We Ranked Every Like A Version Of 2021 From Good To Sublime

#2. The Wiggles - Elephant

like a version 2021 ranking photo

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In the last 18 months, Like a Version has signalled more than just an artist promoting a new album or tour. It’s signified some semblance of normality in the world.

When Like a Version was running — be it out of the Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane or Perth ABC studios–– there was an indication that at the very least, some amount of people were allowed to be in the same room as one another. We could have gotten an influx of “at home” performances, much like NPR and KEXP have done, but for whatever reason it just wouldn’t have felt right.

Even as the segment evolved well out of its humble acoustic beginnings, expanding out from within the confines of the hosts’ studio, there was still something that inextricably linked it to the intimacy of that space. No matter how good your set-up at home is, it can’t match the in-person experience — and thus, the respective returns of Like a Version doubled as a beacon of hope.

Not every Like a Version landed this year — we’ll get to that in a minute — but every performance out of the studios this year was forged in a wholly-unique environment, and that’s something worth reflecting on and celebrating. Big surprises, big swings and some big names defined the year. With this framework in mind, let’s rank every last cover done for Like a Version — at the time of publishing — for the year of our Lord, 2021.

#38. Drapht — ‘Robbery’ (orig. Lime Cordiale)

The “how do you do, fellow kids?” of Like a Version in 2021.

#37. Mia Rodriguez — ‘Corduroy Dreams’ (orig. Rex Orange County)

Some pretty keyboards in this one, but otherwise a sleepy cover.

#36. Triple One — ‘Time After Time’ (orig. Cyndi Lauper)

The first 90 seconds of this is genuinely stunning. The vocals are emotive, the warm synth is a perfect touch and it all feels like it’s building to something grandiose. To have it then swapped out for trap hats and off-topic rap verses borders on betrayal. Remember that episode of Flight of the Conchords where Brett and Jermaine sing the piano ballad about epileptic dogs and it inexplicably changes into a shouty rave with strobe lights? It felt like that.

#35. Ocean Alley — ‘Breathe / Comfortably Numb / Money’ (orig. Pink Floyd)

You’ve gotta pay the ambition, don’t you — a six-minute Pink Floyd medley from a bunch of dudes who absolutely had the poster of the ladies with album covers painted on their backs hanging up in their sharehouse. The ‘Breathe’ and ‘Comfortably Numb’ segment works — old mate’s 12-string acoustic guitar is a nice touch — but ‘Money’ feels wedged in and doesn’t do them any favours. Still, a valiant effort.

#34. Hope D — ‘Toxic’ (orig. Britney Spears)

Hope D seems like a lovely young woman. ‘Second’ is great, everyone likes that song. That said: ‘Toxic’ is a retired jersey. A serviceable version, but a missed opportunity for Ms. D.

#33. Telenova — ‘Hung Up’ (orig. Madonna)

Similar to ‘Time After Time’, this starts with an intriguing idea before abandoning it. Telenova don’t go on to desecrate the song, however. Instead of sticking with the striking acoustic rendition you’re thinking at the start, the trio go with a shot-by-shot remake of the original 2005 hit. As Ron Swanson once said: “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.”

#32. No Money Enterprise — ‘Mo Money Mo Problems’ (orig. The Notorious B.I.G.)

There’s no denying No Money Enterprises’s energy, their flow and their talents on the mic. Their original ‘German’ is testament to that. Bringing in a live drummer and a female vocalist is a great touch, too. For whatever reason, though, this Biggie classic doesn’t quite meld with the Enterprise’s style. Perhaps ‘Hypnotize’ would have suited their swagger a little more?

#31. Vetta Borne — ‘Cool’ (orig. Gwen Stefani)

Somehow, Vetta Borne managed to do the impossible: She and her band made this song sound even more like an ’80s prom. Sweet and inoffensive.

#30. Client Liaison — ‘Groove is in the Heart’ (orig. Deee-Lite)

Bonus points for being the only Like a Version thus far to feature a slide whistle. To wit, anyway. If you know of any others, please do get in touch.

#29. Tim Minchin — ‘Bad Guy’ (orig. Billie Eilish)

Does this one count? Look, it’s in the YouTube playlist, it counts. It’s a bit of fun. It would have been the closest thing to a Weird Al and Billie crossover had they not both just performed at a Nightmare Before Christmas concert together.

#28. Noah Dillon — ‘The Wire’ (orig. HAIM)

One of the key things to look out for in Like a Version performances is how much fun the participants are having. That’s a key element of Noah Dillon’s scrappy rendition of HAIM’s best song (don’t @ us) — what it may occasionally lack in pitch and pacing, it makes up for purely on the back of how much heart is in it from he and his band. Who could say no to that frizzy head?

