The 30 Best Cover Songs of the 2010s

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The 30 Best Cover Songs of the 2010s

There’s an art to pulling off a good cover song. The rendition must succeed while resembling the original—to a reasonable degree—and also incorporating new elements that make it different. A competent artist gives the song new life while still respecting the original recording. A great band or artist forces us to hear the song in a new way. These artists refreshed and revived songs that didn’t even need improvement—yet, it’s like hearing these tunes for the very first time. Here are the best cover songs of the 2010s.

Listen to our Best Cover Songs of the 2010s playlist on Spotify right here.

30. I’m With Her: “Hannah Hunt” (Vampire Weekend)

If “Hannah Hunt” is the best Vampire Weekend song of them all (and I will argue that until the day I die), then surely I’m With Her’s marvelous take on the track is the best cover of a Vampire Weekend song ever rendered?! Perhaps not, but the folk supergroup’s Spotify Singles version of the already-stellar track from Vampire Weekend’s 2013 album, Modern Vampires of the City, is immaculate. It’s as if Ezra Koenig wrote the song six years ago in the hopes that it would someday be covered by three women at a hootenanny. I’m With Her’s bluegrass instruments and three-part harmonies don’t just freshen the tune—they transform it into something new entirely. —Ellen Johnson

29. Julien Baker: “The Modern Leper” (Frightened Rabbit)

Undoubtedly the highlight on the Tiny Changes Frightened Rabbit tribute album—a record that was almost finished before lead singer Scott Hutchison’s tragic death and one that took on a completely different meaning by the time of its release about a year later—Julien Baker slows down the Midnight Organ Fight album opener, turning the upbeat rock song into something much more her own. Beginning with the guitar atmospherics that dot the entirety of her own material, it proceeds to build to a huge crescendo, only to completely lose almost all the instrumentals for the final chorus. Where the original’s finale seems hopeful that maybe, just maybe, Hutchison’s ex will give him one more chance (“You should sit with me and we’ll start again / And you can tell me all about what you did today”), Baker’s version knows the answer and you can hear it in her voice, distant and longing. —Steven Edelstone

28. Kevin Morby and Waxahatchee: “It Ain’t Me Babe” (Bob Dylan)

Along with a joint show at the famed Sydney Opera House, Kevin Morby and Waxahatchee recorded a cover of Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe,” from his 1964 album Another Side of Bob Dylan, in 2018. The video of their Dylan cover sees Morby and Katie Crutchfield performing in the hallways of the gorgeous waterside venue. You can catch glimpses of the surrounding Sydney Harbour as the two sing beautifully, both in unison and apart. It’s truly a folk lover’s dream. After recording a seven-inch of Jason Molina covers together and Morby’s appearance in Waxahatchee’s “Chapel of Pines” video , the two could be the next mighty folk duo—maybe they’ll even follow Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst’s lead in making a collaborative album full of touching folk-rock ruminations? —Lizzie Manno

27. Haim: “Strong Enough” (Sheryl Crow)

Haim has had enough comparisons to late ‘80s/early ‘90s pop artists for us to have seen this one coming, but that doesn’t make it any less awesome. This percussion-heavy take on Sheryl Crow’s hit has been played all over, but the Lorde-featuring version for VH1 was particularly fun. Maybe it won’t make you dig out your old Crow CDs, but it’s a fine slice of work from a decade that Haim was a product of. —Tyler Kane

26. “Hold On, We’re Going Home” by Arctic Monkeys (Drake)

Deep in their album cycle for AM, Alex Turner & co. brought lounge chic to Drake’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” then the biggest song in the world, completely unmissable if you were within distance of a car radio or a bar playlist. Arctic Monkeys don’t change much of the original song structure, but it’s quite remarkable to see one of the biggest rock bands in the world covering its most famous pop star. But what they do bring—aside from some pretty cringey dance moves—is a level of swagger that Drake’s sad boy image desperately needed at the time. And after all, this is a “best covers” list, not a “best dance moves” one. —Steven Edelstone

25. Faye Webster: “Dancing in the Dark” (Bruce Springsteen)

Covering Bruce Springsteen is nothing new (and covering “Dancing in the Dark” is nearly obnoxious at this point), but Faye Webster’s version of the Born in the U.S.A. classic is beautiful and interesting in an innocent sort of a way. The singer/songwriter, now an indie staple after the release of her album Atlanta Millionaires Club earlier this year, included “Dancing in the Dark” on her 2013 debut album Run and Tell. That may seem like a bold move for an artist who was 16 at the time, but her wide-eyed worldview is exactly what makes hearing her sing this song so delightful. —Ellen Johnson

