Brow Beat

These All-Covers Playlists Put the New American Songbook to the Test

Weird Al Yankovic, Aretha Franklin, and Linkin Park
Animation by Lisa Larson-Walker

Slate’s the New American Songbook asked music critics to predict which songs from the past 25 years would endure and remain in the spotlight for the next century. Among those asked was Slate’s own Carl Wilson, whose book Let’s Talk About Love is dedicated to examining one of the tracks that made it into the songbook, Céline Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” along with others that could very well enter his study of “why other people have such bad taste.”

Wilson took it upon himself to create two playlists of the New American Songbook composed entirely of cover versions, rendering a very different feel to the compilation. On the YouTube playlist, for instance, you can find a marching band’s take on Outkast’s “Hey Ya,” an endearing though ultimately unsuccessful children’s choir version of Jay-Z and Alicia Key’s “Empire State of Mind,” and a bizarre mashup of Linkin Park’s “In the End” and Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” that no one should ever have to listen to.

But there are also less obscure, as-good-as-the-original (if not arguably better) covers, like Daughter’s sensual and way more melancholic rendition of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” and an emotional orchestra rendition of Destiny Child’s “Say My Name.” There’s also Ariana Grande, whose voice lends itself perfectly to the deep longing of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and Kelly Clarkson rapping to Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.”

As for the Spotify playlist, the covers are much less underground, but that doesn’t necessarily imply better quality. There’s a heavy metal take on Idina Menzel’s “Let It Go” that, well, at least doesn’t lack originality, along with a hilarious Weird Al Yankovic parody of the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way.” There are some great ones, too; there’s little to be said that could do justice to Aretha Franklin’s version of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” It’s worth a listen or two, or three.