Miley and the Lips got weird, Arcade Fire brought the funk and Billy Joel busted a gut on one of his favorite Paul McCartney tunes. In 2014, artists weren't afraid to shake off their own material and try on a few of their favorites. And with social sites like YouTube and Instagram more popular than ever, what could've been long forgotten, one-off live performances were shared worldwide for fans. These were 10 of the best.
The singer-songwriter has admitted this Paul McCartney classic was a favorite to perform at sound checks over the years. You can hear why in this stellar tribute to the Beatle's 1970 solo classic, a highlight from the star-studded set The Art of Paul McCartney. Joel's vocal performance is so impassioned, dude even popped a piano string while preparing to record this track in the studio.
There probably would never have been a Nirvana without Sonic Youth. The New York alt-rock icons were largely responsible for urging their label Geffen Records to sign the band in the early Nineties – and Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Lee Ranaldo and Steve Shelley helped break the group internationally by bringing it on a European tour in 1991. So it's fitting that when Kurt Cobain's band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, Gordon capped a female-led tribute with this batshit version of "Aneurysm," during which the 61-year-old rocker shrieks and yelps and grunts and basically goes apoplectic on Madison Square Garden's stage. Kurt would've approved.
Prince, ABBA, the Ramones, Buster Poindexter: the Canadian indie-rock heroes covered just about everything during their Reflektor world tour. This take on Boyz II Men's New Jack Swing classic gets dap because it was the riskiest. You get the sense Arcade Fire feel a bit silly trying to nail this R&B song, but they get props for sticking the horn section — and the tricky dum-dum-dum-da-da vocal breakdown.
Late Night host Jimmy Fallon delivered send-ups of everything from Third Eye Blind to Iggy Azalea (via his spot-on Neil Young impersonation). The funniest – and weirdest – cover of 2014 had to be this barbershop quartet take on Marvin Gaye's classic, featuring Carell on lead.
The American Idol winner made her mark by covering other people's music on the Fox show. Twelve years since she won that first season (and released albums of original material), she's still not too big of a diva to try on a younger pop star's tunes. Her live version of "Shake It Off," performed in concert just two months after the single's release, is also a testament to the songwriting chops of Max Martin, Shellback and Swift – not only does it sound terrific as a power-pop anthem, but it's pretty good as a gospel one too.
Hundreds of musicians have covered this rock & roll standard – most notably Jimi Hendrix – but French chanteuse Charlotte Gainsbourg teamed up with Beck to create one of the most chilling versions in years. Backed with haunting piano, drums, bass and a killer string arrangement, Gainsbourg makes this tale of a murder on the run sound as riveting as an episode of Serial.
The music world lost one of its most promising voices of the last two decades when Benjamin Curtis (who also founded Secret Machines) passed away from lymphoma last December at 35 years old. His musical farewell was this cover of Joey Ramone's song (released in June), which he recorded in the hospital while using FaceTime with his bandmate Alejandra Deheza. (Interestingly, Ramone also passed away due to complications from lymphoma.) While the back story of the track's creation is hair-raising, the duo's pulsing electro groove and Deheza's breathy, angelic vocals are downright life-affirming. It's a heartbreaking coda for one of indie-rock's most gifted songwriters.
This Canadian pop star broke out this year thanks to her stylish blend of early-Nineties house, hip-hop, and dance-pop, best heard on her breakout single "Hideaway." While the throwback sound feels like a novelty after a while, it was her cover of Haddaway's radio classic "What Is Love," which she turned into a slow-burning piano ballad, that cut the deepest – and proves she's got staying power as a pop siren.
Whether it was Madonna's "Borderline" in 2009 or Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" in 2006, Wayne Coyne and his band of merry pranksters have a long tradition of WTF-ifying classic pop songs. So it's a bit of a shock that their rendition of this Beatles epic — the last cut on their complete cover of Sgt. Peppers' — sounds pretty straightforward at first. The Miley Factor, weirdly enough, saves it: the song's strutting second half, featuring the pop star on lead vocals, morphs into a groovy, disco-y strut. As Miley might say: pretty cool.