What makes a good cover song? It can depend widely. Sometimes it’s the different ways the artists translates it. Other times it’s because the artist covering the song has found a way to make it as strong as the original. Other times the song is just completely different, and barely recognizable. All of these things can work well if used properly. Today I’m talking about my personal list of my favorite cover songs. Some of these may surprise you. It’s likely most of you will know these are in fact covers, but for those who don’t, I highly suggest you track down the originals. Enjoy!
10. . Hallelujah, Jeff Buckley
Originally by: Leonard Cohen
A lot of people love the Cohen version, and for very good reason, but I’ve always preferred the Buckley version. The song, especially when you think about his tragic death shortly after getting a taste of critical acclaim from his debut album, makes the song very bittersweet. Buckley switches the piano used in Cohen’s version for a lovely acoustic guitar, but the real treasure of the song is his voice. The honesty you can hear in his voice is incredible. I’ve heard this song countless times, but it still gives me goosebumps. Jeff Buckley has to be one of the great sad stories of music in the 90’s. He could have grown to become even amazing with subsequent releases, but sadly that didn’t happen. Rest in Peace Jeff.
9. Immigrant Song, Trent Reznor, Karen O, & Atticus Ross
Originally by: Led Zeppelin
I initially heard this during the trailer for “The Girl with the dragon Tattoo,” and in that setting it’s pure awesome. Karen O has also admitted she wasn’t familiar with Zeppelin before this opportunity presented itself, but I think that makes the song even better. The synth beats that overwhelm the sound, and the fact that Reznor is a master in that area of production, only help to make song more powerful, while Karens high-pitched wail and all over the place vocals give the song a more dark, sinister, albeit beat heavy song as opposed to the pure jam that is Zeppelin’s version. Going back to the film though, if you seen this excellent, excellent film, it works extremely well in the context of the visual style of the film. I can’t be the only one wishing Reznor and Karen O would do more things together am I?
8. All Along the Watchtower, Jimi Hendrix
Originally by: Bob Dylan
The first time I heard “All Along the Watchtower,” it was the Dave Matthews version. I wasn’t even aware that Dylan’s version was the original. The truth is, I’m not even a Hendrix fan. I recognize the skill, and don’t dislike him, but I just don’t gravitate to him like I do others. This song however is plain and simply a killer jam, and one of the anthems of the 60’s. The guitars, without fail, are immaculate, and he manages to make a cover better than the original by miles and miles.
7. Creep, Scala & Kolacny Brothers
Originally by: Radiohead
The second song on our list to feature something used in a trailer for a David Fincher film, this time “the Social Network.” This song works so well because this choir of ladies, accompanied by the great brothers, manages to change everything about the song except the lyrics and give it a truly haunting re-imagining. Their voices are so gorgeous and pure, and when it builds and climaxes towards the end it’s an uplifting moment. I have no idea how they got the idea to make these types of albums, but I honestly hope they stick to doing choral covers of well-known songs. Check out their albums. They’re all very good and easy listening.
6. I Will Survive, Cake
Originally by: Gloria Gaynor
The place I work at plays the original all the time, and quite frankly, I hate it. It drags on and fucking on, and it’s just an example of 70’s lameness. The Cake version however, is great. Cake as a band has a way to drive home an idea and make the song both interesting and fun. The style of the vocals doesn’t hurt either. John McCrea just has this quiet, unassuming way he gets the lyrics out, and it could really only work in the world of Cake. The song is great,much better than the Gaynor one, and it’s probably one of the reasons Cake was able to continue making quirky, weird funny songs.
5. House of the Rising Sun, Muse
Originally by: Eric Burdon & the Animals
The song on the list might be the most different from the original. I might actually prefer the Animals version, but what Muse does here is incredible. They turn a slow burn of a song about a legendary whorehouse into a rambunctious chaotic song full of fire and power. The opening is the first sign that this isn’t a straight ahead cover, but it gets the point across. My only problem with this song is that when the band played the Voodoo fest, held here in New Orleans, they skipped this song for some fucking reason, even though they had been playing it at literally EVERY OTHER SHOW ON THE TOUR. Seriously Muse, wtf?
4. the Man who Sold the World, Nirvana
Originally by: David Bowie
Both to me are equally great, but they really are quite different. Bowie’s version obviously is a bit more spacey, but Nirvana’s version, especially in the context of what would happen mere months after the song was played live, makes the song a sad reminder about the excesses of fame, and how not everyone is capable of handling it. The guitar in the Nirvana version is eerie and electric, and the vocals are much more depressing than the original. It’s just a damn shame that things had to happen the way they did.
3. Respect, Aretha Franklin
Originally by: Otis Redding
For the longest time I thought tha Franklin’s version was the original, but it isn’t. Arguably you could say she took the song and made it her own. I never hear anyone talk about the still quite good Redding version, but it’s very much over shadowed by the anthem she made it. Everyone knows this version of the song, which is great for Redding, because at least people are being touched by a song he created in an indirect way, but by now it’s clearly Aretha’s trademark, and rightfully so. The bitch kills it, and it’s easily one of the most popular songs in the American lexicon of music
2. Last Kiss, Pearl Jam
Originally: Wayne Cochran
I’ve still only heard the original once, and it’s good, but to me it’s always been a Pearl Jam song. This band is so good at covers it should be a crime. They make everything they cover a Pearl Jam song, and it’s always good. This song is sad, beautiful and touches nerves that make you sad for the main characters loss. The song has always sent chills up my spine. Vedder’s wandering vocals give the song more depth than the original, and the end result is easily one of the most popular covers ever unleashed in the world.
1. Hurt, Johnny Cash
Originally by: Nine Inch Nails
Even Trent Reznor admitted that after hearing this song Cash had stolen the song from him, and if you hear it you can understand why. J.R.’s version is so sad, and beautiful you almost forget the nin version. Thats alright in the context too. Cash makes it his own by using a guitar and turning it into a more country version of the song, and his voice is unparalleled in the honesty and sadness it expels. To make even more of the case, the video, featuring an elderly Cash recounting his successes and failures, make the song even more of a reminder of how fucking incredible an artist Johnny Cash was, and how we all owe an enormous debt of gratitude to this man for sticking to his guns and never forcing himself to do things artistically that may have not sat well with him. Rest in peace, Man in Black. Thanks for all the amazing songs.
Thanks for reading!