wonder on their 2014 album V— not because I didn’t think Levine would be the perfect vocalist to cover it (because I do), but because Maroon 5 has become so unbearably pop-centric, I was surprised they went back to their roots in this way. Maroon 5 used to be delightfully different– they were a soul-funk rock band that came out of nowhere in time where bands like Nickelback unfortunately ruled the radio. But then they started getting “Moves Like Jagger,” and they sound like every other pop act out there. Unlike every single they’ve put out in the last 10 years, their cover of “Sex And Candy” is moody, downbeat, slow, sexy, and not over-produced. Original Song: “Sex And Candy” by Marcy Playground.
- “Dancing On My Own” – Calum Scott: In April 2015, Calum Scott’s life was transformed by Britain’s Got Talent and a heartbreaking stripped-down, piano rendition of Robyn’s electro-pop hit ‘Dancing on My Own.’ Now with over 160 Million streams on Spotify, he’s version of this song has earned him a place in the industry. Seriously, his voice is incredible, and this song certainly shows it off. He sings with so much emotion, this song has the potential to bring you to tears. Original Song: “Dancing On My Own” by Robyn.
- “Teenage Dream” – The Rescues: I’ve loved this dreamy cover of “Teenage Dream” for years. The LA-based foursome utilize their trademark impressive and intricate harmonies to the fullest in this cover. It’s absolutely gorgeous. Original Song: “Teenage Dream” by Katy Perry.
- “A Case Of You” – James Blake: This is one of those songs that I have scoured every corner of Spotify to find different versions of. Joni Mitchell’s “A Case Of You” is such a great song, and I love hearing different artists give their take on it. But James Blake’s version is the most unique by far. There is a spareness to Blake’s delivery, a peculiar otherworldliness that is lonely and desperate, without being over-dramatic. Mitchell’s version is gorgeous, of course, but the musical simplicity of Blake’s version really allows the listener to focus on Mitchell’s brilliant lyrics, enhancing the song’s poignance. Original Version “A Case of You” by Joni Mitchell.
- “Somewhere Only We Know” – Lily Allen: British singer Lily Allen recorded her delicate rendition of “Somewhere Only We Know” for a John Lewis Christmas advertisement. Although it didn’t surpass the success of the original song in the US, it absolutely did in the UK, topping the UK Singles Chart. Original Song: “Somewhere Only We Know” by Keane.
- “Heroes” – Janelle Monáe: Kicking off three Bowie covers in a row is Janelle Monáe’s funky, peppy, dancy cover of “Heroes.” Before Pepsi was making terrible creative decisions with their major advertising, they made some decent ones, particularly in how they utilized musical artists in their advertisements. Monáe originally recorded this song as part of a Pepsi ad campaign in 2014 related to the World Cup in Rio. Original Song: “Heroes” by David Bowie.
- “The Man Who Sold The World” – Nirvana: One of the songs recorded in their iconic MTV Unplugged in New York performance, Nirvana’s cover of “The Man Who Sold The World.” Bowie’s original isn’t necessarily one of his most famous, and isn’t widely known, and many young people and fans of Nirvana were unaware that it was a cover at all. Additionally, the power in this cover is also related to the tragedy that struck very soon after it was performed–it hauntingly took on a new meaning after Cobain died. He was a man who had the world at his fingertips, and he gave it all up. Original Song: “The Man Who Sold The World” by David Bowie.
- “Space Oddity – Live Version” – Natalie Merchant: The oldest recording on this list, Natalie Merchant performed a rare cover of “Space Oddity” at a concert in 1999. Her voice is beautiful, captivating, and ethereal, like it’s floating around in outer space– which is certainly appropriate to the song. Original Song: “Space Oddity” by David Bowie.
- “Can’t Help Falling In Love (Recorded Live at Daytrotter)” – Ingrid Michaelson: Covered by many many artists since Elvis Presley’s original recording, Ingrid Michaelson’s version is my favorite. The original song itself is full of raw, vulnerable emotion– it’s a love song, but it’s more so a song about being lovesick. Michaelson’s voice is perfection while simultaneously presenting that deep emotion, almost to the point of breaking down– which is even more impressive as it was recorded live. Original Song: “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Elvis Presley.
- “XO” – John Mayer: Yes, I’m putting John Mayer on here again. “I can’t help falling in love” with his covers…(see what I did there?). But seriously, he wonderfully covered this beautiful song from Beyoncé’s 2013 self-titled album. It’s stripped-down, simple and sweet, and the harmonica perfectly adds to the singer-songwriter love song aesthetic. It’s one of my favorites on this list, for sure. Original Song: “XO” by Beyoncé.
- “Wish You Were Here” – The Milk Carton Kids: This cover of “Wish You Were Here” is really cool. The Milk Carton Kids transform the iconic classic rock ballad into a dark folk song. The duel guitars pair perfectly with the uninterrupted harmonies than will give you chills. It’s also recorded live, but is performed so flawlessly, you don’t realize until you hear the audience at the end. Original Song: “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd.
- “Time After Time” – Iron & Wine: And yes, Iron & Wine also appears twice on this list. Originally used in a McDonald’s ad campaign, Iron & Wine released the full version of his sleepy cover of “Time After Time” on Spotify last year. Sam Beam serenades us with his smooth voice and lovely guitar work. His cover is less high school slow dance and more high school mix CD for your love interest, but either way, it certainly does the original justice. Original Song: “Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper.