Musicians cite their influences by covering songs by other artists. These renditions can provide a glimpse into their personal inspirations and can also be a means to introduce a song to a whole new audience.
Fiona Apple has covered a variety of artists across multiple genres, spanning many years of music. Her choices reveal a diverse taste in rock, jazz, and country that undoubtedly informs the unique blend of sounds that can be heard in her own material.
Here, I’ve chosen a handful of my favorite Fiona covers, from one-off performances to her more frequent selections that conclude many of her concerts. Enjoy this eclectic mix:
“Why Try To Change Me Now”
Cy Coleman is best known for writing Broadway musicals, but he composed a number of individual songs that have been covered by a range of artists. In 2009, a tribute was organized with Fiona covering “Why Try To Change Me Now” and “I Walk A Little Faster.” The lyric of “Why Try To Change Me Now” suits Fiona perfectly, mixing a knowing, melancholic acceptance of an out-of-step way of life with a confident self-awareness of eccentric manner that seems to mirror her own personality. She really shows off her jazz chops on this one.
“It’s Only Make Believe”
A country song from 1958 is not what you’d expect to hear when Fiona returned to the stage to support The Idler Wheel… in 2012. Nevertheless, she concluded the shows with a cover of “It’s Only Make Believe” by country legend Conway Twitty, belting out a spellbinding “only” in the song’s chorus that gives me chills every time, as she sends her longing plea skyward.
“Across The Universe”
Fiona found a frequent collaborator in Jon Brion. Brion produced her second album, When The Pawn…, and the first, unreleased (officially) version of its follow-up Extraordinary Machine. They worked together to create this dreamy cover of the classic John Lennon-penned Beatles tune “Across The Universe” for the soundtrack to the 1998 film Pleasantville. The production immeasurably improves upon the original track (and its alternate version), perhaps sounding more like The Beatles than the actual Beatles managed to on the song, elevating the meditative track with a soothing and hypnotic vocal.
While it’s impossible to hear “Pure Imagination” and not think of Gene Wilder’s performance at the heart of 1971’s Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Fiona almost makes you forget it entirely as she drifts high into her register, letting the song truly embody new possibilities.
Fiona covered 1970s songwriting legend Bill Withers during her early tours. Fiona gets particularly funky on this track and lets her sultry vocal fall into a great groove.
Joined once again by Jon Brion, Fiona delivers a faithful rendition of this Buddy Holly classic.
During her first tour, and this taping of MTV Unplugged, Fiona featured her fearlessly unique take on this posthumous Jimi Hendrix track. As with many of her covers, she subtly reworks the melody, making it even more expressive.
“River, Stay Away From My Door”
Accompanied by Jon Brion on guitar, Fiona breathes new life into this 1930s tune and clearly has a good time reviving it.
“I Want You”
VH1’s show Decades Rock Live! featured Elvis Costello & Friends in 2006. Fiona provides guest vocals on “I Want You” in an intense performance. She starts out delicately before growing more ferocious as the song’s obsessive nature is revealed. During the break in the building tension towards the final crescendo, Fiona lets out a resigned sigh at 5:55 before singing yet another iteration of the song’s title as she crafts an emotional journey through the repetitious utterance, making each phrasing particular and individual. Her ability to get lost in the music is apparent as she puts her hands to her face at the song’s conclusion and returns after manifesting the song’s disturbed narrator so completely.