I’m not the last word on the greatest indie-fied versions of pop songs, but I’m here to share the best ones I’ve ever heard (and remember).
1. Billie Jean – The Civil Wars (Michael Jackson cover):
I once heard David Cook sing a rock version of this MJ classic on American Idol and I remember thinking that it couldn’t possibly get better than that. (I remember this because it was a rainy evening and I had a PB&J sandwich and let’s face it, that’s as good as it gets.) Then I stumbled across this TCW version and without even listening, I knew my ears would experience le petit mort- and they did. Stellar vocals, pure indie sound while tipping its hat to jazz- everything about this cover is sublime.
2. To Love Somebody – Damien Rice and Ray LaMontagne (The Bee Gees cover):
What do you get when you throw the god of soft gravel, the god of soulful indie and lyrics that could wrench the heart of a zombie assassin with mommy issues into a blender? This masterpiece, obviously. From the “Let’s do it one more time” guitar twang right at the beginning to the way LaMontagne and Rice hauntingly echo each other on “To Love Somebody”, this cover is the soundtrack of all things intense.
3. XO – John Mayer (Beyoncé cover):
Beyoncé always seems to leave wiggle room in her pop songs, like she’s daring someone to flip it, and boy, am I glad that JM said “Challenge accepted” to XO. Mayer is my favourite solo artiste alive (the man is the consummate musician) and this cover is the 234,945th reason why.
4. Hey Ya – Obadiah Parker (Outkast cover):
Anybody who can strip Hey Ya of the manic energy that actually sells it and turn it into something of an addictive jeremiad is truly the genuine indie article, and Matt Weedle aka Obadiah Parker does just that in this brilliant cover.
5. Can’t Help Falling In Love – Ingrid Michaelson (Elvis Presley cover)
One of the most covered songs ever, everybody and their boss have lent their pipes to this track at one point or the other – UB40, Chris Isaak, Harry Connick Jr, etc.- but Michaelson’s version sends a shiver which melts your heart on its way down your spine. This cover is like butter and packs quite a punch.
6. Crazy – Ray LaMontagne (Gnarls Barkley cover):
Even Ceelo would be green with envy at the amount of soul in Ray LaMontagne’s bowl. RLM appears twice on this list because every little thing he does is truly magic, and you can listen to this cover and find it impossible to disagree.
7. 99 Red Balloons – Sleeping At Last (Nena cover):
This is another song that’s undergone some interesting flips (who can forget the John Forte rap song, Ninety-nine?). The original Nena track is an absolute dance record, upbeat and very eighties pop-rock, but Sleeping At Last took it and made it totally, well, Sleeping at Last, and if you know his sound, you know you’re in for a treat.
8. Buy You A Drink – The Beggar Folk (T-pain cover):
Even TBF finds the idea of an indie cover of T-Pain’s hit to be ridiculous, and you can tell by the way they giggle through the performance. But this duo has something special that lends a pretty poignancy (I can’t believe it either) to a song about hooking up with a bartender. This is unexpectedly gorgeous. Who would’ve thought it?
9. Only Girl – Boyce Avenue (Rihanna cover):
Boyce Avenue does some really cracking covers of pop hits, and this beautiful, beautiful cover of Rihanna’s Only Girl is sheer perfection. Every single note just wraps itself around whatever resides in your chest and tugs hard.
10. Free Falling – John Mayer (Tom Petty cover):
There’s no way I could end this list without sliding in another badass JM effort. This cover stays true to the original, but JM finds a way to upgrade it with his signature velvet grit mojo that just turns every damn song he sings into an experience.
Jamie Cullum – Please Don’t Stop The Music (Rihanna cover)
Kill The Young – Girls Just Wanna Have Fun (Cyndi Lauper cover)
Emeli Sande – Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall (Coldplay cover)
Angus and Julia Stone – Chandelier (Sia cover)
Naya Rivera and Grant Gustin – Smooth Criminal (Michael Jackson cover)
Ellie Goulding – Your Song (Elton John cover)
Lick The Tins – Can’t Help Falling In Love (Elvis Presley cover)
Listen to full playlist here…
Do you have any favourite indie covers of music from any other genres? Share!