#27. Spacey Jane — ‘Here Comes the Sun’ (orig. The Beatles)

A band that everybody likes performing a song that everybody likes by another band that everybody likes. It’s a pretty low-risk affair, but it’s perfectly charming — plus, the guitar tone is heavenly.

#26. Wave Racer — ‘It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)’ (orig. The 1975)

This is the equivalent of if Airbourne got asked to do Like a Version and they covered AC/DC. Like, sure, it’s obvious, but they bloody know what they’re doing. They’ve studied the blade — they’ve been there, done that and bought the t-shirt. It’s fan service from just about the biggest fan there is.

#25. Alice Ivy, Allday and Odette — ‘How Bizarre’ (orig. OMC)

It certainly helps that Ivy brought in some Like a Version all-stars here — Allday famously enlisted The Veronicas of all people to flip Joni Mitchell’s ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ with millennial anxiety, whilst Odette actually did cover AC/DC last year by flipping ‘Thunderstruck’ on its head. As such, this A-list experiment in camaraderie brought a bit of Friday morning joy to the world — and you can’t ask for much more than that, can you?

#24. Alter Boy — ‘MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)’ (orig. Lil Nas X)

There’s never been a Like a Version quite like this. Brought in as part of National Disability Day, this wholly-unique performance from the Perth group incorporated Auslan into its dark, slow version of the controversial Lil Nas X hit with mesmerising results. Imagine if the original managed to slide down the stripper pole just a little bit further into Hell and you’re starting to speak Alter Boy’s language. A huge boost for queer, trans and disabled folks’ visibility — beyond being seen and heard, Alter Boy were felt for this LAV.

#23. Milan Ring — ‘Love Galore / Broken Clocks’ (orig. SZA)

She just makes it look easy, doesn’t she. Pristine neo-soul slash future R&B slash whatever you wish to call it. Just don’t call it average — Ring runs her damn surname around the idea and loops it for good measure. Stunning.

#22. Lastlings — ‘Love on the Brain’ (orig. Rihanna)

RiRi has spent her fair share of time at the club, and they’ve been given the LAV treatment a couple of times too. Still, her songs have never been to this kind of party. An ambitious, inventive rework that breathes new life into the original and proudly flaunts the talents of this underrated sibling duo.

#21. Something for Kate — ‘cardigan’ (orig. Taylor Swift)

This is how a veteran triple j act covers a contemporary track. Old hands at the format — including playing Mel Bampton’s final one back in the mid-2000s — SfK brought a warm cover of familiarity with their return. Paul Dempsey’s harmonies with touring member Olivia Bartley are the icing on top of this faithful folklore finesse.

#20. Tim Minchin — ‘Exactly How You Are’ (orig. Ball Park Music)

Given that Ball Park Music’s Sam Cromack is also one of Australian music’s great rock and roll nerds, it seemed second nature that Tim Minchin would be drawn to the Brisbane band. With his all-star band, Minchin gives the endearing indie-pop number a piano-rock retooling that works to the point of uncanny resemblance to a non-comedic Minchin original. An absolute delight that made perfect sense.

#19. Didirri — ‘Wake Me Up When September Ends’ (orig. Green Day)

All the usual associated memes aside, there’s a lot of emotional depth and greater meaning to Green Day’s evergreen 2004 single. This sombre rendition from perennial pessimist Didirri understands the assignment, as the kids say.

The end result is a mournful reflection that eschews the original’s explosive back-half and instead remains grounded in its rainy-day malaise. This suburban Jesus knows a thing or two about lonely roads, so this union feels like a proper homecoming.

#18. Jesswar — ‘Rollin’ (orig. Limp Bizkit)

It was a good year to be a Limp Bizkit fan. Leaping on this renaissance was staunch Brisbane rapper Jesswar, who brought her own attitude and flair to a flipped version of Bizkit’s signature song. Flanked by members of Violent Soho and VOIID, the song’s new verses give the mosh-ready original a new context and a fresh coat of paint. Haters to the left — fill up Jesswar’s briefcase with three-dollar bills right goddamn now.

#17. Tyne-James Organ — ‘Naive’ (orig. The Kooks)

For the record: Tyne-James Organ rocked this. Ripping into a song from his childhood (feel old yet?) with the utmost confidence and aplomb, the Wollongong native shook, rattled and rolled across the ABC Sydney studios. He didn’t come alone, either — members of The Preatures, The Vanns and Years & Years filled out the 2000s indie classic, plus a special mention to bassist Kelton Hirst for adding a solid slab of funk to proceedings. You’d have to be a kook not to be impressed here.

