By: Amanda McMillan
I wouldn’t consider myself someone who spends a lot of time on YouTube. I’ll watch the occasional linked video, perhaps some movie trailers, or a music video. Every so often (that is more and more recently with all the extra time on my hands), I will go down a YouTube rabbit hole watching videos of cover songs. I love covers so much!
There are some covers that become the most famous version of the song, like Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll” (originally by the Arrows) or 90s classic “Torn” by Natalie Imbruglia (originally by Ednaswap). There are others that are just so well done that they are almost better than the original, such as “Man Who Sold the World” by Nirvana on their MTV unplugged appearance (originally a Bowie song), or even Adele’s “Lovesong” (originally by The Cure). Of course, there are always bad covers, or some artists that are really hard to do justice. But my favourite section of YouTube are the famous artists covering other famous artists on shows like BBC Live Lounge or triple j’s Like A Version out of Australia.
So with that in mind, I welcome you to take a trip down this YouTube blackhole with me. I have compiled a shortlist of some of my favourite covers performances...originally it was over 30 videos long but even I felt overwhelmed by that! This is as much as I could spare.
Wicked Game - London Grammar (Chris Issak Cover)
“Wicked Game” is probably one of my favourite songs of all time. It’s so beautiful and sad, but kind of cool. It makes for a great song to cover because it’s not particularly complicated so it allows for a lot of interpretation but has such a focus on vocals that any band can really make it their own. This is one of my favourite versions because they make it extra haunted.
Let It Happen - Meg Mac (Tame Impala Cover)
A lot of artists cover Tame Impala on Like A Version, likely because they are the most famous Australian band and this is an Aussie show. This cover is really cool, and a gorgeous re-arrangement. It brings a whole new interpretation to this song.
Dreams - Lily Kershaw (Fleetwood Mac Cover)
Stories is a YouTube channel where session and up and coming musicians cover famous songs. Not all of them are noteworthy, but this is probably the best cover of this song I have ever heard. It’s stunning, and has its own twist but still encapsulates the essence of the original song. The ukes could easily make it feel twee, but Lily Kershaw’s voice is so soulful that it takes it to another level.
Chicago - The Staves (Sufjan Stevens cover)
I have long been a Staves fan, mostly because I am a sucker for sisterly harmonies (hello HAIM, Joseph, First Aid Kit, etc). This is a beautifully simple song, ripe for covering by just about anyone. There is something both delicate and sweet about this cover, as it is effortless and calm. With voices like that, The Staves can truly do no wrong.
Do I Wanna Know - Dua Lipa (Arctic Monkeys cover)
Is there anything Dua Lipa can't do? This stripped-down version of one of the more emotional songs by the Arctic Monkeys is hauntingly stunning. If there was any doubt about whether Dua Lipa can truly sing, this is your proof! The girl has pipes and range for days. Now I’d like to see this turned into a duet with Alex Turner! If anyone can make it happen, it’s the BBC Live Lounge.
Feels Like I Only Go Backwards - Arctic Monkeys (Tame Impala cover)
Speaking of Arctic Monkeys, this is like the world’s colliding for me! It was a toss-up between this Live Lounge cover and their cover of Drake, but this is the one that I go back to on a more consistent basis. Alex Turner’s voice is so different from Kevin Parker’s, that it brings more of a melancholy vibe to it than the original. Slowed down and stripped back, this really takes on a life of its own.
Someday - Julia Jacklin (The Strokes cover)
This is such a daydream of a cover! This version almost creates a ballad out of an otherwise messy alt-rock song, but it still has that hazy, hooky, sound to it. Julia Jacklin’s twang gives it something new without making it feel too different or removed.
Shake It Off - The Screaming Females (Taylor Swift cover)
For whatever reason (probably on the Taylor Swift end of things), the AV Club removed the original video of this. Nonetheless, this is one of the wildest covers I’ve ever heard. I was instantly in love with it and became a Screaming Females fan because of this. It’s so grungy, and Marissa Paternoster’s voice is so distinctive, it brings the most perfect juxtaposition to what was the biggest pop song of the year.
No Scrubs - Jorja Smith (TLC Cover)
Smith’s voice is smoother than Normandy butter. She can make anything sound beautiful, and this truly iconic song is no different. This is a commonly covered song (because it absolutely slaps), but this version has so much soul and is so intimate that it feels extra special.
Black Hole Sun - Jennah Bell (Soundgarden cover)
Another one from the Stories YouTube series is one of the best versions of the song I’ve ever heard. This song is based on simplicity from a progression point of view and, like almost everything Chris Cornell sang, it was all about the vocals. This version is no different. Also, her dog is there!
Cry Me A River - Methly Ethyl (Justin Timberlake cover)
This is yet another cover session that turned me into a fan of a band. This turns what is already a very vibey song into a whole new beast. That bass line? The falsetto? It’s got all the pieces we love about Justin Timberlake but filtered through guitars. Methyl Ethyl is a very talented band out of Australia and the arrangement of this cover is testament to their instincts.
My Sharona - Royal Blood (The Knack cover)
Who needs a guitar? Not these guys! This is such a metal version of this song, with just drums, a super distorted bass, and vocals. The original is very much pop, New Wave “one-hit wonder” (side note Get The Knack, the album this song is originally on is a lot of fun!), so this is a very different take on it, but that’s what makes it so great.
Heart-Shaped Box - Glass Animals (Nirvana Cover)
I am a Nirvana purist, so I don’t always have a ton of faith in Nirvana covers, but Glass Animals is so talented and interesting that I knew they would make something cool out of it. What’s great about his video is that he walks us through the process of making this cover in quarantine in his home studio. So, production nerds, this one’s for you!