What’s your favorite Oscar-winning song? I love a good tear-jerker like “It Goes Like It Goes” or an anthem about my burgeoning womanhood like “Let the River Run,” personally, but any Oscar honoree can be great again with the right singer at the mic. Here are ten covers of Oscar winners worth nominating for a playlist.
1. Leona Lewis, “Over the Rainbow”
Leona Lewis‘ victorious run on the UK’s X Factor is one of the most thrilling arcs ever on a reality competition. She was beloved from the start but maintained an underdog appeal that made her soft bleat all the more poignant. Here, she takes the ’39 classic and brings a tear to the eye of noted scarecrow Simon Cowell.
2. Barbra Streisand, “The Windmills of Your Mind”
Like a wheel within a wheel, Barbra Streisand’s gargantuan voice seems like an unnecessary appendage to an outsize gem like “The Windmills of Your Mind.” Ditch that instinct. Barbra croons tastefully on “Windmills” here, bringing a solemness to the psychodrama of this Thomas Crown Affair jam.
3. Beyonce, “The Way We Were”
I like when Beyonce proves she can be an ancient balladeer. Remember that Oscars where she sang three of the nominated songs onstage, including “Learn to be Lonely” from that ridiculous Phantom of the Opera movie? Loved it. Here, she’s drunk in love on misty, watercolored memories.
4. Shirley Bassey, “Arthur’s Theme (The Best That You Can Do)”
Dame Shirley. When she’s not toasting the gilded greatness of Bond villains, she can get away with singing just about anything and owning it forever. Even on “Arthur’s Theme,” which still feels overplayed after 30 years and a couple decades of relative obscurity, she can make you believe in the space between the moon and New York City.
5. We Are Scientists, “Take My Breath Away”
One of my favorite covers on this list, We Are Scientists‘ “Take My Breath Away” takes the far-out atmospherics of the original Berlin hit and imbues some twang and lonesome longing. Giorgio Moroder might call it “wack” — and for some reason I can picture him using that word at age 73 — but I think it’s a downright refreshing take on a song that sounds like it was composed on a Gameboy.
6. Darren Criss and Lea Salonga, “A Whole New World”
This barely counts as a cover since it 1) features the song’s most famous singer, Tony-winner Lea Salonga, and 2) seems to be a casual rendition in a piano bar, but it’s pretty cute seeing Darren Criss interact with the original Jasmine and rock out with a crowd. Every moment’s red-letter!
7. David Gray, “Streets of Philadelphia”
David Gray‘s been on my mind since Sam Woolf covered “Babylon” last week on American Idol, and I’m happy about it. Turns out the White Ladder songster once covered Bruuuuce’s arresting Philadelphia anthem “The Streets of Philadelphia” and absolutely killed it. Gray’s voice is both crystal-clear in a James Taylor way while concealing a bit more anguish, a combination that really, really works on this song.
8. Kelly Clarkson, “Lose Yourself”
Dear Kelly Clarkson: Just cover anything. Everything. Seriously, you could cover a Klan anthem and I’d scream in row four like a Belieber. “Lose Yourself” is one of the best songs by one of my least favorite entertainers, and to see Kelly trounce those ratatat lyrics with aplomb is such fiiiire.
9. Lee DeWyze & Crystal Bowersox, “Falling Slowly”
American Idol‘s ninth season is considered a lost year, a disappointing followup to the thrilling Adam Lambert/Kris Allen rally of ’09. Truth is, the talent wasn’t bad on the ninth season of Idol, but the leading contenders — aside from eventual winner Lee DeWyze — were pretty niche tastes. Crystal Bowersox? Far too cool for Randy Jackson’s life. Siobhan Magnus? Too weird and rad. But rad contestants often gave us rad song choices: Here, DeWyze and Bowersox slay the Once Oscar-winner “Falling Slowly.” I love Kris Allen, but I’d say this version is an improvement over his.
10. Eli Lieb, “Skyfall”
The reigning gay prince of YouTube covers, Eli Lieb invigorates “Skyfall” with such a cool crooner vibe here. I have faith that “Skyfall” will soon be recognized as one of the lamer Oscar winners of the past quarter century. Drippiest melody ever. Unimportant lyrics. But Eli is always a treat.