With the lines between genres blurrier than ever, this year produced an inordinate amount of great covers that bridged musical styles – from a country singer giving an art-rock classic new meaning to a pop-rap superstar showing her love for one of the greatest Eighties indie-rock bands to new-school Southern rockers doing an old-school African funk jam. All that, and Morrissey breaking our hearts with the perfect Lou Reed cover. BY JON DOLAN
Lorde's tales of empty bottles and empty selves in the suburban wilderness could be transported to any other city on the planet – including Minneapolis 30 years ago. So, it's no shock she knocked her version of this 1985 Replacements classic out the park. The 16 year-old pop-rap star slows down Paul Westerberg's beery song about getting old and boring before you know what's happening into mumble-soul with a scary undercurrent of blankhearted teenage terror.
"Thank God for those, like Lou, who move within their own laws, otherwise imagine how dull the world would be," Morrissey said when the godfather of punk died in October. This cover of Reed's 1972 classic is fittingly reverent while staying true to its author's legacy of moving within his own laws by switching up some of the lyrics to fit Moz' own obsessions. But we're pretty sure Lou would've hated BBC anchor George Alagiah too.
The Pink Floyd original, one of the most devastating tracks on their double-LP magnum opus The Wall, was Roger Waters' seething portrayal of the way families mess us up. Maines' country version keeps Waters' sense of rage and betrayal and adds a new layer of empathy for the song's titular villain. It's a heartrending reading of a song that was already almost too intense to start with.
Wilco topped off their Solid Sound fest this summer with an all covers set based on online fan requests – everything from Thin Lizzy to the Stones to Pavement. This take on Daft Punk's summer smash was the surprise showstopper. Wilco effortlessly nailed the disco groove and Jeff Tweedy dug deep to find his inner Pharrell falsetto.
Welsh punk rockers Joanna Gruesome are one of 2013's most exciting new bands, with a noise-happy sound that recalls some of the best late-Eighties indie rock. This version of a 1988 classic by Galaxie 500 gives the dreamy Velvet Underground guitar-Zen of the original an extra blast of tormented guitar chaos. The killer moment is when the band drops out midway through and singer Alanna McArdle lets out a scream that comes down like a meat cleaver in a horror movie.
On this track from the Great Gatsby soundtrack, Andre 3000 and Beyoncé transform Amy Winehouse's smoldering retro-soul tune into an interplanetary hip-hop jam. Musically, about the only thing left of the original is its haunting midnight gunfighter guitar line as Andre and Beyonce turn Winehouse's excoriating takedown of a two-timing man into a boozy back and forth between lover's on the brink.
The Afrobeat master certainly would've appreciated this fascinating highlight from this year's Red, Hot + Fela tribute album. With the help of Tuneyards' Merrill Garbus and Alabama Shakes' Brittany Howard, My Morning Jacket faithfully stretch out for 14 minutes of slow-build, atmospheric funk with a touch of Southern roadhouse ambience. The vocal interplay is impeccable and the spacious restraint shows why MMJ are just about the best groove massagers on the planet.
Originally recorded in 1990 by L.A. outlaw-rockers the Havalinas, "High Hopes" is a bruising working-class indictment with a hard-swinging groove. Springsteen's version, the title track to his forthcoming album, digs deep into the song's desperate prayerfulness while cranking up one of hottest beats in the history of the E Street Band, part Caribbean percussion jam, New Orleans carnival funk throwdown and Bo Diddley juke joint rumble. It's the sound of following the promise of America up the Mississippi straight into the rotten heart of Saturday night.
The guy some people still insist on calling "Hootie" had one of the year's biggest – and best – county hits with a version of a 40-year-old Bob Dylan outtake. "Wagon Wheel" began as an unfinished song from the sessions for Dylan's 1973 soundtrack to Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, where it was recorded as a ragged, sing-along that fans titled "Rock Me, Mama" when it appeared on bootlegs. This year, Rucker joined a list of artists who've covered the song, taking it to number one on the country charts. The scrappy quality the song had forty years ago was replaced by an easygoing swing that's modern and old-timey, nostalgic and open-ended.
Dinosaur Jr.'s J. Mascis is best known for covering up his open-hearted warble in ear-decimating guitar howl. But he can also be an effecting acoustic performer as well (see his 2011 solo album Several Shades of Why). This bare-bones solo version of Mazzy Star's 1994 hit "Fade Into You" reduces the song's Patsy Cline-on-Nyquil gorgeousness down to its essential heartache, singing it without a hint of fear or distance. It's an example of a great singer finding new depth in a song that's good enough to be a standard.