Miley Cyrus at iHeartFestival 2019, all credits in the image
When I was younger, I hadn’t yet learned to appreciate legendary artists such as Bob Dylan, Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd. I have heard their songs often on the radio at home, but I was not passionate about finding out more about them. It was around my early teens that I became interested in stars such as the Jonas Brothers, Selena Gomez, Lady Gaga and my personal favorite Miley Cyrus. However, as I grew up most of the pop-music mainstream artists where disappearing from my Music Library and I began to replace them with rock music such as AC/DC and covers done by Miley Cyrus, which were my first exposure to the classics of rock and other iconic legends of the musical stage, after those my music taste turned more into heavy metal and metal bands, but that is a whole different story.
What I want to focus on here is the fact that Miley Cyrus has played a major role in my music taste development throughout her career, whether looking like a rockstar in leather pants or blond naked teddy bear or huge unicorn, she remained devoted to bring to the stage captivating covers of legends of the music industry. So, in case you missed them, I am here to describe just a short list of those, which I believe are a must-listen. I hope to introduce you to a different side of Miley, one that shows a stronger side of her artistic path and is a guide to rock music, a side of Miley made for collaborations and covers of artists such as Pink Floyd, The Doors, Led Zeppelin and many others.
The first cover that I was exposed to by Miley, and which was a door opening for me to see so many great artists that I hadn’t heard of as they were not that popular among my peers, was Bob Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” . I adored that cover so much that the second I got my acoustic guitar it was one of the first songs I learnt how to play and until this day I remember all the chords and the entire lyrics by heart, even without practicing for a while. It’s a song that has been performed by many artists as well; Miley recorded it together with Johnzo West over 10 years ago, yet it made such an impression on me that I can still listen to it on loop. It left a mark in my memory because it was one of the first songs I was exposed to originally sung by Bob Dylan. Because of Miley, I dove into the meanings of Bob Dylan’s writing, as well as a whole different part of the music industry which I hadn’t been aware of back then.
Next classic – Pink Floyd. Everyone has heard a cover of Pink Floyd songs before like different versions of “Wish You Were Here”; when a band leaves such a mark on music history, it’s natural that other artists will try to reproduce them adding a new twist. There are two iconic covers that Miley released, which I consider very worth noticing. First – “Comfortably Numb” which she sang during a live performance three years ago. She builds up the song with her deep low voice, using this piece as a break between her own songs during a concert, which she addresses to the audience as a part of making the concert a pleasure for herself as well. She says during the performance at the iHeartRadio Festival in 2019: “and you know I sing songs like “Can’t Stop” for you, but then I sing a couple of songs for me”, and this is the part of Miley’s music development I have much respect for; she sings those rock classics, usually not changing much in them, because she is a fan of rock, and I believe deep down not a pop star but a rock star. She makes an audience of pop-music exposed to great classics, giving something more to a concert than just a promotion of the newest album. The second cover of Pink Floyd she performed during the Saturday Night Live show during the COVID-19 pandemic, together with guitarist Andrew Watt. She sings the 1975 classic of the band – “Wish You Were Here”, sitting next to a fire, making it a simple but strong performance in the period of limited access to live performances, because of the pandemic regulations. The red light around both performers enhances the acoustic cover atmosphere, making a sentimental tribute to the rock classic with a few chords and nostalgic words.
I love her tributes to the rock music classics because I am myself a fan of bands she has been covering for the past years, so I feel personally more connected to her this way, since partially because of her I discovered all of those legends and at the same time I can combine listening to her original pieces and other classics I adore.
The next cover is one I’ve heard not that long ago, and with this one I was quite hesitant on whether I would actually like it. I am a picky fan of Led Zeppelin covers, perhaps because I quite frankly believe it’s hard to beat Robert Plant’s strong, squeaky voice. Led Zeppelin songs such as “Black Dog”, “Going to California” or “Kashmir” were the ones I first listened to and peaked my interest with the band. Maybe it’s the personal attachment or the memories I have with those songs, but I know that hearing a cover of “Kashmir” will be really hard for me to approve since it’s a song that I think has only one good version- the Led Zeppelin one, it is a song that used to be a ringtone of my mum’s phone whenever my grandpa, would call her and somehow I can’t imagine a different arrangement of this melody to be good. With that said, I assume you could see how protective I am over Led Zeppelin’s songs, so when I saw that Miley covered “Black Dog’‘ during the Glastonbury Festival in 2019, I was not so excited. I was worried that for the first time in my life I would have to say that some classics she should leave to the original versions, so I hesitated on whether I should listen to it or not, and stay peacefully unaware. Then I did press play, knowing that as a fan of Miley Cyrus I might be biased, but I still tried to stay objective on what I think about the performance. Fortunately I was positively surprised listening to how Miley delivered a mind-blowing cover that easily landed on my must-listen list. With her black leather pants, black leather bra and dark smoky eyes, in my opinion, it is one of her most powerful performances – one that you cannot miss. During that show she proves her unique talent, making a confident statement with her performance that she is not just an old Disney Channel star; she is an artist that can confidently stand next to a star like Robert Plant – the leading vocalist of Led Zeppelin.
On a sentimental note, yet still rocking the stage, Miley delivered two powerful covers to which I always come back to when in need of something powerful. One is the live performance with the members of The Doors, together with Robby Krieger she delivers a great rock performance of the classic “Roadhouse Blues”. The second one, unfortunately low-quality but nevertheless great performance, she delivered as tribute to the late rock star of the Temple of The Dog band – Chris Cornell. Before hearing the cover I was familiar with the band, and after listening to her performance of “Two Drink Minimum” and “Say Hello To Heaven ” I became again a fan of another classic band. The only bad aspect of those two is the quality of the recordings, since they were probably recorded by phone by one of the members of the audience. The higher notes and baseline sometimes unfortunately is a bit “disrupted” by the phone quality. Yet I still adore Miley’s voice in those.
The last two ones, which I want to mention, are a bit calmer pieces that show how Miley can perform different varieties of rock music with the same ease. One, a country rock song, is the cover of Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” which she performed live during the Jimmy Fallon Show, while promoting her then new album “Younger Now”. The second one, an alternative rock cover, one of her most recent covers is the adaptation of Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe”, which to me definitely works as a sob story. With the accompaniment of an acoustic guitar, she hits a slow melody with a sentimental lyric, makes an old classic a hit again, performing it at a MTV Unplugged performance.
Throughout her career Miley Cyrus had different phases, so many styles, so many different faces, yet the rock punk Miley is something that without a doubt belongs to the iconic music history. Her stronger covers, such as the Led Zeppelin arrangements are the result of her voice becoming lower and more throaty after her vocal cords surgery. Yet Miley Cyrus does not consider the surgery a negative impact on her performances, she addresses it as a positive thing, since now she is capable of reaching the music style she has always been passionate about. In her rock covers we can listen and see an impressive artist with a sharp voice, perfectly harmonizing with both acoustic and electric guitars. Besides what she sings, her image is also something worth noticing, during her concerts in a leather attire and dark shades, that is the most powerful Miley I have ever seen, but that is just on a personal note.
If this short list hasn’t convinced you yet that Miley is someone who can pull off any rock song, I assure you once you start digging into her live performances you will find even more gems to discover, and I encourage you to. For now, I will leave you with this list of links and a playlist for the week.
Written by Julia Kaczmarek
Links to Miley Cyrus Performances