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Rufus Wainwright’s 10 Best Covers

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With seven studio albums, three compilations, dozens of tracks, and even an opera to his name, it’s safe to call Rufus Wainwright a famous songwriter. But Wainwright is first and foremost a lover of music, and so it’s only fitting that some of his most beloved recordings are not of his own composition at all. With so many gems to choose from, it’s hard to narrow it down, but here are our 10 favorite covers performed by Rufus McGarrigle Wainwright.

10. “The Man That Got Away”

As made famous by: Judy Garland

Part of Wainwright’s much-lauded Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall tribute to Garland, “The Man That Got Away” is bold and fabulous. Wainwright’s tenor flies high over the brass arrangements with such luster that one can almost imagine the song was written for him.

09. “Sonnet 20”

As made famous by: Shakespeare

Who has the balls to cover the Bard? Only Wainwright, naturally, who adapted “Sonnet 20”, along with “Sonnet 10” and “Sonnet 43”, for his 2010 release, All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu (“43” contributes the first part of the title). It’s a tribute to Wainwright’s own songwriting talent that the other nine tracks on Lulu fit right in with those penned by the English language’s most famous playwright.

08. “Over the Rainbow”

As made by famous by: Judy Garland

Another entry from Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall, “Over the Rainbow” is a fitting tribute to Garland through her signature song, complete with lush orchestration and soaring vocals. Judy would’ve been proud.

07. “Puttin’ on the Ritz”

As made famous by: Fred Astaire

Wainwright might be the only singer alive today who could pull this off with the debonair charm of the original. “Puttin’ on the Ritz” combines Wainwright’s flair for the dramatic with his inimitable vocals for a cover at once classic and positively modern.

06. “Everybody Knows”

As made famous by: Leonard Cohen

Getting permission to cover Leonard Cohen songs must be easier than ever nowadays for Wainwright, who is the singer’s de facto son-in-law (Wainwright and his husband have a child with Cohen’s daughter, Lorca). “Everybody Knows” is a lighter version of the Cohen classic, upping the tempo and adding a cabaret-style piano for a lounge-ready rendition.

05. “Complainte de la Butte”

As made famous by: Jean Renoir’s film French Cancan

Recorded for Moulin Rouge!, Wainwright’s “Complainte de la Butte” reflects that film’s indulgent, expressive beauty. Wainwright grew up in Montreal and puts his experience to good use; his French here flows organically, brimming with his characteristic romantic languor.

04. “Across the Universe”

As made famous by: The Beatles

There are lots of versions of Beatles classic “Across the Universe”, but Wainwright’s is joyous, expansive, and all-around gorgeous.

03. “Chelsea Hotel No. 2”

As made famous by: Leonard Cohen

Wainwright’s plaintive delivery of “Chelsea Hotel No. 2” transcends the “cover” label to stand on its own merits. Where Cohen’s version is more sorrowful, Wainwright’s is bolder, adding a wistful air to the brave face of this bittersweet remembrance of a love gone by. The last line — “I don’t even think of you that often” — is held for a moment, exposed in space, a live wire connecting a long, lonely afternoon and a fading memory.

02. “One Man Guy”

As made famous by: Loudon Wainwright III

Covering his famous father, Loudon Wainwright III, Rufus puts his own spin on “One Man Guy”. As sung by the senior Wainwright, the song is a declaration of independence, while Rufus’s more vulnerable rendition adds a second reading — a heartfelt devotion to monogamy. Rufus has the chops to do his father’s song justice and even embellish a bit, holding the notes in the “one-man guy” line longer and higher to create new spaces within the well-worn structure.

01. “Hallelujah”

As made famous by: Leonard Cohen/ Jeff Buckley

His best-known cover, “Hallelujah” made Wainwright a household name after its inclusion on the Shrek soundtrack. Solemn, beautiful, and sad in slightly different places every time he plays it live, Wainwright’s rendition pays tribute to both Buckley and Cohen, his tremendous vocal control building the song upward to its tragic climax. With themes both religious and sexual, loves lost and found, spirits broken and redeemed, “Hallelujah” is the type of classic people have strong feelings about. Whichever version you prefer, Wainwright’s is undeniably stunning.

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