24. Lana Del Rey: “Doin’ Time” (Sublime)

Before she released “Doin’ Time” on her 2019 album NFR!, Lana Del Rey’s setlist at a Dublin, Ireland, show included an alluring, smooth live cover of the Sublime song, complete with backup dancers and a backdrop depicting tropical palm trees. Sublime’s iconic 1996 hit features a sample from the 1934 George Gershwin classic “Summertime.” Del Rey’s cover is featured in Sublime, a recent documentary about the ska-punk rockers. The documentary premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April and received mixed reviews from critics. —Marissa Matozzo

23. Sunflower Bean: “Harvest Moon” (Neil Young)

Sunflower Bean’s cover of this classic Neil Young track came as part of a four-song, 2016 EP of covers titled From the Basement, which also contained tracks from bands like T-Rex and The Modern Lovers. In doing so, Sunflower Bean tipped its hand a bit in implying the evolution of their sound that would occur between 2016 debut Human Ceremony and 2018’s acclaimed follow-up Twentytwo in Blue, presaging the subtle move away from from indie rock psychedelia in the direction of a poppier sound informed heavily by 1970s classic rock, which continued on 2019 EP King of the Dudes. Here, though, Sunflower Bean is at their most restrained and delicate, imbuing “Harvest Moon” with some warm, dreamy reverb that makes you want to drift off into a very comfortable nap. With some lovely backing “ooohs” from frontwoman Julia Cumming, this isn’t a cover that is looking to reinvent its source material, but simply to give it a low-key interpretation that pays deference to a master songwriter in Young. —Jim Vorel

22. Lucius: “Strangers” (The Kinks)

Before they included this classic Kinks track on their 2018 compilation album NUDES, Lucius showed us their breathtaking performance of “Strangers,” which was shot by a large crowd of fans at Lagunitas Brewing Co. in Petaluma, Calif. in 2014 and then presumably reassembled by someone with the band or the brewery. More than anything, though, the video is just one more spotlight for the harmonizing and vocal virtuosity of Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, the vocalists of Lucius. Armed with nothing but a single microphone, their voices absolutely soar in transforming The Kinks. It’s a beautiful moment that was fortunately captured by the dozen or more filmers who contributed to the video. —Paste Staff

21. Aretha Franklin: “Rolling In The Deep” (Adele)

On her last album, Aretha Franklin Sings The Great Diva Classics, Aretha Franklin does just that—cover songs from some of the loudest, sassiest divas in history. Franklin worked with André 3000, Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, and longtime collaborator Clive Davis to produce the 10-track record, which features covers of classics like Etta James’ “At Last,” Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” and The Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.” The first single from the record, and the most modern cover in the compilation, is the Queen of Soul’s take on Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep.” Franklin adds some auxiliary diva to Adele’s already diva-loaded hit, and brings her own blend of punch, spice, and Aretha. Also included in the track: a sweet and subtle transition into “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” —Alexa Carrasco

20. Lake Street Dive: “I Want You Back” (Jackson 5)

Creative covers have long been a big part of Lake Street Dive’s identity as a band, from the days when they were simply performing at open mics and bars in the Boston area, to their current national prominence, which they still usually punctuate with costume party covers of their favorite bands every Halloween. Some of their most popular and frequently performed covers, including George Michael’s “Faith” or Hall & Oates’ “Rich Girl,” can be found on 2012 covers EP Fun Machine, but it’s the same recording’s take on The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” that catapulted Lake Street Dive to an entirely different platform of exposure. Following a live, sidewalk performance video of the song that went massively viral back in 2012, Lake Street Dive found a brand new audience for its particular brand of jazz-inflected indie pop/blue-eyed soul, and really, “I Want You Back” was a perfect advertisement for what makes the band so charming in the first place. Rachael Price’s vocals absolutely soar on this one, imbuing the slower-paced version of the song with dramatic peaks and valleys that bring it to a thrilling conclusion. Beautiful little vocal flourishes are also thrown in by bassist Bridget Kearney and drummer Mike Calabrese, while the more stoic Mike “McDuck” Olson lays on some lovely supporting trumpet. It wouldn’t be surprising if, to a certain segment of 2010s YouTubers, this was the definitive version of “I Want You Back.” —Jim Vorel

