Exclaim!'s 2013 in Lists:

Best Cover Songs

BY Gregory AdamsPublished Dec 24, 2013

While every year we keep our ears to the ground for new tunes, there's something to be said for the charm of a cover song. Sometimes the idea of a song-based revamp can be as simple as hearing a different voice tackling a familiar vocal hook, while just as often listeners can get a kick out of finding a rock track delivered as roots-reggae, or hard-hitting metal recast under the hushed care of a bunch of folkies.

Assembled here are some of Exclaim!'s favourite cover songs of 2013, a mix of classic and contemporary cuts given a spit-shine by artists looking to give their own favourite songs new life.

Don't forget to check out our 2013 in Lists section to see more of our Year-End coverage.

Best Cover Songs of 2013:

10. Zeus
"Vasoline" (Stone Temple Pilots)

Zeus didn't exactly embrace their inner grungers when they slapped a new coat of paint onto "Vasoline," one of Stone Temple Pilots' crunchiest offerings back in the '90s. True, a fuzz bass still rumbles heavy on that familiar two-note melody, but the Ontario outfit brought aboard a laid-back groove, siren-style synth sounds and more on their funky redo.

9. Lana Del Rey
"Summer Wine" (Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra)

The orchestral majesty of the original may give way to synth-strings on this version, but the entwining of Lana Del Rey's smoke-screen vocals and Barrie-James O'Neill's booming baritone still makes for a romantic run-through just a hair below Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra's arrangement.

8. Janelle Monáe
"I Want You Back" (The Jackson 5)

The Electric Lady was another impressive future-funk adventure from the R&B game's favourite arch-android, but Monáe took a fantastic journey back to the late '60s by redoing the Jackson 5's debut major label single, "I Want You Back." Her vocals run a little more low-key than little MJ's, and the soul arrangement is scaled back to just some shaker rhythms and a guitar jangle, but the song remains just as infectious over 40 years later.

7. Ty Segall
"The Motivator" (T. Rex)

That Ty Segall is into Marc Bolan should be no surprise, if only because both artists have impressively prolific and fairly consistent catalogues. Most awesome about Segall's dialled-down take on the searing rock groove of Electric Warrior's "The Motivator," however, is that by scrubbing the distortion in favour of acoustic guitars and a mild bongo-pound he may in fact also be toasting pre-glam Bolan, back when the band were called Tyrannosaurus Rex.

6. Ghost B.C.
"Waiting For the Night" (Depeche Mode)

Though culled from Depeche Mode's classic Violator LP, ghoulish psych-rock crew Ghost B.C.'s fuzzed-up take on "Waiting For the Night" treats the song just right. Gone are the minimalist synth swells, with Ghost BC instead rocking things up tenfold with gothic organ, a crunchy slow-mo beat and gothic vocal harmonies bringing a new twist on Dave Gahan's dark, stark reality. 5. Chvrches
"Killing in the Name" (Rage Against the Machine)

While Chvrches lean towards synth-pop on most days, the UK outfit bring a twee-folk vibe to their timid take on Rage Against the Machine's cop-castigating rap-rock classic. "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me," has never sounded so adorably anti-authoritarian.

4. Sloan
"We're Only Gonna Die" (Bad Religion)

Sloan decided to give a shout-out to their punky past lives this year when they issued their "Jenny"/"It's in You, It's in Me" 7-inch. Included with the single was a download for 12 covers of various old school hardcore crews like Angry Samoans and Minor Threat. Sloan's run-through of early Bad Religion number "We're Only Gonna Die (Of Our Own Arrogance)" keeps thing speedy, with Chris Murphy taking over for Greg Graffin's erudite punk croon. How Could Hell Be Any Worse? More like, how could Sloan be any better?

3. Twin Shadow
"I'm on Fire" (Bruce Springsteen)

George Lewis Jr. went on a cover song rampage this fall, serving up home-brewed redos of Lou Reed, U2, Tori Amos and more, but it's his airy, synth-driven take on the Boss's Born in the U.S.A. classic that lights us up most. The nocturnal number gets a noir-pop makeover, full of whispery vocals, a snappy drum machine pulse and late-night dub touches. It's given us a bad desire.

2. Feist with Timber Timbre
"Don't Give Up" (Peter Gabriel)

So's "Don't Give Up" is one of Peter Gabriel's most affecting songs, getting by on his and Kate Bush's impassioned cries and their message of hopefulness. '80s-era synths are swapped out of Feist and Timber Timbre's contribution for Gabriel's And I'll Scratch Yours project in favour of hypnotic strings and conch shell conks. Flipping the gender dynamic of the original, Feist takes on Gabriel's lines, while Timber Timbre's Taylor Kirk's rich and earthy baritone booms on about the importance of keeping your friends nearby.

1. Low
"Stay" (Rihanna)

Sometimes the best covers are the most subtle. Slowcore trio Low didn't do much to the basic structure of Rihanna's impactful ballad, with Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker tag-teaming around that melancholy piano melody the same way RiRi and Mykki Ekko did before them. There's an effortless grace, though, to how the married couple and longtime bandmates' vocals mesh together that makes this cover just as memorable as the original version of one of 2013's biggest hits.

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