Everyone has a favourite song, including musicians, whose favourites presumably include those written by other songwriters. Here’s a collection of my favourite cover songs, well-known tunes that have been newly interpreted by artists and bands other than the original composer.

99 Problems – Hugo

My favourite memory of Jay-Z’s rather profane party anthem is of the day I strolled through the campus of Syracuse University at the start of Easter weekend 2010, past a massive frat party complete with kiddie pool on the lawn filled with beers, “99 Problems” blasting from the speakers set into the second-storey windows of the Neoclassical mansion that housed the fraternity’s brethren (and, presumably, their b****es). Hugo’s banjo-drenched bluegrass cover is more fun and far less profane, though a few dirty words remain. I’d even play this version with my mom in the car – I think she’d get a kick out of it. (Your mileage may vary.)
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Lovers in a Dangerous Time – Barenaked Ladies

Bruce Cockburn is one of Canada’s best songwriters and a true modern poet with chops to rival Leonard Cohen’s. “Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight/Gotta kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight,” one of my favourite couplets in music, comes from this song. In fact, Kick at the Darkness is the title of the Cockburn tribute record released in 1991 where this Barenaked Ladies cover first appeared. True to the band’s early style, it’s filled with jangly acoustic guitars, plunky upright bass and lots of lush vocal harmonies – a fitting tribute to a towering figure in Canadian pop-rock.
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Song 2 – Emm Gryner

You might better know “Song 2” as the “WOO-HOO!” song, an overplayed favourite at hockey games everywhere. The original is by the Brit-pop band Blur; Canada’s own Emm Gryner made it her own in this piano-and-voice cover from her 2001 Girl Versions CD. Gryner is an accomplished, if under-appreciated pop songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, but she really comes into her own in front of a piano, which she plays as if it’s her jealous lover. Play this one for your friends and see if they can identify it before she hits the soaring chorus.
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Video Killed the Radio Star – The Presidents of the United States of America

The original version of this song, by The Buggles, is famous for being the first video played on MTV in 1981. This 1998 cover, recorded by wacky punk-pop outfit The Presidents of the United States of America, hails from the soundtrack for The Wedding Singer, a must-have record for any fan of 80s music. In the campy yet capable hands of the Presidents, the song goes from bubblegum-sweet to dryly observant. Wait for the final, snappy “Video killed that radio-star-yes-it-did” and then headbang your way through the outro.
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Inside and Out – Feist

How well the Bee-Gees’ original version of this song has aged depends on your opinion of the disco genre. In my opinion, Canada’s Leslie Feist, an indie-pop force of nature, gave it a much-needed update on her 2004 record Let It Die. Somehow, she managed to keep the song’s disco feel and make it sound fresh, all at once. Some of Feist’s music can be a bit esoteric, but her take on Inside and Out has an easy-going pop feel that’s hard not to enjoy. A nice slow jam for a sultry summer evening ride along the coast.
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