19. Ruston Kelly: “All Too Well” (Taylor Swift)

No one ever said Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well” was a bad song, but the Red cut has re-emerged this year with new fervor, thanks in part to a wave of nostalgia that swept over older Swift fans after she released the horrendous “ME!,” the bane of her new album Lover, and also in part to Swift’s recently released Tiny Desk concert, during which she played the song and officially proclaimed it “a sad song about fall,” which we’ve known all along. Kelly’s version, a song from his EP of emo and emo-adjacent covers, Dirt Emo, is even sadder and even more autumn-y than Swift’s original. He layers his vocals using the same twang-ified AutoTune effects used on his 2018 album Dying Star. It’s the perfect sad song for fall and a wonderfully moody take on one of Swift’s best-ever tunes. —Ellen Johnson

18. Death Cab for Cutie: “My Backwards Walk” (Frightened Rabbit)

Death Cab For Cutie released a cover of Frightened Rabbit’s “My Backwards Walk” as part of their Spotify Singles collection in 2018. The cover is a tribute to Frightened Rabbit lead singer Scott Hutchison, who died in May of last year. “My Backwards Walk” is off Frightened Rabbit’s beloved 2008 album The Midnight Organ Fight. The choice of song most likely comes from the time the bands spent touring together in 2008, when Frightened Rabbit opened for Death Cab in support of The Midnight Organ Fight. Ben Gibbard, lead singer of Death Cab, remained close with Hutchison following the tour. Following Hutchison’s death, Gibbard paid tribute to him on Instagram, saying “I wish I would have told Scott how much his songs mean to me.” —Justin Kamp

Click here to listen to the track on Spotify

17. Father John Misty: “The Suburbs” (Arcade Fire)

The artist formerly known as J. Tillman covered Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs” for CBC Music in 2017. The performance was shot at b.b gun leather, a garage workshop in a residential neighborhood—one might say a suburb—of East Vancouver. Misty’s skills are on full display in “The b.b. gun session” as he delivers a must-hear rendition of the title track from Arcade Fire’s Grammy-winning 2010 album. The standout track may have been made even better in Misty’s more-than-capable hands. Stripped of its Old West saloon-style pianos, ambling bass line and orchestral underpinnings, “The Suburbs” proves beautifully bleak and subdued, just the way Misty likes it. He puts on a clinic vocally speaking, showing off an impeccable falsetto and even filling in the track’s closing guitar riff with a whistle solo. —Scott Russell

16. Japanese Breakfast: “Dreams” (The Cranberries)

The Cranberries seem like one of those artists that shouldn’t be covered. The late Dolores O’Riordan’s heavenly and distinctly Irish lilt is one of the most recognizable voices in popular music, and this is arguably the band’s greatest song. A track with so much baked-in longing and nostalgia that even the opening guitar reverberations can make tears start to roll is a high mountain for any artist to climb. But Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner doesn’t mess around with the religiously beloved arrangement—she attempts to capture its silky bliss with her own characteristically dreamy vocals and calming presence. When one of the most lush voices in indie rock today takes on a modern classic in a similarly graceful vein, there’s nothing to worry about. —Lizzie Manno

15. J Mascis: “Fade Into You” (Mazzy Star)

Few artists can add a layer of vulnerability to a cover song quite like J Mascis, who prompted Phoenix’s Thomas Mars to worry that the Dinosaur Jr. frontman was getting a better reaction for his “Entertainment” cover than Phoenix was. While it’s unclear how Hope Sandoval felt about Mascis’ “Fade Into You,” a cover that doesn’t necessarily one-up Mazzy Star’s original but definitely adds a completely different flavor to it, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say she was pleased by it. Covered 20 years after the song’s initial release, Mascis’ slow drawl and acoustic guitar chops morphs the ’90s classic into a gorgeous folk song, injecting it with an extra shot of weary emotion and a stunning guitar solo. A far cry from his Dinosaur Jr. guitar hero days, this cover further cemented Mascis as one of his generation’s preeminent folk acts as well. —Steven Edelstone

14. Chromatics: “Into the Black” (Neil Young)

The Italo disco band Chromatics have long been as well known for their numerous covers as for their melancholic, noir originals. Among their top-tier covers alongside classics such as “Running Up That Hill” and “I’m on Fire” is “Into the Black,” their take on the Neil Young and Crazy Horse song that Kurt Cobain immortalized in his suicide note. Chromatics replace Young’s proto-grunge squall and atonal tenor with crystalline guitars and Ruth Radelet’s silken, dejected voice, but they don’t stop there—to really drive home the original’s desolation, they add reverberant quarter-note pianos too. As the opener of the band’s sprawling 2012 album Kill for Love, “Into the Black” introduces listeners to Chromatics’ newly hi-fi, nocturnal take on dream pop world while rendering the story of Johnny Rotten as potent as when Young first told it. —Max Freedman

