Part of the process of learning how to play music comes by covering other musicians. There’s no exception to that in this day and age. When acts who are already making money off their own songs pick up another band’s song, though, it’s often to show an appreciation for their material. Covering songs allows for a break from your own work to revel in the joy of learning someone else’s. Sometimes you’re just the listener. In that case, cover songs get twice as fun.
Without further ado, we give you five of the best cover songs from 2015, each laid out below for your listening pleasure. The following renditions take an original song, sort through its pros and cons, and bring a new version to the table that’s worth listening to just as much as–if not more than–the original. Prepare for major rule bending as we hear musicians throw around genres, tempos, and styles.
Hot Chip – “Dancing In The Dark (Bruce Springsteen cover)”
On their world tour this year, electro-dance group Hot Chip whipped out a nearly eight-minute cover of Bruce Springsteen‘s “Dancing In The Dark”, much to their fans’ delight. Then, midway through, they worked in a brief cover of LCD Soundsystem‘s “All My Friends”. With drummer Sarah Jones’ nonstop beat bringing more life to the original than thought possible, the rest of the crew spiked the sound with synths so Hot Chip’s cover quickly went from an amusing take to a seriously fantastic rendition of Springsteen’s staple hit. By the time they recorded a studio version, they worked out any audio bits lost in the live video, giving us a whole new reason to throw a dance party at home.
Sufjan Stevens feat. Gallant – “Hotline Bling (Drake cover)”
Anything can happen on Halloween. If you were at Loew’s Jersey Theatre this year, you got to see Sufjan Stevens cover Drake on October 31. In the middle of his headlining set, the folk icon brought opener Gallant back onstage to sing a surprisingly fun cover of the Canadian rapper’s massive hit single. While pictures of Drake flash on the screen behind them, the two groove through the hit while the backing band keeps things on tempo the whole time. As slick as Sufjan’s dance moves are, the real star of the show is Gallant. Without ever once attempting to steal the spotlight, the Los Angeles-based singer breathes cool tones into Drake’s vocal parts, allowing his voice to nail every trill and croon, lifting up Sufjan’s occasionally shaky falsettos.
Natalie Prass – “REALiTi (Grimes cover)”
“REALiTi” wasn’t supposed to be on Grimes‘ new album. The supposedly rejected single came out in March after she decided to cut it from Art Angels, but low and behold, it appeared on the digital download, her lyrics about conquering our inner demons and finding peace amidst evil eternally relevant. For such heavy subject matter, folk jazz musician Natalie Prass converts Grimes’ work into a song far more charming. Her stripped down version pumps smooth percussion and soft guitar besides her own sweet vocal tones. Just wait for that piano solo. Consider it the Sunday morning version of “REALiTi”, if you will.
Kurt Cobain – “And I Love Her (The Beatles cover)”
This year’s remarkable documentary, Montage of Heck, zoomed in on Kurt Cobain‘s life from birth to death and every buoyant, dark, enlightened act that happened in between. During his time working on the film, director Brett Morgen uncovered dozens of previously unheard recordings by the Nirvana frontman. One of which, a cover of The Beatles‘ “And I Love Her” from a random tape, stood out like an unearthed gem. Cobain stated his dislike for Paul McCartney while he was still alive. Yet in his cover, Cobain sings with the utmost sincerity and fragility, giving clear care to enunciate the words, barely masking the sadness that grasps on to the edge of each refrain.
Frank Ocean – “At Your Best (You Are Love) (Aaliyah cover)”
Leave it to Frank Ocean to leave us both floored and floating in the air. Released on what would have been Aaliyah‘s 36th birthday, his cover of “At Your Best (You Are Love)” surfaced on Ocean’s Tumblr back in January of this year. Though originally written by the Isley Brothers in 1976, Ocean specifically goes about reworking Aaliyah’s version from her 1994 debut full-length. While Aaliyah’s is angelic in its own way, reliant on thumping ’90s beats fit for a steamy bedroom, Ocean’s strips away production work to tinker with the most airy elements. It’s the sweet, thin, airy falsetto that comes pouring out of him like he happens to be singing while laying on his back–staring up at the ceiling, thinking of who has passed, who is still alive, and who has yet to step foot on Earth–that transports you far away.
Featured Kurt Cobain image courtesy of MTV Unplugged, Grimes of 4AD, and Frank Ocean of Terry Richardson.