On Monday, Ellen DeGeneres tweeted “I love listening to Miley Cyrus sing. Her voice is incredible.” After watching the YouTube clip from her show that day, I realized why Ellen got nearly 4,000 retweets — Miley sounds good. Really good. I can attribute this fluke to only two things: Miley was putting her roots to work — a country twang at its finest — on a song that isn’t hers. The track, “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” appears on the new Amnesty International benefit album, “Chimes of Freedom,” which honors Dylan over four discs and 75 tracks.
The funny thing about pop music is that you’ll never know who will ultimately become a classic. Not for at least 20 years after an artist’s debut, anyway (scary thought — if Britney’s been around for over a decade, does that mean she’s halfway to wearing a “classic” crown?) The Rolling Stones, of course, are classic. Same goes for CSNY and Carly Simon. Bands of the ’80s, however, can waver back and forth. U2, sure, but what about Madonna and Michael Jackson? Icons, definitely, but classic? The hardest part of stamping on that “classic” label often has to do with the artists’ original place in the music industry. Here’s a look at five “classic” covers by contemporary pop stars.
Taylor Swift, “American Girl” (Tom Petty)
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers released “American Girl” in 1977. Thirty-some years later it would be covered by everyone’s favorite “American girl,” Taylor Swift. Is there anyone more perfect to sing “She was an American girl/raised on promises/she couldn’t help thinkin’/that there was a little more to life somewhere else?” It’s so Swift.
Britney Spears, “Satisfaction” (The Rolling Stones)
It was the Rolling Stones’ first No. 1 in the United States. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was released in 1965; 40 years later, Rolling Stone labeled it No. 2 on its list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time” — but not before Miss Spears covered it on her second studio album, “Oops!…I Did It Again.” Cue one of the most famous MTV VMA performances of the past 20 years.
Ellie Goulding, “Your Song” (Elton John)
Goulding does Elton John’s classic every bit of justice with her cover of the 1970 single, “Your Song.” While no one may ever know who the song was originally written about, Goulding brought the track back up to the new millennium, reaching No. 2 on the UK Singles Charts.
Jonas Brothers, “Drive My Car” (The Beatles)
The Jonas Brothers covered the Beatles’ 1965 hit, “Drive My Car” at the White House for “Paul McCartney: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in Performance at the White House.” They even received special permission from McCartney to perform it on their 2010 world tour. The JoBros did it right.
Miley Cyrus, “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” (Bob Dylan)
Originally released in 1975, Bob Dylan’s single has been covered numerous times. Who would have thought Cyrus’ version would ever be half-decent?
Allison Berger is a Philadelphia-based writer and a pop music columnist for Reverb. Check out more of her writing here.