10 Of The Best Cover Songs Of All Time

It's a dangerous prospect, the cover song.

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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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    317 comments sorted by best / new / date

      IlikeMetal
      I bet all these bands are related to Gibson in one way or another. On that note, it would be nice if this ****er would quit posting all the BS Gibson promotional articles and obviously biased ones too.
      fortysix&2
      IlikeMetal wrote: I bet all these bands are related to Gibson in one way or another. On that note, it would be nice if this ****er would quit posting all the BS Gibson promotional articles and obviously biased ones too.
      NIN is unrelated to gibson, so is johnny cash...
      outerlimit501
      I suggest Holy Diver by Killswitch engage, or even All along the watchtower by Bear McCreary (via dylan then hendrix). Seriously if you havent heard this cover it is awesome!!!!
      E-dogg66
      Anything By Me first and the Gimmie gimmies is better than all those songs
      Shockball V
      Zaveth wrote: Renegades of Funk by Rage Against the Machine anyone???
      Yeah Covers from rage are hell good. Renegades of funk was a cover of Afrika Bambaataa: Planet Rock - The Album, How I could just kill a man is sweet.The wholerenegades album rocks hard A#@.
      sassamafras
      what about Knockin' on heavens door by GnR? or How i could just kill a man by RATM? or one of my favorites, RBF's cover of Take on me?
      Kevin Saale
      Korn should kill themselves for thinking they could cover pink floyd. Terrible band, terrible cover.
      littlebigjames
      people will DEFINITELY dis-agree with me here but what about Avenged Sevenfold's cover of walk by Pantera?
      spiff389
      has anybody else heard Tool's cover of Zeppelin's "No Quarter?" it kicks a**, and Page and the Tool guitarist both use Gibsons...gosh
      minitruckssuck
      metal@hart11 wrote: where does it say that this is a list from gibson? i dont think it does anywhere. either way, this list is a joke. i can think of a million other great covers before i would put some no name covering wonderwall on a home video you tube clip. a destinys child? enough said
      Ryan Adams isn't a no-name you Fuckwit, you just dont know who he is, and what the **** would you know?
      maidenpriest69
      PLOP wrote: IlikeMetal wrote: I bet all these bands are related to Gibson in one way or another. On that note, it would be nice if this ****er would quit posting all the BS Gibson promotional articles and obviously biased ones too.Vrstone87 wrote: What about Lake of Fire or Man who Sold the World(Nirvana's covers) +971653916328 or all along the watchtower by hendrix?
      WHAT ABOUT HIGHER GROUND BY THE CHILI PEPPERS via stevie wonder?
      PapaDelicious
      actually, the cover of Rock 'n Roll singer by Mark Kozelek is really good. And I don't think he's Gibson'd in any way. Although I think his covers of the cars' "all mixed up" and paul mccartney's "silly love songs" are better. All Along The Watchtower needs to be on there, although I honestly prefer Jimi's orignal version of Little Wing.
      meadowskid
      Queensryche's cover of Welcome to the machine is overall my favourite, close second is Tool's cover of no quarter.
      Ultimate_Gio92
      hugh20 wrote: How about 'you really got me' covered by Van Halen origanaly by the kinks.
      i was waiting to say that these lists are so damn stupid. its obvious gibson somehow compensates UG for posting these shitty articles.
      DZCunuck
      Tool's cover of Led Zepp's No Quarter? Better than the original dare i say.
      Rengori
      Gun's n' Roses's version Live and Let Die or Knockin' on Heaven's Door anyone?
      BRandGraffin
      goldfinger 99 red balloons and just like heaven, rage against the machine Fuck the police, Dynamite Hack Boys in the Hood, AFI Halloween. thrice's eleanor Rigby and send me an angel. zakk wylde heart of gold. maybe not the best but definately different. agree with jimi, guns and the zep
      maybe_I_am
      Should have Mad World being covered by Gary Jules. That song's just beautiful.
      LD_Luke D
      Thanks for the info to Nicole Keiper's article at Gibson.com.
      this is posted on gibson.com of course this is biased but i love gibson i just bought a les paul studio and couldnt be happier, (no im not with gibson) but this article still sucks even though ive never heard any of these songs, there is tons of awesome covers that were left out, that makes me kinda sad, but whatever someone will eventually make a better unbiased list of 10 best covers.
      RATM forever
      WOW. I hate gibson.com.... Some better one's that come to mind(I don't even know 7 or 8 of these songs) Rage Against the Machine's entire cover-album Renegades, but particularly, Maggie's Farm, originally by Bob Dylan, and How I Could Just Kill A Man, originally by Cypress Hill. Maybe Nirvana's unplugged Lake of Fire? Or the crazy good song played with a cigarette-lighter slide, All Along the Watchtower.
      DIMEISALEGEND
      damn tis is bullshit! wat about jimi watch tower and stevie ray vaughans cover of little wing????
      SmellyGonorrhea
      Everyone's forgetting the best cover song of ALL TIME and the best guitar song of all time: STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN - LITTLE WING. aint none better
      JoshXXXXX
      Opeth's cover of Soldier of Fortune (via Deep Purple) was absolutely brilliant IMO
      Kentris.5
      Got to Get You Into My Life originally by the Beatles, redone by Earth, Wind, and Fire was an excellent song.
      eldudearino
      how come Killswitch engages cover of Holy Diver isn't up there that cover is better then the original
      Geormajesty
      I agree with Hurt by Johnny Cash, it's an amazing song but where are Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley and Watchtower by Hendrix? Oh yeah, they used fenders. And yeah Jolene's a good cover, but these are so much better. Where is Muse's cover of Feeling Good, RHCP's Higher Ground and at least one of Nirvana's Unplugged cover's should be there. This is a really shit list and the Gibson top tens articals are starting to annoy me, there not exactly news
      Geormajesty
      I agree with Hurt by Johnny Cash, it's an amazing song but where are Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley and Watchtower by Hendrix? Oh yeah, they used fenders. And yeah Jolene's a good cover, but these are so much better. Where is Muse's cover of Feeling Good, and at least one of Nirvana's Unplugged cover's should be there. This is a really shit list and the Gibson top tens articals are starting to annoy me, there not exactly news
      acshadow25
      Higher ground? Holy diver? no ones gonna agree neway coz its such a debated area
      JudasTheGuide
      I'm not sure if you've noticed, but the article says Hurt, by Johnny Cash (via Nine Inch Nails), assuming cash wrote it an NIN covered it, then it says Jolene, by the White Stripes (via Dolly Parton), which suggests they think that the Stripes wrote "Jolene" and then Parton covered it. Therefore whoever wrote this has the same depth of music knowledge as my nan's pet goldfish that died in the 1950's (and was unusually stupid).
      MTVget0FFtheAIR
      pretty shit list IMO. none of these covers songs were very successful. i think the best cover songs should be those that ended up more popular than the originals.