13. Lorde: “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” (Tears For Fears)

Lorde must have been a Donnie Darko fan. Like “Mad World” before it, Lorde took “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears for the second Hunger Games installment. By slowing the song to a crawl, Lorde revealed the slow-churning bummer that existed under the synth-washed ’80s production. —Tyler Kane

12. Julien Baker: “Ballad of Big Nothing” (Elliott Smith)

Julien Baker and Elliott Smith are something like musical cousins separated by a couple of decades. They sing chillingly bleak lyrics, many about drugs and self-loathing, to hushed guitar accompaniment. Naturally Baker would cover her predecessor. “Ballad of Big Nothing” is the story of a man in self-imposed isolation who sinks deeper into heroin addiction. In the original version—dry, energetic, with wryly-delivered vocals—the chorus (“You can do what you want to, whenever you want to / You can do what you want to, there’s no one to stop you”) seems to reference the man’s self-destructive embrace of his independence. While not unsympathetic to the character, Smith is still scornful of him, whereas Baker’s mournful voice and echoing electric guitar emit nothing but pity for the man; she seems to regret that “there’s no one to stop you.” Smith’s version is darker, while Baker’s is sadder. As covers should, this rendition addresses old material with a new tactic: Smith gave us the man’s internal dialogue, and Baker adds a perspective to the story—that of a lamenting bard sharing his tragedy with the world. —Monica Hunter-Hart

11. James Blake: “Limit To Your Love” (Feist)

In the first single from James Blake’s self-titled debut from 2011, a cover of Feist’s “Limit To Your Love” he gives the song a much rawer feel, replacing the strings with his street-worn dubstep and highlighting the lyrics with his plaintive voice. —China Reevers

10. Regina Spektor: “No Surprises” (Radiohead)

With Regina Spektor’s soft whisper singing and the stellar piano arrangement of this OK Computer cut, it sounds as if the song was written just for her. —Wyndham Wyeth

9. Phoebe Bridgers: “Powerful Man” ((Sandy) Alex G)

“Powerful Man” is a folk ballad off (Sandy) Alex G’s 2017 album Rocket. It’s almost a country song, with the swirling fiddles and rolling acoustics, but Bridgers’ version is closer to dream-pop, the strings replaced by electronic swells and twinkling effects. The influence of bands like Modest Mouse or Built to Spill on the current batch of singer-songwriters of whom Bridgers is a part is readily apparent on songs like this, songs where the simple heartbreak of the country framework is reworked into something more scattered and complex. —Justin Kamp

Listen to “Powerful Man” via Amazon Music here and find Bridgers’ performance at the Paste Studio below.

8. Sturgill Simpson: “In Bloom” (Nirvana)

On Sturgill Simpson’s sophomore record Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, he dutifully reimagined When in Rome’s 1988 hit “The Promise,” softening its synth-sharp edges with a balladeers perspective on bumbling romantic miscues. It was a bright spot in an album full of them, so it should come as no shock that Simpson’s recast of a seminal teen-angst anthem in Nirvana’s “In Bloom” achieve such rigorous and satisfying transformation. Adding the line “to love someone” following the lilting Cobain refrain of “knows not what it means” is a stroke of resolve in the face of the apathetic “meh” of the original, turning a classic touchstone of ‘90s grunge into something altogether cheerier. A cavalcade of peppy horns and lap steel pad the song’s crescendo, accentuating the epiphany of compassion and patience and the importance of both while growing up in a weird, cold world. Cobain himself probably would have approved of such artistic liberty. —Ryan J. Prado

7. Rihanna: “Same Ol’ Mistakes” (Tame Impala)

In their 2015 album Currents, Tame Impala ended this third album with “New Person, Same Old Mistakes,” a bold, hazy change from the rest of the trippy album. In a similar way, Rihanna’s ANTI was also quite a change for her. Rihanna’s eighth album featured more soul and straightforward pop and R&B, mostly staying away from the more dance-y material of album’s past. In that context, Rihanna’s cover of the Tame Impala song—changed to “Same Ol’ Mistakes”—makes perfect sense. If ANTI is Rihanna rediscovering herself, “Same Ol’ Mistakes” is her becoming a completely new entity. Rihanna doesn’t change Tame Impala’s original at all, simply getting rid of Kevin Parker’s vocals in exchange for her own, but it almost works better as a Rihanna song. It’s hard not to hear the lyrics and think of her past relationships, or to marvel at the fact that—holy crap!—Rihanna is covering a Tame Impala song. “Same Ol’ Mistakes” was such a welcome surprise from Rihanna that shows the depth and range of her tastes and influences. —Ross Bonaime

