watch Sufjan Stevens cover David Bowie, REM, Drake, Prince, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell & more
Sufjan Stevens just announced his first solo album in five years, the follow-up to 2015's Carrie & Lowell, The Ascension, due out September 25. Eagerly perusing the track list, we couldn't help but notice how many of the song titles share names (or come close to sharing names) with songs we'd love to hear Sufjan cover, like "Run Away With Me" (Carly Rae Jepsen), "Video Game" (Lana Del Rey, almost), and "Landslide" (Fleetwood Mac), to name three. (The 12-minute lead single "America" comes out on Friday. A 12-minute Simon & Garfunkel cover?!?!?! UPDATE: It's here!) That got us thinking about all the great covers we have heard Sufjan do. Here are some of them:
R.E.M. - "THE ONE I LOVE"
Sufjan's Age of Adz tour was a neon spectacle devoted to singing the body electric, but this R.E.M. cover was a somber, pensive break in the midst of that. This video is from his Primavera Sound 2011 set, but he performed it other times in the same year, and earlier, a few times in 2003 and 2004, too.
JONI MITCHELL - "FREE MAN IN PARIS"
Nonesuch's 2008 compilation A Tribute to Joni Mitchell includes Sufjan's take on Joni's Court and Spark hit "Free Man in Paris," given a whimsical twist with chamber pop orchestration. "No other songwriter of her generation captured voice, tone, and point-of-view quite as precisely," Sufjan wrote about Joni. "Some of her best songs embark on the persona of conversation, capturing the voice of the people she observed around her."
DAVID BOWIE - "SPACE ODDITY"
Sufjan was joined by Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly, and James McAlister to play material from their collaborative Planetarium project at some 2017 shows, and in at least a few of them (including the Paris show this video is from, and the Brooklyn date at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival), they included an on-topic cover of David Bowie alongside the originals.
DRAKE - "HOTLINE BLING"
Sufjan's tour supporting Carrie & Lowell was a melancholy, moving affair that left hardly a dry eye in the house. Still, he ended many of the shows (including Jersey City on Halloween) on a more celebratory note, by inviting opener Gallant out for a super fun cover of Drake's "Hotline Bling," complete with dance moves and a backdrop inspired by the single art.
PRINCE - "KISS"
Sufjan wrapped up his 2016 summer tour (which brought a return of the neon color palette from the Age of Adz dates) by headlining Hollywood Bowl, and he brought out Moses Sumney for the encore, to join him for a cover of Prince's "Kiss." Moses does a glorious falsetto, and the whole collaboration is a joy to watch.
NEIL YOUNG - "THERE'S A WORLD"
While performing at Toronto's Massey Hall, Sufjan spoke on stage about Neil Young's Live at Massey Hall album, and then took the opportunity to a cover a song that appeared on that album, "There's A World" from Harvest. It's "probably one of the worst songs on Harvest," Sufjan says, introducing the cover, "... but it's still better than anything I will ever write in my entire lifetime."
ARTHUR RUSSELL - "A LITTLE LOST"
"I like 'A Little Lost' because it’s all about kissing," Sufjan said about this cover, which was for Red Hot's 2014 Arthur Russell tribute, Master Mix: Red Hot + Arthur Russell. "I love kissing. If I could kiss all day, I would. I can’t stop thinking about kissing. I like kissing more than sex because there’s no end to it."
BING CROSBY - "I'LL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS"
Sufjan probably holds the record for most Christmas music released by an indie musician, so it's no surprise that he took on this Bing Crosby classic. He doesn't stray too far from the original, but his version is atmospheric and somber and he makes it his own.
BONUS: CAR SEAT HEADREST COVERS "IMPOSSIBLE SOUL"
Car Seat Headrest's cover clocks in at just over four minutes, versus the over twenty-five of the original, but it's still an excellent, stripped-down distillation of its relentless maximalism.
Meanwhile, this will be outdated soon, but someone ranked all 293 Sufjan songs.