From modernized ‘90s R&B classics to an unexpected duo making an ‘80s disco show tune cool again, here are some of our favorite cover songs of the last few years.
In music, covers are the sincerest form of tribute you can pay to the musicians who inspired you. But to make a great cover, you can’t just make a photocopy of a song and put your own vocals over it—you need to make it your own. From modernized versions of ‘90s R&B classics to an unexpected duo making an ‘80s disco showtune cooler than ever, here are some of our favorite covers of the last few years.
Young & Sick, “Say My Name”
When Destiny’s Child released “Say My Name” in 1999, there was nothing on the radio that sounded like it. Though presented as a standard R&B song, it featured an arrangement and production that was a jungle of sound. Young & Sick’s 2020 version from their Covers EP keeps the “more is more” vibe of the original, but with synthesizers and vocoders in place of auxiliary percussion and layered melodies.
Harrison, “Cry Me a River”
In 2002, Justin Timberlake cemented his career as a solo artist with “Cry Me a River.” This 2021 cover by Harrison trades the clavinets, Gregorian chants and beatboxing of the original for EDM drums, synths and big drops, making it both danceable and just melancholy enough. Because is there a better way to get over heartbreak than to let it all out on the dancefloor?
Mark Ronson feat. Amy Winehouse, “Valerie”
Originally released by indie-rock band The Zutons, “Valerie” already oozed old-school cool when it was first released in 2006. Just a year later, it hit #2 on the UK Singles Chart…but not by The Zutons. For this rendition, Mark Ronson brought in the late soul powerhouse Amy Winehouse for vocals, upped the tempo, added ‘60s horns and strings and made an instant classic.
Unlike Pluto feat. Joanna Jones, “No Scrubs”
R&B power trio TLC scored their third number one with “No Scrubs” in 1999. The bouncing, uptempo track—and its afrofuturistic video—are in stark contrast to the 2017 cover by Unlike Pluto. Featuring Joanna Jones, this jazzy take on the ‘90s is dark, moody and delightful.
Alec Chambers, “Torn (IMKK Remix)”
In 1997, Natalie Imbruglia’s version of Ednaswap’s “Torn” sent her to the top of the charts (and forever cemented her in our heads). But the cover of this song we want to talk about is Alec Chambers’ 2017 recording “Torn (IMKK Remix).” In his version, Chambers trades Imbruglia’s gentle acoustic guitars for programmed drums and square wave synths while managing an emotive vocal take that sticks with you.
Cat Power, “Bad Religion”
Cat Power reminds us why she’s indie rock’s cover queen with this rendition of Frank Ocean’s “Bad Religion,” originally from his critically acclaimed 2012 album channel ORANGE. Where the original is a sparse track about unrequited love, Power builds a fuller arrangement with rolling guitar licks that propel the listener forward.
Glass Animals, “Young And Beautiful”
While many of us were spending our time watching Tiger King and building our Animal Crossing islands, Glass Animals frontman Dave Bayley was pouring his heart into recording some beautiful covers. Originally from Baz Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby soundtrack, Bayley covered Lana Del Ray’s “Young And Beautiful” for the Glass Animals Quarantine Covers EP. Bayley’s version retains the powerful build of Del Ray’s original, with his fragile vocals adding an especially wistful air.
Lana Del Rey feat. Zella Day & Weyes Blood, “For Free”
Now that we’ve talked about a cover of a Lana Del Ray song, let’s talk about how she covered Joni Mitchell’s 1970 track “For Free” with a little help from Zella Day and Weyes Blood. The closing track on her 2021 release Chemtrails Over The Country Club, Del Ray makes this folk classic all her own. With a somber piano, gentle strings and gorgeous harmonies, it’s easy to forget it’s not a Lana original.
Benny Sings, “Dancing in the Dark”
Originally released in 1984, “Dancing in the Dark,” with its hard-driving backbeat, was a monster hit for Bruce Springsteen. In 2022, Benny Sings recorded his own take of the classic rock hit on his EP Santa Barabara. Where Springsteen propels you forward, Benny Sings offers a laid-back, good-natured groove with tight harmonies and a funky bass line.
Miley Cyrus, “Zombie”
You have to be a brave vocalist to take on a song that was originally recorded by the incomparable Dolores O'Riordan. But we’re talking about Miley Cyrus here. Originally by Irish rockers The Cranberries, Cyrus gives “Zombie” a faithful and fierce live cover with her signature soaring, raspy vocals.
Q-Tip & Demi Lovato, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”
Originally by Elton John and Kiki Dee, Q-Tip and Demi Lovato take a good-natured—albeit famously regarded as cheesy—disco show tune and somehow make it sound effortlessly cool. Featured on 2018’s Revamp, an Elton John and Bernie Taupin tribute album, Demi’s flawless vocals stand out over a laid-back hip-hop-infused backing track with a delightfully bouncing bass line.
Black Pumas, “Fast Car”
Volume 2 of Black Pumas’ self-titled album kicks off with a rendition of Tracy Chapman’s breakout ballad. The original version of “Fast Car” landed at 165 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time,” and Black Pumas recreate it faithfully while making it their own. Singer Eric Burton’s emotive vocals and guitarist Adrian Quesada’s tasteful playing make their sparse cover feel full and immersive.