10 Of The Best Cover Songs Of All Time

artist: 10 Of The Best Cover Songs date: 02/13/2008 category: general music news
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It's a dangerous prospect, the cover song. You have the benefit of working with a proven piece of music, but choose an authentic take and you risk your version being taken as pointless, take liberties and you risk it being looked at as sacrilege. Either way, you're working both with and against the baggage of a song's former life. All that makes it particularly compelling when an artist grabs an unexpected tuneone made known by a drastically different actand makes it his or her own. The following may not be the most obvious cover choices, but they score major points for reinterpretations that rival the originals.
  • Hurt, by Johnny Cash (via Nine Inch Nails) In its original incarnation, Hurt was an industrial-rock masterstroke. The dark delivery of Nine Inch Nails head Trent Reznor made it unsettling and compelling, as it whiplashed from gloom to aggression. In Johnny Cash's cover of the song on 2002's American IV: The Man Comes Around, country's legendary Man in Black summoned demons of his own. Fiercely different from Reznor's, Johnny Cash's version is more cautionary preacher-man than Trent's injured, seething loner. Cash didn't just inhabit Reznor's hurt; through a deep, weary warble, Cash laid bare his own, the words coming through with even more genuine convictionan accomplishment indeed. Watch video here.
  • Wild Horses, by the Sundays (via the Rolling Stones) English pop crew the Sundays' strengths were soft onestheir shoegaze-soupy textures, singer Harriet Wheeler's gentle, breathy vocal. The Rolling Stones, on the other hand, rose on bluesy grit and electric sexual energy. But the Sundays' approach to the Stones' Wild Horsessmoothing Keith Richards' guitars into a dreamy haze, softening Mick Jagger's swagger into a lullaby cooproved them imminently capable. Included on the Fear soundtrack in 1996, four years after the Sundays released the song on their album Blind, their take on Wild Horses turned some young listeners onto the Stones for the first time. Watch video here.
  • Rock'n'Roll Singer, by Mark Kozelek (via AC/DC) For Red House Painters voice Mark Kozelek, reimagining rock and roll songs as deep and pensive serenades has become habit. But the most radicaland the most oddly affectinghave been his AC/DC covers, which resemble the originals only in the lyrics. Kozelek's finest one of those, Rock'n'Roll Singer, released on an EP of the same name, is a beauty, Angus Young's taut guitar stabs traded for plaintive acoustic strums, Bon Scott's reedy bark morphed into Kozelek's deep, moody croon.
  • Independent Women Part I, by Elbow (via Destiny's Child) Britrock band Elbow's music is dark and haunting, resembling a mix of Peter Gabriel's pop sensibility and Talk Talk's patient melodic pacing. So it wasn't necessarily the most natural thing, them covering Destiny's Child's R&B-pop nugget Independent Women Part I for BBC Radio 1. The result is natural and fun and creative and a bunch of other good things, a plinking xylophone running the melody while frontman Guy Garvey gently and sweetly deadpans the lyrics.
  • Wonderwall, by Ryan Adams (via Oasis) Oasis' massive Britpop smash Wonderwall is one of those unsinkable ballads, managing to maintain intimacy while delivering full arena bombast. Americana treasure Ryan Adams is at his best sticking with intimacysomething he's done often enoughand his reinvention of Wonderwall into a gently fingerpicked folk tune on 2004 release Love Is Hell is one of his most exceptional recordings. Adams' approach is more hand-penned love letter than Oasis' skywritten profession, and it hits just as hard (if not harder) than the original. Now a live favorite of Adams' fans, he can't go a single show without an insistent fan loudly demanding he play the Oasis tune. Watch video here.
  • It's My Life, by No Doubt (via Talk Talk) Talk Talk's experimental period, at its finest on 1991's Laughing Stock, is the style most fans consider to be representative of the band's strengths. And those expanses of long, slowly unfolding melodies are certainly a far stretch from radio-pop crew No Doubt's digestible offerings. But It's My Life, from Talk Talk's pop period, was finely interpreted by No Doubtthe cover, included on The Singles 1992-2003, kept the propulsive energy of the original tune, amping up the anthemic melody without sacrificing any of the original character. Watch video here.
  • Jolene, by the White Stripes (via Dolly Parton) We know that Nashville transplant Jack White is a fan of country music, but there hadn't been much indication of that in his band's dirty, howling blues-rock. And there certainly are no traces of the tender strings and strums or the sweet, cleanly arcing vocal of Dolly Parton's Jolene in the White Stripes' cover of it. The Stripes' version lets Jack White pair his passionate, breaking voice with a dirty, fuzzy guitar. It's completely different, and completely great. Watch video here.
  • Mad World, by Gary Jules (via Tears for Fears) Tears for Fears' Mad World has its touches of inherent sadness, inescapable with those minor melodies, but it's downright dance-y at points too, as a digital backbeat urges it forward. Los Angeles singer/songwriter Gary Jules had a major hit with his version of it, and for good reason. Included on the Donnie Darko soundtrack, Jules' take turned the song into a piano dirge that's as gorgeous as it is lyrically heart-crushing. Watch video here.
  • Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now), by the Postal Service (via Phil Collins) While Phil Collins' solo career has proven him a master melody-maker, he's not often thought of as one of the cooler guys on the charts. His track Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now), for instance, holds unshakable melodies, but is plenty over-glossed and doesn't stand up today as well as it did the '80s. That is until Death Cab for Cutie voice Ben Gibbard and Postal Service partner Jimmy Tamborello got their hands on the song, reinventing it as a laptop-pop exercise with a smartly crudded-up intro that gets fleshed into an angular dance number with cool digital clicks, whirrs, and melodic touches. Watch video here.
  • Easy, by Faith No More (via the Commodores) It'd be hard to find two guys more different than Faith No More's Mike Patton, a guy as bizarre as he is creative, and smooth-and-earnest Commodores voice-turned-easy listening juggernaut Lionel Richie. But Patton cemented just how capable he is of a honeyed soul croon with his art-metal band's gloriously accurate cover of Easy, included on 1993's Songs to Make Love To EP. Watch video here. Thanks for the info to Nicole Keiper's article at Gibson.com.
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