Appreciation! Covers We Covet, Volume 1

The art of the cover song is a delicate subject. Many people believe it is impossible to achieve a perfect rendition of a song already recorded by another artist. Others believe that a band’s ability (and chutzpah) to play a classic song is the true test of their strength as a group.

I have a love/hate relationship with cover songs. In many cases, I believe the cover song is one of the best parts of a band’s live set (ie. The Decemberists/Death Cab for Cutie/Stars performing Fleetwood Mac’s “You Can Go Your Own Way” to close the Central Park Summerstage show in 2005). In some other cases, I find the cover song an overdone and unnecessary practice (especially if it is cliche ::cough cough Every Indie Act Covering “Womanizer”).

In order to make a cover song work, as far as I am concerned, the artist has to inject their own style into the song instead of just playing the song exactly as it originally appeared. The artist has to believe in the original as well as taking steps towards exercising some artistic license.

Here is a list of some notable cover songs (with corresponding mp3s)…

  • Matt Pond PA covering Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In The Aeroplane Over the Sea” mp3

Recently I have realized that Neutral Milk Hotel’s songs are very often covered by my favorite artists. (Jesse Lacey of Brand New, for one, has been known to cover “Two Headed Boy” in his solo show set list). The song, “Aeroplane,” is one of my favorite songs off the album by the same name. This cover is a beautiful acoustic piece sort of close to the original version. From listening to so much Matt Pond PA recently, it is a fair assumption that MPPA is heavily influenced by Neutral Milk. But injecting violins into the melody, he adds a sense of softness and romanticism to the song. It is what MPPA does best.

  • Bats for Lashes covering Kings of Leon’s”Use Somebody” mp3

Recently posted on Stereogum, this cover features many of the things that I love about cover songs. First off, it is a female vocalist singing a song originally recorded (and performed) by a male-fronted band. Secondly, the tempo is slowed down slightly. Thirdly, one or more instruments are added (an organ and a tambourine). Although I don’t listen to much Bat for Lashes (and am a casual KOL fan), this cover is a great example of a cover where the song is softened up successfully.

  • Stars covering The Smiths’ “This Charming Man” mp3

What? A Smiths cover? Someone attempted to cover the Smiths! That is preposterous! No. I am just kidding (even though many think – Morrissey included – The Smiths are one of those untouchable bands). Stars fuses the melody with electronica sounds. The whispering vocals of Torqui Campbell accompanied with the ever-so-charming (haha) Amy Milan is a new spin on Morrissey’s signature style found in this song. Yes, it is possible to appropriately cover The Smiths. Stars have done it. Death Cab for Cutie too (in a version of the same song – download here).

  • Peter Gabriel and Hot Chip covering Vampire Weekend’s “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa mp3

When I originally heard that this cover existed, I thought it would be one of those cover songs that came off silly. I mean, a 59-year-old famous English musician who is name-dropped in an indie song covering said indie song as a duet with an electronica-dance-pop band? However it is one of the greatest things I’ve heard in a while. He covers the song with a bit of humor and even inserts, “But this feels so unnatural to sing your own name” at the part where one would expect to hear “But this feels so unnatural, Peter Gabriel too.”

  • She and Him covering The Beatles’ “I Should Have Known Better” mp3

When a female vocalist covers a song written from the point of view of a man, it is expected that any “her” pronouns will be turned into “him.” In this case, “girl” is replaced with “guy.” This version has a country twang and slow finger-picking tone, unlike the original (which is only slightly twangy due to the harmonicas). The tone is casual yet dreamy. In addition, it is one of the few times on “Volume One” where M. Ward actually takes a verse (in this case, the chorus). There is even a bit where Zooey lets out a giggle. Too cute Zooey, too cute.

Coming soon: Top 10 Bruce Springsteen cover songs…

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Top 5: Songs for a Snow Day


The snow is a beautiful thing, especially when it lets you stay home from work and/or school. It is like a mini-vacation from life where you can sleep late and stay in PJs all day long.  Even though it only lasts a day, it is a wonderful time to take a moment away from the daily grind and lay back.  Here is a list of 5 songs perfectly suited for that type of wintery day:

1.  The Arcade Fire “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” mp3

“And if the snow buries my neighborhood/ and if my parents are crying/ then I’ll dig a tunnel from my window to yours.” 

Arcade Fire are originally from Montreal and have some pretty wintery songs.  Win Bulter’s roaring vocals along with the violins set up this song that conveys that “snowed in feeling” of childhood (or adult-hood).  It is that feeling where all you want to do is meet up with friends at a local hill and sled down over and over again. With wind in your hair and frost on your face, it is a time to make everlasting memories.
2.  Interpol “Obstacle 2” mp3

“I’m gonna hold your face and toast the snow that fell/ because friends don’t waste wine when there’s words to sell.” 

Typically Interpol is one of those “rainy” bands and not in the “snowy” bands category.  But this song reminds me of that type of snow that happens in college: classes are canceled and friends gather to take advantage of the mid-week snow day by, often, enjoying a few cocktails.  Paul Banks seems to be no stranger to those wine-filled days. And his voice is a perfect match for the mood of the song which is mysterious and devoid of all responsibility.
3.  Honorary Titled “Snow Day” mp3

“Please let the snow swallow the streets whole./ Keep the bus from coming./ Let us stay home/ so we can avoid the daily drudgery.” 

The night before the possible snow day is often the hardest. In sleep, you hope that the snow will be enough to cancel whatever plans you have for the next day. Hopefully you will be able to stay in bed all day and drink hot chocolate as you watch the snow slowly falling outside your window.  This song holds on to that hopeful feeling.
4.  Stars “Heart” mp3

“You disembark the latest flight from paradise./ You almost turn your ankle in the snow./ You fall back into where you started/ make up words to song you used to know.”

Stars is another Canadian band that has so many songs about love and winter, but this is one of the strongest.    The dual vocals are just like two hopeful lovers meeting on a snowy evening, engaging in conversation that in the past never seemed to match up.  But suddenly they get it and realize they really are “still in love” with each other.  All it took was one snow-flaky evening.
5.  Jimmy Eat World “Crush” mp3

“Faintest snow keep falling, falling/ Yeah/ Hands around your waist./ Nameless, standing cold, standing cold…My lungs are so numb from holding back.”

Jimmy Eat World really knows how to write and execute songs that hold on to a specific feeling. It was never done better than on 1999’s album “Clarity.” This song has always been one of my favorites. It outlines the evening where the slow snow is the main characteristic of an evening. It always makes things more magical.  As the cold air seeps into the lungs, words are harder to come back and every sentence must be chosen carefully as not to waste one breath on pointless words.