Finding a good cover can be like falling in love with a favorite song all over again. The following covers have two things in common: They are all sad (because summertime sadness isn’t just Lana Del Rey’s domain), and they are all better than their originals. So, whether you’re newly heartbroken, in the throes of existential despair or just melancholy in July, these are the covers for you.
“Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” — Peter, Paul and Mary
Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey and Mary Travers compose the holy trinity of 1960s folk music. The group’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” takes the genius of Dylan’s lyrics and instrumentation and marries them to the deftly layered vocal harmonies the song deserves. This version might lack the sounds of Dylan’s harmonica, but it gains so much more with its plaintive vocals and soaring harmonies. Just be careful: Your heart might break all over again when you hear the trio croon, “I once loved a woman, a child I’m told / I gave her my heart, but she wanted my soul / Don’t think twice, it’s all right.”
“Dreams” — Cat Power
Some covers imitate their source material closely, while others reimagine it entirely. Cat Power’s rendition of the Everly Brothers’ “All I Have to Do Is Dream” belongs firmly in the latter camp. The original, a standard 1950s rock ballad, is much improved on in this cover, which slows the tempo and transforms the superficial lyrics into a melancholy rumination on love lost or, worse yet, the kind of love that is just out of reach. For other phenomenal and equally brooding covers, be sure to give the singer’s version of Moby Grape’s “Naked if I Want To” or of Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” a listen.
“These Days” — St. Vincent
“These Days,” written by Jackson Browne, is a devastating ballad immortalized by German musician (and Warhol superstar) Nico’s 1967 recording. St. Vincent’s 2007 cover is sparse and softly sung — a stark contrast with the rough-edged freneticism of her recent work. This softness is what makes it the perfect fit for a song as tenderhearted and contemplative as one that confides, “These days, I seem to be afraid to live the life that I had made in song / It’s just that I’ve been losing so long.”
“I Know It’s Over” — Jeff Buckley
Jeff Buckley is the undisputed king of covers. Between his heartbreaking rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and superb interpretation of Bob Dylan’s “Mama You’ve Been on My Mind,” Buckley’s total reworking of the Smiths’ 1986 hit comes as no surprise. The original has a sort of uptempo momentum despite its bleak lyrics, but Buckley takes his time with the song. With his expertly meandering guitar riffs and pleading vocals, Buckley’s “I Know It’s Over” is less a cry of desperation than a total gut-wrenching surrender.
“A Case of You” — James Blake
Joni Mitchell’s 1971 album Blue has been a favorite of the heartbroken and melancholy since its 1971 release. “A Case of You,” one of the album’s best-known songs, reaches its maximum melancholy potential in this 2011 rendition by James Blake. The cover, which was performed live on BBC Radio in 2011, retains the best that live performance has to offer, as Blake’s rich tenor trills its way through Mitchell’s unforgiving composition, completely unaltered. A lesser musician wouldn’t be able to meet the vocal and emotional demands of such a song — in fact, it’s say to safe that no other well-known cover even exists — making Blake’s haunting cover all the more commendable.
Sarah E. Adler is the arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].