Back in the day, all the big singers shared the same songbook: A canon of folk tunes, jazz standards and borrowed Broadway numbers. Louie and Ella and Duke and Nina and the boy bands and the girl groups, they were all sharing the same songs up until the middle of the last century, when things settled down. Now we think of popular songs as “belonging” to one artist or another.
I love overly dramatic cover songs, the kind you hear in movie trailers where some lady is stage-whispering 'He did the mash, he did the Monster Mash' while the Inception sound blasts over shots of a robot wizard tornado. I play them in two moods: feeling extremely dramatic and pumped up, or feeling goofy. So I took a few dozen of these songs and I made a dramatic, embarrassing Spotify playlist.
In pop music, plenty of hits are written by the same two guys and Sia, but our culture prizes singers who write their own work, and once a performer makes a song famous we consider it “theirs”, separating these “originals” from “covers”.
Covering someone else’s song has carried different meanings in each decade — a way for the Beatles to find their sea legs, for '70s disco to make every hit danceable, for '90s indie artists to borrow (or appropriate) work from other genres, for small YouTube artists to get recognition, for Jay-Z to take the piss out of Oasis, for established artists to pay tribute to their influences.
And every now and then, a song such as Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” gets covered so widely and so lovingly that it’s as if we’re back in the era of the Great American Songbook.
We’ve gathered over 100 great covers below, in a YouTube and Spotify playlist. (The YouTube version has a few extras you can’t get on Spotify or Apple Music.) The Apple Music version is here. For any other services, use Tune My Music to copy over from Spotify or YouTube, and feel free to link to your copy in the comments! And as always, we’re taking suggestions.