6. LCD Soundsystem: “Seconds” (The Human League)

Only James Murphy could take a new wave rumination on the death of John F. Kennedy (“It took seconds of your time to take his life”) and transform it into an LCD dance hit. One of two covers on LCD Soundsystem’s Electric Lady Sessions compilation released earlier this year, “Seconds” maintains the swarmy dark wave of the original, and Murphy using the same fuzzed-out vocal distortions, but LCD Soundsystem’s analog operations give the cover a gritty feel. —Ellen Johnson

5. Phoebe Bridgers: “Friday I’m in Love” (The Cure)

Last December, Phoebe Bridgers shared her Spotify Singles session, which included a cover of The Cure’s “Friday I’m In Love,” along with a re-recording of “Scott Street” off her latest album, 2017’s Stranger in the Alps. The session is just one of a slew of covers Bridgers released in 2018. In July, she covered Manchester Orchestra’s “The Gold,” and she’s also covered both (Sandy) Alex G’s “Powerful Man” and McCarthy Trenching’s “Christmas Song” with Jackson Browne. —Justin Kamp

Click here to listen to the track on Spotify

4. Soccer Mommy: “I’m On Fire” (Bruce Springsteen)

Sophie Allison, the singer-songwriter also known as Soccer Mommy, released a seven-inch single via Fat Possum last fall. The year had already been highly successful for the mellow indie songstress with her early March release of Clean receiving critical acclaim, eventually landing a spot on Paste’s list of best albums of 2018. Her latest 7-inch was a throwback of sorts, with the A-side, “Henry,” coming from Allison’s 2016 release For Young Hearts and the B-side pulled directly from 1984: a beautifully reimagined version of Bruce Springsteen’s hit “I’m On Fire.” “I wanted to make a version of ‘I’m On Fire’ that connected with the sadness of the song,” Allison says. “I think that doing a more stripped-down version allowed me to make something that feels emotionally raw.” Cutting away much of the original’s characteristic 1980s clutter and drastically slowing down the delivery, the single does just that. Allison’s haunting vocals bring an entirely different interpretation to the lyrics and more heavily emphasize any melancholic themes contained within. —Emma Korstanje

3. Cayetana: “Age Of Consent” (New Order)

Cayetana make the kind of chirpy, energized indie rock you’ll want to dance to or run to. One of their most listened-to songs, though, isn’t even their own: Cayetana’s cover of New Order’s 1983 classic “Age of Consent” is their most-streamed song on Spotify, and—though we know this will sound blasphemous—their version rivals the original. It’s that good. —Ellen Johnson

2. Frank Ocean: “Moon River” (Henry Mancini)

Earlier last year, Frank Ocean dropped a cover of “Moon River,” as made famous by the 1961 film Breakfast At Tiffany’s. “Moon River” was composed by Henry Mancini, and it won an Oscar for Audrey Hepburn’s famous performance of the track in the film. Ocean offers a smooth R&B take on the track, which was originally done acoustically, but he preserves the minimal, intimate quality of the song’s instrumentation while experimenting with the layering of his rich, soulful vocals. —Lizzie Manno

1. Charles Bradley: “Changes” (Black Sabbath)

I was recently informed that Charles Bradley’s “Changes” is, in fact, a cover, and a Black Sabbath cover, no less. That shocked me; Bradley’s version feels like an original, a touching ode to loss and regret that the Screaming Eagle of Soul made every bit his own. Bradley first recorded the cover while his mother Inez was dying in 2013, further deepening the mournfulness of lines like, “It took some time to realize / I can still hear her last goodbyes / But now all my days have turned to tears / I wish I could go back, mama, and change these years.” “At first, I couldn’t sing [“Changes”],” Bradley once said. “Every time I do it, I want to cry.” It’s hard not to have the same reaction as a listener, especially in light of Bradley’s death, which lends yet another new layer of heart-rending sadness to the song. In a year that saw more than its fair share of changes, no one captured all that anguish quite like Bradley, who speaks for us all near the end of “Changes” when he howls, “It hurts so bad … ” Despite the stupefying power of its raw emotion, this song—Charles Bradley’s song—is a reminder that pain is a part of being human. What can we do except raise our voices and face it? —Scott Russell

Listen to our Best Cover Songs of the 2010s playlist on Spotify right here.