Often, cover songs are rubbish. Or at least, they’re nothing on the original. Here’s a list of 7 which, even if they don’t outdo the originals, at least come damn close (I apologize if I have missed your favourite cover song, but I’m really just working off my own Media Player at the moment to avoid having to do very extensive research):
#7 Layla (unplugged) – Eric Clapton
Note: unfortunately, I can't find the actual video, but this is the same song.
This one may be cheating a little, given Clapton was the main player in Derek and the Dominoes, so essentially is doing an acoustic version of HIS OWN SONG. However, there’s no denying that this is one of the greatest covers ever recorded. Listening to the original song, you would find it hard to believe that doing an acoustic version could improve it at all – the whole reason anyone likes Layla is the sheer energy, after all: The fast, screaming guitars and vocals have such an energy it’s impossible to listen to the song without wanting to sing (or strum) along to it. And yet – the acoustic version has a quality the original doesn’t. It’s not more feeling, just a different kind of feeling – from passionate aggressive love, to a softer, almost regretful tone. It’s an outstanding cover, if you can call it that, and as I’ve said before – I’m glad Clapton won the Grammy (even if Entertainment Weekly isn’t). Cocaine’s a great cover, too – but sadly not quite good enough to make this list.
#6 The Man Who Sold the World – Nirvana
I’m as big a fan of saying “anything British that the Americans steal is going to turn out rubbish” as the next man. However, this is the exception that proves the rule. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Bowie’s version of the song (which I heard first), but the fact is, if you’re going to write a song about a schizophrenic losing his mind (I’m right about this, aren’t I? Wikipedia wasn’t very helpful, it just said something about H.P. Lovecraft – and I know pretty well all of Bowies songs have alternate meanings; I mean, I knew Jean Genie was about drugs, but Space Oddity? Really? Next you’ll be telling me Rammstein’s “Ohne Dich” is actually about heroin withdrawal, and not a lost love... But that’s for a different post), then having an apparently insane heroin-addicted (Bowie, to my knowledge, was never addicted to Heroin, though he was possibly insane and a big fan of drugs as well) man sing it in a tone that sounds as though he’s considering killing himself (which, in order to avoid getting sued, I’m going to say he was – not that Courtney Love is likely to be reading this) makes perfect sense (seriously, I reckon a depressed Russell Brand could do an awesome cover of this song). Nirvana’s slower, darker tone really reflects the feeling expressed in Bowie’s lyrics, and in some ways, this makes the cover the superior song. Hilariously, Bowie suffered from the Bob Dylan effect (referred to as such because damn near everyone thinks that Guns N Roses wrote “Knockin’ on Heavens Door” and Hendrix wrote “All Along the Watchtower” – though I suppose Bob can’t complain – everyone thinks he wrote “House of the Rising Sun”) after the cover came out, as evidenced by this sentence taken from Nicholas Pegg’s Bowie Biography “The Complete David Bowie”, which I haven’t actually read, so stole this quote from Wikipedia, which referenced the book as its source:
In the wake of this cover, Bowie bemoaned the fact that when he performed the number himself he would encounter "kids that come up afterwards and say, 'It's cool you're doing a Nirvana song.' And I think, 'Fuck you, you little tosser!'”
Damn kids and their music, right Dave?
#5 Midnight Mover – Lordi
What’s better than speed metal? Heavy Metal, apparently – Finnish “monster rock” group Lordi recorded this ridiculously heavy cover of German metal group Accept’s 1985 hit “Midnight Mover” as the B-Side to their single “They only come out at night” (with guest vocalist Udo Dirkschnider, formerly frontman of Accept, and now lead singer of U.D.O), and it blows the A-Side out of the water by a long shot. Although in many ways it does not hold up to the original Accept version, the heavier sound puts this cover firmly in a different genre, making comparisons more difficult. Both have the same powerful energy, and are undoubtedly a couple of the best songs to get yourself psyched up (although I maintain Rammstein’s single “Benzin” is probably the best song for putting yourself on edge), but beyond that, they seem to be completely different songs – despite keeping the exact same rhythm, notes and lyrics. Accept is fast as anything, and feels like something you could run or box to, where as Lordi’s cover is far more head-bang and air-guitar inducing. Whilst the screeched delivery of the vocals may be off-putting for some, in many ways I feel it makes a nice change to the “scream-metal” culture that has developed within in this genre, and it feels good to have the 80s feel back again (although, admittedly, I am rather partial towards Church of Misery, who can only be described as “Scream-Tastic” – still, they’re Japanese, and I guess screaming Metal lyrics is preferable to making “tentacle rape anime” – which from my internet research (AS IN READING ARTICLES ABOUT JAPANESE CULTURE, NOT GOOGLING “TENTACLE RAPE ANIME"!) I’m certain everyone else in Japan does).
