Marissa Nadler: Cortez The Killer
Carrie Rodriguez: Cortez The Killer
Built To Spill: Cortez The Killer
Clem Snide: Cortez The Killer
There's been a lot of great Neil Young coverage released since the turn of the millenium; of the 200 covers in my private stash, over half were released in the last decade alone. But no single song has caught my fancy more effectively than Cortez The Killer.
Originally released in 1975, with a crying guitar riff that ranked #39 on Guitar World's 100 Greatest Guitar Solos, and later named one of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, Cortez is a somewhat pensive, almost wistful, eminently political, entirely accurate historical recitative for the bulk of its journey.
In the last verse, though, the narrator switches into first person, describing a woman he knows, who's "living there today".
Wikipedia writers cite temples and Cortez' mistress La Malinche (Doña Marina) as the possible subject of these lines. Personally, I think that's a grave misinterpretation of how Young writes.
Instead, I think the woman is real - that the whole story of conquest is revealed as a metaphor in the last few lines, wherein the whole thing collapses back on you like a brick wall, placing the personal in the political in a way that only true genius can. Try it, up against Carrie Rodriguez' alt-country, Clem Snide's angsty whine, Marissa Nadler's echoey nufolk, the heavy jamband rock of Built To Spill - four vastly different takes on the emotional core of the piece - and see what I mean.