#16. Dallas Woods and Kee’ahn — ‘What’s Luv?’ (orig. Fat Joe and Ashanti)

Thing get a little meta in the second verse of this LAV, where Dallas Woods references the fact that the song he’s covering was one of the things he used to blast as a teenager growing up in the Kimberley. Paying homage to 2000s rap, his personal touches are what really drive home the cover’s excellence. Certainly doesn’t hurt to have Kee’ahn positively nailing the Ashanti hook, either. When Woods lets out a cheerful “I did it!” in the outro, you feel like celebrating too.

#15. Alice Skye — ‘Come On Mess Me Up’ (orig. Cub Sport)

In a full-circle moment, Cub Sport’s original from when they did Like a Version back in 2016 got its own LAV treatment five years later. Singer-songwriter Alice Skye gave the synth-driven slow-dance a more acoustic arrangement, complete with grand piano and none other than Ziggy Ramo on guitar. It avoids some of the original’s pomp and circumstance, but it never loses sight of its heart — and that’s what resonates the most across both versions.

#14. Amy Shark — ‘Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down’ (orig. Fall Out Boy)

Amy Shark’s first LAV, Silverchair’s ‘Miss You Love’, was wonderful. Her second, Dean Lewis’ ‘Be Alright’, wasn’t. Thanks to this quaint orchestral swing at one of the 2000s’ biggest rock songs, Sharky tipped the ratio in her favour once more. A clever, heartfelt rearranging that played to Shark’s strengths, she even got away with singing the chorus so that it could be understood (a crime for any FOB fan). As Meat Loaf once said, two out of three ain’t bad.

#13. DZ Deathrays and Nerve — ‘Rockstar’ (orig. N*E*R*D)

DZ Deathrays have never shied away from an ambitious collab or two — including on LAV itself, where their previous run saw them enlist members of The Gooch Palms and Party Dozen to rip into The B-52’s’ ‘Love Shack’. Bringing in Brisbane rapper Nerve felt like a particularly pertinent fit given their equally-energetic approaches, and how better to land a rap-rock crossover than with a cut from N*E*R*D’s untouchable In Search Of? Complete with timely call-outs of state government hypocrisy, ‘Rockstar’ hit different DZ style.

#12. Gretta Ray — ‘The Deepest Sighs, The Frankest Shadows’ (orig. Gang of Youths)

Gang of Youths being on Like a Version was overplayed. Odette doing ‘Magnolia’, Nothing But Thieves doing ‘What Can I Do If The Fire Goes Out?’… not to mention the band themselves doing it twice. Gretta’s run at one of their best-known songs felt less opportunistic — not least of all because she’s spoken openly about how supportive they’ve been of her in the past. This bold, confident version was her way of both giving thanks and paying it forward — establishing herself as a new star in the process.

#11. Middle Kids — ‘drivers license’ (orig. Olivia Rodrigo)

Blowing up on your first single and not knowing how to live up to the hype surrounding you? There’s no way Middle Kids could relate to that. Gags aside, there’s understanding and empathy prevalent throughout the Kids’ take on Rodrigo’s massive hit. While the original is a mournful evening drive, however, this is the audio equivalent of cry-driving in the rain. There’s more dynamics, a boosted tempo and harsher edges. Much like when Paul Dempsey covered MK’s ‘Edge of Town’ in 2017, it’s a rendition so good it might make you reconsider the original if you were on the fence.

#10. Ocean Grove — ‘UFO’ (orig. Sneaky Sound System)

What a concept: ‘UFO’, as performed by a bunch of dudes who have unquestionably spent many a night completely baked and watching The X-Files. Rock bands covering pop songs has long been a banal novelty, as it’s constantly done with this wink of “oh aren’t we funny, playing this silly popular song?” Ocean Grove break from the pack, however, by actually giving the song the respect that it deserves. It’s lit up dancefloors for some 15 years now for a goddamn reason, after all – and Ocean Grove’s electricity ensures that the beat goes on.

#9. Sly Withers — ‘The Scientist’ (orig. Coldplay)

We’re all adults, right? Enough time has passed that we can openly talk about how many great Coldplay songs there are. Perth band Sly Withers are adults too, and they’ve gone above and beyond to ensure the naff pop-rockers are given their flowers with a heartfelt run at one of their more inescapable numbers. Replacing the piano with shimmering second-wave-emo guitars and Martin’s sombre, sleepy vocal with throaty Australiana, ‘The Scientist’ is an experiment that proves successful. Viva la Withers.

#8. Hayley Mary — ‘Chemtrails Over the Country Club’ (orig. Lana Del Rey)

‘Chemtrails Over the Country Club’ is a dreary, dull snore of a song. Enter Hayley Mary and her all-star supergroup (Annie Hamilton! Rosie Fitzgerald! Lozz Benson!), who promptly shake the song out of the catacombs and rock the shit out of it. The waltz time signature is replaced with a driving four-on-the-floor, while the apathetic vocals are replaced by a powerhouse proud Mary. That’s not even getting started on the arrangement, which expands out to keytars, tambourines, all-in BVs and a shit-hot guitar solo. The only LAV on the entire list that completely surpasses the original in every possible sense.