#4 Cum on Feel the Noise – Quiet Riot
What can I say? I have good memories of driving around Vice City in a sports car, trying to finish 6 assassinations in 5 and a half minutes as this blared out on V-Rock with Lazlow. It’s just an immense song – the pinnacle of 80s rock music, despite being a cover of a 70s song. Again, it’s an American group covering a British band, but it’s still awesome – and in my opinion, better than the original. The faster drum beat opening, and the section around 3:20 in where the guitars fade out for one rendition of the chorus make this cover, and are what separate it from Slade’s original. This is one of the best driving songs recorded (I could have sworn I wrote an article on the best driving songs, but I can’t find it, so look out for that one – cos I’m gonna be writing it soon!), and an amazing cover. Apparently, Oasis did a cover so the song too - but they're wankers.
#3 My Way – Sid Vicious
I’ve never really listened to the Sex Pistols – or, if I have, I wasn’t aware that it was them performing. I haven’t seen Sid and Nancy, either. In fact, the only reason I know of this song’s existence is because it was used over the end credits of Goodfellas. Is it a cover? Possibly not. It uses the same basic refrain and opening instrumentals as the original version, but other than that is completely different. The harsh lyrics, the punk guitars that come in after a minute or so – couldn’t be more different from the original. Now, I wouldn’t call “It Was a Good Day” a cover of “Footsteps in the Dark”, just as I wouldn’t refer to MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This” as a cover of the Rick James song “Super Freak”, despite the fact they share the exact same instrumentals. However, both Sinatra and Sid Vicious’ versions of My Way share not only the same title, but the exact same theme, too – a serious reflection on the artists’ lives, and an honest belief that it was right to act as they did, the fact that everything they did they did their own way being more important than what anyone thought of the way in which they acted. This cover seems to be a mixture of honest confession, and just messing around, and that’s part of what makes it so great. Some of it sounds serious, and some of it is just plain absurd. The fact that Vicious was dead within a year of the song’s release adds further to the feeling of the song, because it seems almost like a near-deathbed confession. Plus, the video is insane!
#2 Hallelujah – Jeff Buckley
I’ll just say this right off the bat – I’m a big Leonard Cohen fan, and I prefer both of his versions of the song to any of the covers. However, as far as covers go, this one is damn good. The minimal instrumentals, made up mostly of just acoustic guitar with minor backing, is such a change from Cohen’s Orchestral, Operatic sounding song, that it’s almost hard to believe it’s the same song. The verses Buckley chose to use are also arranged very intelligently. Whilst Cohen’s original 1984 version focuses more on religious themes, and righteous love, his 1988 version focuses more on lost love and lust. Buckley took the first 2 verses of the 1984 version, and combined it with the entire 1988 version of the song, to create a more tragic sounding love song. The slow pace and softer instrumentals also add to this, making it one of the saddest sounding songs recorded. Much like Cobain, Vicious and DuBrow above, and #1 below, Buckley has also passed on since the recording of this song, though by drowning rather than overdose (and before you say it – Cobain had 3 times a lethal dose of heroin in his body when he was found, so would have been dead even without the 20-gauge shot through his brain), and this makes the song sound more tragic still. It is also possibly the only cover to really do Cohen’s work justice, with all the others seemingly just being a way of “cashing-in” on the success of the song. Does this song beat the original in my books? Of course not – But it comes about as close as possible.
#1 All Along the Watchtower – Hendrix
That's the second list I've done with this one on! I need to branch out more...
Most Bob Dylan covers don’t hold up to the originals. Despite the fact that Dylan can’t actually sing in a conventional sense, he still gives far more feeling in his delivery than almost anyone who has tried to cover his songs, and you get the feeling that many of the people who attempt Dylan covers missed the point of what the original song was about. Not Hendrix, however, who demonstrates he knows what he’s doing with this perfect remodelling of Dylan’s most covered song “All Along the Watchtower”. The heavier opening beat sets up the entire tone of the song, and as always, Hendrix’s guitar work towards the end is unrivalled. Combine this with the powerful delivery of previously soft, concerned lyrics, and this has to be one of the best covers in history – and the only Bob Dylan cover I listen to more often than the original. In fact, if you type "All along the watchtower" into google, it'llcome up with Hendrix BEFORE Dylan!
It was also awesome when they used it in Watchmen.