Track of the Day: 'Billie Jean' by the Civil Wars

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

One of the best reader contributors to our cover series, Marcus Wong, flags another one—from the The Civil Wars:

It’s hard to imagine what would a folk duo have to do with a fast Michael Jackson number. It’s even harder to imagine the great music they would come up with had they stuck together, because I’d like to think it would exceed my expectations. Not only did they have great voices, they had a remarkable chemistry when they performed live. It’s a shame they lived up to the band name and had to deal with a civil war—some internal conflict that ultimately led to the demise of the band.

Personally I prefer the more mournful version from Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell. If you can top either, let us know. Update: Chris Daly delivers:

I’d be remiss if I didn't point out two additional Billie Jean covers worth, um, covering. This version by Aloe Blacc, with a full string quartet, speaks for itself. Then there’s this version by The Roots w/ Erykah Badu, most notable for the background lines Ms. Badu drops.

And here’s Rob Henig, a “loyal follower of Notes, first time writing in,” and I think his version wins the award for most transformative:

Okay, so I listened to your Billie Jean covers and they’re all just so gimmicky. Here’s one that should garner repeat listening. It’s by the reggae artist Shinehead. I came upon it by way of the British hip-hop/rave/gospel outfit Faithless, as the closing track on their Back to Mine compilation.

(Track of the Day archive here. Earlier archive here.)