#7. Boy & Bear and Annie Hamilton — ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ (orig. Simple Minds)

This is the sound of your cool uncle at karaoke. He knows he’s singing a daggy ’80s song, but he loves it! Hell, you love it! Everyone loves it! What’s not to love? Besides, you’ve both had a rough year. You deserve to have a bit of fun and let your hair down a little bit. Plus, he’s actually got a pretty damn good voice. On a separate note, this is the second LAV in a row to feature Annie Hamilton — an LAV MVP if there ever was one.

#6. Ruel — ‘It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over’ (orig. Lenny Kravitz)

One time for the band, y’all. Seriously, so many of these LAVs are wholly bolstered by having an impeccable crew of musos in tow — and Ruel’s is among the absolute picks of the litter, far as that’s concerned. The sizzling horns, the effortless flash of the drums and the steady flow of keys truly allow for Ruel’s rendition to flourish. Kid’s no slouch, mind — he grew up on this track, and his blue-eyed soul is a perfect match for this Kravitz gem. You’ll definitely want to go his way — especially if that drummer’s along for the ride.

#5. Methyl Ethel — ‘Frontier Psychiatrist / Dribble’ (orig. The Avalanches / Sycco)

When the freshly-expanded Methyl Ethel revealed they’d be pitting The Avalanches’ ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ against Sycco’s ‘Dribble’, a few eyebrows were certainly raised. When the septet got in there and did the damn thing, though? It was magic — another Junkee writer even claimed it to be the best of the year. Not only do they share an identical home key and similar BPM, they both play into the same thematic structure despite being decades apart. The fact Jake Webb and co. clocked this is a proper stroke of genius. Together, the two songs sound world-conquering.

#4. JK-47 — ‘Changes’ (orig. 2Pac)

Bundjalung man JK-47 made a considerable impact on Like a Version, with a healthy dose of home truths care of a long-lost hero. ‘Changes’ was brought into the 21st century with stark, solemn reflections on Indigenous deaths in custody and racism that’s been prevalent for millennia. It’s heartbreaking to think how little has actually changed in the 20-plus years since ‘Changes’ was released, but JK-47’s 2021 update is testament to the fight continuing.

#3. Beddy Rays — ‘Better in Blak’ (orig. Thelma Plum)

On the same tip as its predecessor in this list, here’s a pitch-perfect Like a Version from Wapabara land. This version of ‘Better in Blak’ is so well done, it’s almost boring to talk about. It tears through the checklist like a hurricane. Firm stamp of identity from covering artist? Check. Reverence for the original, not losing sight of its importance? Check. Energy? Passion? Heart? Conviction? Check, check, check, check. If that wasn’t enough for you, how about the absolutely fierce vocal delivery from Jackson Van Issum? The lad can tear paint strips off walls with that thing. Blak excellence.

#2. The Wiggles — ‘Elephant / Fruit Salad’ (orig. Tame Impala / The Wiggles)

The most talked-about Like a Version of the year by a considerable margin. Obvious? Sure. To be fair, though, there was lots to talk about. Who knew Purple Wiggle Lachy had such pipes? How does Red Wiggle Simon get his voice so low? How much fun does Yellow Wiggle Emma look like she’s having on the drums? Isn’t it a treat to see three-quarters of the classic lineup together, with Murray Cook and Jeff Fatt lending their musical expertise?

Most importantly, can Blue Wiggle Anthony actually hear anything through the headphones while he’s got the elephant costume on? Yummy yummy indeed.

#1. Genesis Owusu — ‘Anarchy in the UK’ (orig. Sex Pistols)

Genesis Owusu was the Australian artist of the year with the Australian album of the year — realistically, this was his list to lose. Even outside of that context, though, Owusu’s blistering and radical reinvention of the ’70s punk staple was one for the record books the second it hit the airwaves.

From its authoritative black-dog bark, to its lyrical shifts, to Kirin J Callinan’s towering-inferno guitar tone… arguably not since Denzel Curry tore the roof off with ‘Bulls On Parade’ has there been a LAV so exhilarating. It’s especially thrilling when this take on ‘Anarchy’ is pitted against John Lydon’s own history with racism — punk rock is bigger and Blacker than that butter salesman ever was, and this here’s the proof. Never mind the bollocks, here’s Genesis Owusu.

David James Young is a writer and podcaster. His favourite Like a Version is when Death Cab for Cutie did ‘You Woke Up My Neighbourhood’ by Billy Bragg, although it’s sadly not on the internet anymore.