The 10 Most Killer Cover Songs of the Past Decade
This century has been a golden age for cover songs. Thanks to YouTube, we're always there whenever a band plays a must-hear version of some recent hit or Eighties classic or forgotten rarity, and after years of downloading and Spotify, the borders between audiences and genres are vanishing faster than the Polar ice caps. Our rundown of the ten best covers from each year of the last decade runs from an indie synth-pop duo doing a gloppy Eighties ballad, a Cleveland industrial rocker doing a metal classic with a New York dance-punk diva and Gotye doing himself. They're all amazing and they're only the tip of the iceberg.
2004: The Postal Service, "Against All Odds" (Phil Collins)
The Postal Service – a synth-pop collaboration between Death Cab For Cutie's Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello of Dntel – reimagined this schlocky Phil Collins ballad from 1983 into something brand new, and much more intimate. Usually when indie-type bands do vaguely suspect hits from their childhood, there's a level of easy-target irony involved. But Gibbard sings this with real reverence, even as he deflates Collins' overbearing yuppie-soul original to something drier, smaller and more creepily conversational. Wintry electronics add to the emotionally stark mood and by the time a Timbaland-style hip-hop skitter kicks in midway through, the song seems brand new.
2005: The White Stripes, "Walking With A Ghost" (Tegan & Sara)
Jack White's whole career has been a study in pulling up rock history by the roots, and you could easily do a top ten list of excellent covers he's done over the years – from the White Stripes live piledriver assault on the blues classic "John the Revelator" to the version of Little Willie John's "I'm Shakin'" on his solo debut Blunderbuss to his incandescent version of U2's "Love Is Blindness" from this year's Great Gatsby soundtrack. But there's something especially endearing about the post-modern bluesbreaker doing a catchy, crafty strum-pop nugget by Canadian indie-pop sister duo Tegan & Sara; White rarely does contemporary covers, and the Stripe's version is both respectful and warped, with nasty guitars, a steady Meg White beat and Jack's gonzoid graveyard holler giving way to a carnival-esque freeform racket midway through.
2006: Twilight Singers, "Crazy" (Gnarls Barkley)
Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" became a pop standard almost immediately, inspiring covers by everyone from Nelly Furtado to the Raconteurs to Paris Hilton to Cat Power. It was the ideal song to sink your chops into – sleek, perfectly structured and fun to sing with a genre-melding hip-hop/R&B/classic pop feel that made it open to all comers. Greg Dulli of the Twilight Singers is an alt-rock guy who'd done contemporary and classic R&B covers in his Nineties band the Afghan Whigs, so his piano ballad wasn't a condescending "deconstruction" of a pop hit by an outsider. He took it on for all it was worth, honing in on the scorched desolation that lingers just at the margins of Cee-Lo Green's brilliant original vocal, turning a song about art's rep as a bastion for weirdos into a wasted love cry from the abyss.
2007: Franz Ferdinand, "All My Friends" (LCD Soundsystem)
LCD Soundsystem's tragically nostalgic dance-rock epic is arguably the best indie-rock song of the '00s. The B-sides to the single were all cover versions, hinting that the song was a classic the minute it was released. Scot rockers Franz Ferdinand, who'd already taken bracing, contorted grooves to the pop charts, were born to do "All My Friends" and they turned in an incisive, raging guitar-grinding version with singer Alex Karpanos boozily crooning James Murphy's forlorn lyrics about losing touch with your friends as you grow older and more ambitious. Musically, they pull of a wonderful trick of interlaying their version with references to legendary post-punk bands like New Order and the Gang of Four that LCD and Franz share as influences. It's an A-plus history project you can get way down to.