As bands like Chango will tell you, choosing the right tune to cover is critical. It’s pretty easy to look like a fool when you choose to cover some crap nobody’s ever heard of or a song that’s beyond your means. On some occasions, however, covers outshine the original material. Covers like the following five tunes (you can totally click on 'em to hear the tunes).
First Aid Kit: “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song”
When a couple of teen-Swedish sisters showed up on YouTube with a cover of the Fleet Foxes’ “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song,” everyone everywhere shut their damn mouths and listened. This stripped-down rendition showcases Johanna and Klara Söderberg’s incredible vocal harmonies as well as their affinity for hanging around forests. And while nobody is saying that Fleet Foxes is a subpar band, First Aid Kit kind of shows ’em how it’s done. Oh, and the duo’s originals are pretty damned great, too.
The Get Up Kids: “Alec Eiffel”
The Pixies show in Santa Fe solidified my already diehard love for the band. Face it, nerds—Pixies is one of the best ever. Ever. In 1999, a tribute album called Where is my Mind: A Tribute to The Pixies came out, featuring bands like Braid, Weezer, Eels and more contributed plenty of killer covers. The emo band The Get Up Kids, however, totally stole the show with its sped-up and energetic cover of “Alec Eiffel.” Yes, the original is way awesome, but as an old roommate who was the biggest Pixies fan of all time would often tell me, “I kind of hate them, and I don’t know how they did it, but The Get Up Kids took that song and made it their bitch.”
Seu Jorge: “Oh! You Pretty Things”
Though I thought The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou was an incredibly boring waste of time, the Wes Anderson film did have a pretty excellent side-effect in the form of The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions featuring Seu Jorge. The Brazilian musician is best known for his upbeat samba numbers, but these sparse covers of David Bowie songs (which he sings in Portuguese) are absolutely incredible. With just Jorge and a nylon-string acoustic guitar, hits like “Life on Mars” and “Changes” take on entire new levels of beauty. The whole album is tremendously good, and it was hard to narrow it down to just one song, but “Oh! You Pretty Things” has a great groove. Jorge’s über-deep voice is just gorgeous, especially in the almost whisper-quiet way he sings the chorus. I’ve heard that even Bowie himself was floored by the covers, and that dude’s a wizard.
Gary Jules: “Mad World”
Tears for Fears is a great band. “Head Over Heels” could make you its girlfriend in about two seconds and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” is a classic. But when it comes to the song “Mad World,” Los Angeles indie-folk singer-songwriter Gary Jules kills TFF. The song skyrocketed into our collective music lexicons as part of the soundtrack for the cult-fav-after-theater-release film Donnie Darko, and Jules’ reverb-heavy piano rendition captures the heartbreaking subject matter way better than TFF’s synthy original ever did. Just ask my mom, who can barely listen to that song without losing it big time.
Snooks Eaglin: “St. James Infirmary”
Nobody really knows who wrote this song, but its place in the annals of American blues is pretty legendary. Lots of people have done versions (Leadbelly and Jack White come to mind), but no one nailed it harder than Snooks Eaglin. A relatively obscure bluesman, Eaglin is more of an electric blues kind of guy, but on 2005’s New Orleans Street Singer, he goes all acoustic for some of the most beautiful blues tunes ever committed to tape. Eaglin is a shredder, and his elegant/super-fast guitar breakdowns are only surpassed by the slight hint of desperation heard in his vocals. Boom.
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