Covers of hit songs are nothing new, especially in 2011. Go on YouTube and type in “[any slightly popular song] cover”, and you can spend a day watching pop hits interpreted every which way from the lone singer/guitar setup to the painfully novelty. Adele’s smashing hit “Rolling in the Deep” is no different, but there’s also a surprising number of major artists who have covered the song since it was released in November. Who succeeds and who fails? Well, let’s take a look.
6. Mike Posner Goes Techno
A major draw for covering “Rolling in the Deep” is that it lends itself to strong vocal performances while not having much in the way of hard to reach or intricate notes. Which is why a cover from Mike “Isn’t whispering the same thing as singing?” Posner is a shaky premise. Knowing that he doesn’t have the vocal chops, Posner wisely drapes the song in electronica and performs it as a quieter, brooding reflection. Unfortunately, none of his electronics flow well together, and the sample of Adele’s vocal feels tacked on and out of place. Instead of a straight cover or a remix, Posner tries to have it both ways, and ends up falling short. Success? Not quite.
5. Wonderland Play It Straight
Irish/British all female group Wonderland are new to the scene, and smartly covered “Rolling in the Deep” to build press for their debut album. Their cover is the cover-iest on this list; the instrumentation doesn’t extend beyond an acoustic guitar and drums that mimic the original version, and the women do their best Adele impressions. That said, they do a good job and the chorus feels fairly unrestrained. There’s a baffling moment when the instrumentalists decided to break into a KT Turnstall impression during the bridge, but other than that, this cover is as on the nose as you can get. Success? In so much that this is someone singing “Rolling in the Deep” well, yes.
4. Lea Michelle and Jonathan Groff lay all this shit bare.
There’s no way a song as popular as “Rolling in the Deep” wouldn’t appear on Fox’s get rich quick scheme Glee eventually. When I heard Glee did “Rolling in the Deep”, I assumed they would either throw it at Amber Riley to slather in her banshee wail, or give it to Lea Michelle for another big production showstopper. But instead, it’s Lea Michelle and Jonathan Groff doing an a cappella version, albeit with lots of backing vocals (like a certain another cover). To their credit, Michelle does a great job, the melodic change on the chorus is a nice addition, and this song is great as a duet. At the same time, though, Groff’s forced “rock” riffing is trying way too hard to be Adam Pascal, and the backing vocals are a little too intruding. Success? Mostly.
3. Wheezy Freestyles, Olympic Swimmer
This technically isn’t a cover, but it’s noteworthy, anyway. Part of his Sorry 4 The Wait mixtape, “Sorry 4 The Wait” (the song) is Lil Wayne freestyling over “Rolling in the Deep”. It starts off kind of slow, but because Lil Wayne keeps the cadence of the original song in his flow, he really takes off on the chorus, and spits some solid lines on top of it (“She pop X, I smoke Os, Tic-Tac-Toe”, “They say numbers don’t lie, is that a 6 or a 9?”). For the song’s two and a half minute runtime, he never lets up, and hits it out of the park. Too bad the rest of Sorry 4 the Wait wasn’t this exciting. Success? Good, loose fun.
2. Linkin Park’s Concert Singalong Funtime Jamboree
I might have left Linkin Park behind in 2006, but even I can’t deny that Chester Bennington carries this band. Linkin Park’s cover of “Rolling in the Deep” is no exception: Mike Shinoda does his best Nine Inch Nails piano ballad impression while Bennington goes through a particularly angsty (what else?) take on the song. It’d fall flat were it not for Bennington being such a good singer; his lower register is fine, and he does great on the falsetto parts (notably after the bridge) particularly well. The extra noise from the crowd on the chorus is a nice addition, too, and contrasts him rather well. Success? Absolutely.
1. John Legend
Like I said at the start of this list, “Rolling in the Deep” is a chance for singers to show what they can do, and John Legend brings his A-game to this version. For the record, this is the version Glee covered, but Legend does such a better job with it. He’s confident, powerful, and he’s able to wring the emotion out of the song (something some other covers have had trouble with). His riffs on the chorus are great, and he sounds like he’s having a blast while singing his heart out. The vocal layering on the last chorus is especially clever, proving that a great song and great performance doesn’t need instruments. Definitely a must hear. Success? Rolling in it.