Top 5 Covers of Britney Spears Songs (by Claire)

Hey, remember last week when I said “I’m not a huge Britney Spears fan” in reference to her cover of “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll”?

Oh wait! Just kidding! I guess I actually love her. This isn’t even a guilty pleasure confession—I’m like the idiot boy in teen movies who never realized he was in love with his hot best friend because she was so busy supporting his dreams and wearing glasses. I think I’ve genuinely respected Britney Spears and liked Britney Spears for years and never realized it.

“Are you out of your mind?” my boyfriend asked this morning, after I barged into the bathroom while he was showering to say “Do you think Britney Spears might be a punk rock feminist icon and we never noticed it?” And you might agree with him—I won’t barge into your shower to convince you otherwise. But maybe, just maybe, before we broach the various elaborate Britney Spears theses unspooling in my mind, you might dip your toe in the B. Spears waters and check out what other artists have done with some of her hits.

“Womanizer” cover by Lily Allen

Does a British accent always class up the joint? Not always. But Lily Allen’s charming, inescapable British accent plus a piano, as well as stripping all the sleek, produced instrumentation in “Womanizer” and subbing in a jazzy, bare bones band? That’s a recipe for classy, one that you could throw most any song into with excellent results. Lily Allen seems like a fellow covers fan, and does quite a few: other favorites include her cover of “Naïve” by The Kooks (which I can no longer find—anyone have a good link?) and her cover of “Straight to Hell” by The Clash.

(Really unrelated to everything bit of Lily Allen trivia: Did you know her brother is Theon Greyjoy on Game of Thrones and her song “Alfie” is about him?)

“Gimme More” cover by Sia

“Gimme More” is a fine pop song, but no one remembers it for it’s radio play. A consummate performer with multiple iconic music videos under her belt, Britney Spears’ “Gimme More” video looked like a late night commercial for a phone sex line. Everything about it felt forced, from the midriff baring outfits (Spears, though still gorgeous, had joined basically every other woman on earth in not being able to look flawless in a leather crop top) to the beginners-hip-hop-class dance moves. Her droopy performance of “Gimme More” that year at the VMAs commanded a collective “Oh…honey” from living room audiences across the country. She was going through a lot and seemed exhausted; little did we know, she was sharing that in her catchy new single.

Sia captures the surprising sad, exhausted undercurrent of this song. She slows it down and delivers it with a hoarse, weary voice. It’s a cover that illuminates the original song: How exhausting to have a crowd demand “gimme gimme more,” how true to Spears life at the time when she was paparazzi bait, her every mental health misstep breathlessly reported by blogs and tabloids. When you listen to the Sia version, you realize that half the song is a manic repetition of the plea from an unknown crowd for more, more, more from Spears. Is it any wonder her next song would ask again and again “Do you want a piece of me?”

“Oops! I Did It Again” cover by Richard Thompson

This isn’t a joke cover, and that’s why I love it. It would’ve been so easy for it to be a pat on the head, “isn’t pop music just the worst?”, eyerolling/borderline mansplainy sort of a cover, which would’ve been funny to fans who agree, and sort of a musical nuisance otherwise. But Richard Thompson commits and delivers the song with the same gravity and  fervor that he lends to all of his songs. He even has the audience join in, and though they giggle, they hit all the marks. It’s like Richard Thompson, who I love but have always viewed as the sort of artist who belongs more to my father than me, prodded the audience with a “You know and I know that you know all the words. Let’s just embrace this and enjoy it.”

“Toxic” cover by Stevie Ann

There are about a million covers of “Toxic”—noteworthy ones include Mark Ronson’s cover featuring Tiggers that samples Ol’ Dirty Bastard (most fun cover), Yael Naim’s cover (most famous cover), and a cover by Nickelcreek (most bluegrass cover).

Listen to the ones above and feel free to disagree, but I think Stevie Ann’s cover is the most awesome of the lot. Stevie Ann’s silky voice and acoustic stylings transforms “Toxic” into something luscious and soulful. This already seductive song is made more so, and what was once perfect fodder for a club is suddenly perfect for a date in front of a fire, cheeks flushed and eyes wide, a dwindling bottle of red wine at your side.

“Everytime” cover by Glen Hansard

“Everytime” is already sad: it does that magic trick that only breakup songs can pull off where simple, cliche lyrics strung together start to sound powerful. (Breakups, when you get down to it, almost always rest on cliches. That’s part of why the experience is so universal, and the breakup song genre persists.) The video takes that sadness to a new level by having Britney Spears drown in a bathtub, and showing glimpses of doctors unsuccessfully trying to revive her.

