13 Beats of the Week: Covers Edition


Aidan O'Connor, Contributing Writer

Do you ever have a song resonate with you so strongly that you wish you had written it yourself? This is the case for many artists who record songs already written and performed by someone else. By covering an existing piece, artists can inject their creativity into a beloved work and potentially change its original meaning or, on occasion, produce the definitive version of the song.

  1. “I Want You Back” by Lake Street Dive (The Jackson 5)

Lake Street Dive’s take on this classic tune strips down the arrangement to a four-piece ensemble and dramatically slows down the tempo, producing a more intimate sound. Although the result is not as danceable as the original, the laid-back, yet playful instrumental and Rachel Price’s emotional vocal performance are perhaps a better fit for the song’s lyrical content of heartbreak and longing.

  1. “The Man Who Sold The World” by Nirvana (David Bowie)

Kurt Cobain of Nirvana has named Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World” as one of his favorite albums, so the band’s cover of the title track is a mostly faithful rendition. As such, the differences between their versions are found in the subtleties: Bowie’s sustained organ and vocal harmonies give the original a haunting feel, while Nirvana’s cover is stripped down and raw with a more outwardly emotional performance by Cobain.

  1. “Harvest Moon” by Laura Stevenson and Jeff Rosenstock (Neil Young)

Tragically for Spotify listeners, Neil Young’s music catalog is no longer available on the platform after the recent controversy over Joe Rogan’s podcast, but you can still enjoy a few of his hits with Jeff and Laura’s EP “Still Young.” “Harvest Moon” is a particular standout as the two singers trade verses before handling the final chorus together like former lovers reunited under the moonlight. Additionally, Rosenstock puts his ska punk background to use with heavy guitar chords that hang in the mix and a sensual saxophone solo.

  1. “Moon River” by Frank Ocean (Henry Mancini/Audrey Hepburn)

As the star of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” the movie this song was written for, Audrey Hepburn’s vocals are front and center against an acoustic guitar progression that gradually swells into a full orchestral arrangement. Frank Ocean’s voice is also the focus of his cover, but in a different way. He layers his own voice countless times to produce sublime harmonies against minimalist instrumentation that mainly serves to fill out the lower register.

  1. “MONKEY MAN (MONKEY monkey MAN)” by ORESKABAND (Toots & The Maytals)

Although The Specials’ cover of reggae legends Toots & The Maytals’ “Monkey Man” is more well known, ORESKABAND’s version is too fun to not include on this list. Driving punk guitar riffs keep the song moving forward while syncopated chords give it a bouncy feel. Additionally, bright horn arrangements and iCas’ more melodic style of singing blend to form uplifting harmonies, making the brute of a man described in the lyrics sound not so bad.

  1. “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye (Gladys Knight & the Pips)

Marvin Gaye’s rendition of this song is so iconic that it’s almost hard to believe it’s not the original version. Gaye’s smooth voice feels effortless yet intensely emotional from the heartbreak described in the lyrics, and the instrumental is harmonically rich with a solid groove supplied by the percussion and keyboards. However, it never threatens to overpower Gaye’s voice, allowing him to bask in the spotlight for the song’s duration.

  1. “Dreams” by Japanese Breakfast (The Cranberries)

Japanese Breakfast’s cover of “Dreams” is another faithful version of a classic song that uses subtle differences to its advantage. While the original uses guitars that are bathed in a tremolo effect, a sound that was very common for alternative music of the time, this version cleverly varies the riffs used over its central core progression in order to constantly build on itself, which is more common to modern indie.

  1. “Just Like Heaven” by Dinosaur Jr. (The Cure)

A transcription of Dinosaur Jr.’s cover would look almost identical to The Cure’s original song, but the two versions are so aesthetically different that one couldn’t possibly be mistaken for the other. While the latter is cleanly produced and beautifully arranged, the former is built on layers of distorted, lofi guitars that culminate in a blistering solo after the first chorus. Robert Smith, the frontman of The Cure, has named Dinosaur Jr.’s version as his favorite cover of the song, and he has claimed that it has influenced the way they perform it live.

  1. “Like Someone in Love” by Björk (Jimmy Van Heusen)

This song stands out on Björk’s album “Debut,” but not because it’s a jazz standard surrounded by more original material. Björk’s voice is at its most raw and passionate on this track, only accompanied by her own harp playing until strings swell to build up to the climax at the end of the piece. Rather than sounding jazzy, Björk’s performance is moving and perhaps serves as the most beautiful moment on the album.

  1. “La quête” by Jacques Brel (from “Man of La Mancha”)

Upon attending a performance of “Man of La Mancha,” Belgian singer Jacques Brel was so impressed that he translated the entire musical into French and went on to play the lead role (Don Quixote) in a production of his translated version. This iconic solo (known as “The Impossible Dream” in English) has also been performed by greats such as Frank Sinatra and Tom Jones, but Brel’s experience of actually playing Don Quixote helps him achieve unmatched passion and expressiveness in his singing.

  1. “Iron Man” by The Cardigans (Black Sabbath)

If you’re only half-listening to this cover, you might not even realize that The Cardigans are rearranging one of the most well-known metal songs of all time into a mellow, pop-y delight. Tony Iommi’s iconic riff is arpeggiated and played with a slick groove, rendering it almost unrecognizable, and Nina Persson’s sweet, hushed vocals create an eerie disconnect with the song’s menacing lyrics.

  1. “How I Could Just Kill a Man” by Rage Against The Machine (Cypress Hill)

If the lo-fi hip hop drums and chopped up guitar samples of Cypress Hill’s original version give the impression of a ruthless criminal skulking around at night; Rage’s take on this song feels like driving a tank down the street in broad daylight. A funky bassline and hard-hitting metal guitar riffs lay the foundation for Zach de la Rocha’s shout-rapping vocal style, which elevates the intensity of this piece.

  1. “Weird Fishes” by Lianne La Havas (Radiohead)

Lianne La Havas drops the “Arpeggi” from the title of the original song, as the first half of her version lacks Radiohead’s distinctive intertwining guitars. Instead, rich harmonies are supplied by subdued keyboards, allowing La Havas’ raspy, soulful singing to shine over the mix. This change also emphasizes the climax of the song, in which hazy, layered guitars build under her voice, now at full power.