Ten Great Cover Songs
Ten Great Cover Songs
The cover song is a delicate art. You’ve got to make sure that it’s easily recognized as a cover, but also different enough to warrant a listen. Here are some of my favorite covers in a few different genres. As usual, these are in no particular order.
10. Cee-Lo Green – “No One’s Gonna Love You” by Band of Horses
Cee-Lo Green, formerly of the Dungeon Family, has broken out in these last few years as a singer. His mega hit “Fuck You” was one of the biggest hits of last summer, and probably one of the best pop songs I’ve ever heard. When Band of Horses covered his state anthem “Georgia,” Cee-Lo repaid his GA brothers with a fabulous cover of their song “No One’s Gonna Love You.” Their version of “Georgia” is great, but Cee-Lo absolutely owns this one. Seek out the music video too. It’s a bit racy so I won’t post it here, but it’s very entertaining.
9. The Black Keys – “Meet Me in the City” by Junior Kimbrough
Before they blew up a few years ago and hooked up with Danger Mouse, The Black Keys were one of the grittiest and bluesiest bands around. It only made sense that they cover a bluesman like Kimbrough for their EP Chulahoma. They took six of Kimbrough’s songs and covered them beautifully, but my favorite has to be “Meet Me in the City.” It takes the melody and intensity of the original but makes it a bit grander. If you’re into blues, I highly suggest checking Kimbrough out. This is the album that turned me on to actual blues music.
8. Rage Against The Machine – “Pistol Grip Pump” by Volume 10
This is an example of a cover overshadowing its original, much like Hendrix’s version of “All Along The Watchtower” dwarfed Bob Dylan’s already great song. Volume 10 is a long defunct rapper who had one commercial hit in 1994 with his anthem “Pistol Grip Pump,” which is not about Super Soakers. When Rage Against The Machine released their covers album Renegades in 2000, they were at the height of their popularity, so nobody really remembers Volume 10′s original all that well. Their version of “Pistol Grip Pump” isn’t necessarily better, but it is more fun to listen to. Turn up the volume on this one.
7. Otis Redding – “Try A Little Tenderness” by Bing Crosby
I always knew that this wasn’t Otis’ song, but I didn’t know it was Bing Crosby’s. Otis’ version is much more famous, and about 45,605 times more soulful, but that’s not Bing’s fault. He didn’t actually write the original, but since he did it in the 1930s, we’ll count him as the first.
6. Smith – “Baby, It’s You” by The Shirelles/The Beatles
I was trying really hard to keep a “Tarantino” off this list. You know, one of the deliberately obscure cover songs the Q uses in every movie. Oh well. “Baby, It’s You” was first done by The Shirelles, and then The Beatles, but I think more people associate it with the former. This is a total guess, since I wasn’t alive in 1963. The song really became a hit when the band Smith covered it in 1969. Their version is one of my favorite songs of all time, and another case where the cover is bigger than the source.
5. Elzhi – “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” by Nas
If nothing else, this article should teach you that rap covers do exist. Detroit legend Elzhi released a tribute/cover of Nas’ 1994 masterpiece Illmatic last year. Elmatic covered all but one of Illmatic’s songs, but instead of merely recreating the original’s beats, Elzhi recruited producer Will Sessions and a live band to play each track live. While the lyrics are different, Elzhi made sure to keep the theme of each song identical to the original’s. The instrumentals are mostly the same, but with added flourishes that only a live band can do properly.
4. Franco Battiato – “Ruby Tuesday” by The Rolling Stones
Like Matt, I’m a huge nerd for the 2006 movie Children of Men. I first heard Italian singer Franco Battiato’s version of “Ruby Tuesday” while Michael Caine’s character was getting ready to face his death. Battiato’s version is melancholy and beautiful, much like the Stones’ original, but without the drums & percussion behind the lyrics, the song becomes something quite different. Battiato’s Italian accent lends the song an unsteadiness that really fits with the music.
3. Beck – “All Tomorrow’s Parties” by The Velvet Underground
Beck’s Record Club side project covered The Velvet Underground’s The Velvet Underground & Nico two years ago and nobody really seemed to notice/care. I say it’s a damn shame, because there are quite a few great covers. My favorite is “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” since that was always my favorite song on the original album. Icelandic singer Þórunn Magnúsdóttir sounds a bit like Nico, but she’s got her own unique accent that really makes this track. Watch the video on YouTube and check out the very first comment left on the video.
2. Lee Moses – “California Dreaming” by The Mamas & The Papas
I’ve written about Moses before when I talked about underrated musicians, so I absolutely had to have him here. His version of “California Dreaming” is longer and more psychedelic than the original. His voice is much more powerful, and the song sounds completely different when he does it. The Mamas & The Papas created a classic, but Lee’s the one that did it best. He also rips up “Hey Joe,” so check that one out too.
1. Johnny Cash – “Personal Jesus” by Depeche Mode
Cash’s cover of “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails is the most famous of his covers, but I like this one the best. He takes Depeche Mode’s original and strips it down to one riff and some piano work. Much like “Hurt,” it’s Cash’s strained singing that makes this work. There’s also a cover by Marilyn Manson that isn’t bad.
There are many more I’d like to include, so I’m sure I’ll do another one of these at some point. Thanks for reading.