You might remember Glen Hansard from “Once,” a lovely film with a killer soundtrack that won a Best Song Academy Award. The cover is fairly true to the original, with the inclusion of Glen Hansard’s lovely brogue and a fiddle. “What have I done/ You seem to move on easy” stands out as a wrenching moment from the original that, in this cover, momentarily knocks the wind out of me.


Top 5 Covers (by Claire and Joshua)

Claire’s Top 5 Covers

Song: Go Straight to Hell

Cover by: Lily Allen

Originally by: The Clash

Lily Allen’s lullaby-sweet vocals and borderline-cheery background music, paired with these classic Clash lyrics, makes an already haunting song doubly so and gives “Go Straight to Hell” some dichotomous whimsy.

Song: I Go To Sleep

Cover by: Sia

Originally by: The Kinks

Sia will haunt your f**king dreams. I know it’s a different song, but can we talk about the end of Six Feet Under? Come on. This is also a song made for covers: Look up versions by The Pretenders, Peggy Lee, and a very young Cher.

Song: Magnet

Cover by: Yo La Tengo

Originally by: NRBQ

I listened to this song at least a thousand times when I was eighteen years old. It was one of those classic “Oh, you wrote this for me” moments you have with music in early college, where heightened emotions and self obsession are at their peak. My father and an old boss of mine would call it blasphemy, but I like this version way more than the original, which has a grating level of upbeat NRBQness.

Song: I’m On Fire

Cover by: Bats for Lashes

Originally by: Bruce Springsteen

Also, haunting, because this is apparently Claire’s haunted covers collection. Boo.

Song: Needles and Pins

Cover by: The Ramones

Originally by: Jack Nitzsche and Sonny Bono

This was originally recorded by Jackie DeShannon, which is a great version. It’s another song made for covers: Look up the Cher version (I know, Cher again, who knew super young Cher was so awesome?) and the Tom Petty/ Stevie Nicks cover, which is lovely.

Honorable Mentions:

  • “Raspberry Beret,” cover by Warren Zevon and The Hindu Love Gods
  • “Naive,” cover by Lily Allen
  • “Hard to Handle,” cover by Toots and the Maytals

Josh’s Top 5 Covers

Song: I Will Survive

Covered by: Cake

Originally by: Gloria Gaynor

This song encapsulates everything Cake is about: emotionally subdued vocals, fat-ass bass riff, and funky guitar. They take the original version, a glitzy, disco’d-out dance number by Gloria Gaynor, and strip it down the bare necessities: punchy drums and a thumping bass line. They then add John McCrea’s staple singing and quite possibly the best one-note guitar solo ever recorded. Plus he swears! And there’s a vibraslap! And a mid-song count-off! It doesn’t get much better than this.

Song: Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight

Covered by: The Isley Brothers

Originally by: James Taylor

The original version is done by James Taylor. This version can convince anyone to drop their pants and get it on. Being able to do that with a song written by James Taylor? Priceless.

Song: Take Me to the River

Covered by: Talking Heads

Originally by: Al Green and Mabon “Teenie” Hodges

This version nails the song in a way Al Green never conceived. It’s harrowing in a way only David Byrne’s vocals can convey and the backup singers only further that goal. The sparse instrumentals are the kicker in this version: the majority of the song is one drum riff and one repeated bass line. I don’t know how Byrne decided to do the song this way, but it’s another version where the desperation of the lyrics is shown off better in the cover than the original.

Song: I Know I’m Losing You

Covered by: Rod Stewart

Originally by: The Temptations

I’m gonna go out on a limb here. I think this is a better version than the original…which is done by the Temptations. I know that sounds blasphemous, but this version wins on every level. The guitar work is funky, the drumming is amazing, and Stewart’s raspy vocals appeal the song’s message in a way the smooth sounds of the Temptations never could. It’s all together more desperate and wanton than the Temptations ever had the capacity to be.

Song: Hallelujah

Covered by: Jeff Buckley

Originally by: Leonard Cohen

The original was haunting and vaguely spiritual. This version is all sex, dripping with lonely reverb-laden guitar notes, plucked individually and rarely strummed, and filled to the brim with regret and shame. It’s like sleeping with your ex-girlfriend and then seeing her the next day in another man’s arms, laughing coyly and casually playing with his hair. It’s the kind of broken-hearted that makes you want to drink scotch all night listening to Charlie Rich and smoking profusely in the dark. This song is not for the faint of heart.

Honorable Mentions:

  • “The Guitar Man,” cover by Cake: A great version of a great song, with the ever present Cake “YA!”.
  • “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” cover by Toots & the Maytals: So much better with a Jamaican accent. Isn’t everything?
  • “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These,” cover by Marilyn Manson: Put this song on in the dark at three in the morning. It’s actually scary.
  • “Hurt,” cover by Johnny Cash: A cover so good that the original writer, Trent Reznor, said that the song was Cash’s from then on.