One of my absolute favorite things about music is the cover song. It is true that one artist covering another artist’s tune is a hit or miss proposition, and there are some truly bad versions floating around out there. But, there are also some remarkable versions out there as well. That’s what we are are going to explore this time around. The great thing about a cover song is there are so many ways to go about it. An artist can do a straight cover by not changing anything. They could slow it down into a hot slow jam. Bonus points for any version that changes the makeup of the song completely by punking it up, metalizing it, jazzing it up, destroying it with pure noise. The possibilities are endless!
I can recommend one album of solid covers called Rubaiyat put out by Sire Records in 1991 that took the occasion of celebrating their 40th anniversary by having some of the current artists cover older songs from other artists on the label’s roster. This album brought us Metallica’s cover of Queen’s “Stone Cold Crazy“, The Cure’s version of The Doors’ “Hello, I Love You”, and 10,000 Maniacs cover of Jackson Browne’s “These Days” to name a few. Every song on it is done well and it comes highly recommended, search it out.
My ipod has deep playlists of cover songs. Its one of the things I will waste hours searching for. There are plenty of websites devoted to just cover songs. And if you’re in a band there’s no better way to hype up a live show than throwing in a cover song!
999- “Lil’ Red Riding Hood”
I’ve been listening to this song for so long now I’m not even sure where I first heard it. This would definitely fall under the straight on version of a cover song. Pretty remarkable for a punk band like 999. The only discernible difference is the slight British accent you can pick up in Nick Cash’s vocals. Otherwise, it is almost a carbon copy of the original Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs recording.
Hayseed Dixie- “Highway To Hell”
Hayseed Dixie is covering the mighty AC/DC, but if you pay closer attention you’ll see that their band name is also a cover of AC/DC! It’s a concept that is as entertaining as this song is. David Lee Roth tried to go bluegrass with Van Halen songs a few years back and failed miserably, fortunately Hayseed Dixie do it right. This sort of thing barely gets noticed in the U.S. but these guys play all the huge music festivals in Europe frequently.
The Slits- “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”
The Slits were a female based punk band from the late 70’s who were true to form and not very adept at playing their instruments. Their sound was a sloppy mix of raw energy, reggae, punk, and experimentation. Their cover of this Marvin Gaye tune appeared on their debut album Cut. Their sound leans more toward the post punk sound that came soon after and the band even joined forces and shared a drummer with post punk stalwarts The Pop Group. We would call this an acquired taste, if you will.
Joey Ramone- “What A Wonderful World”
I have a theory about cover songs stating that it is hard to ruin a great song. So that no matter what you do to it the song holds up. This song is a perfect example of that. Joey Ramone put this classic ballad on his last official album Don’t Worry About Me before his untimely death. The catch is that Ramone punched it up into a punk rock anthem of pure awesomeness. This is no accident, The Ramones themselves were very adept at doing cover versions of their own and even released an album of all covers, Acid Eaters. Joey Ramone had one of the best voices in rock history period.
Tesco Vee’s Hate Police- “Losing My Religion”
I stated in an earlier post about finding this great version on an R.E.M. tribute album called Surprise Your Pig. Tribute albums were all the rage back in the 90’s. Every time you turned around someone was getting the “tribute” treatment. This was a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing because it would deposit gems like this onto the world. The original version was a sorrowful, soft, billowing ballad with a somber tone that just needed a hug. Tesco Vee’s version punks it up and gives it an angry in your face feel, and proves the fact that you can’t ruin a good song, it works magnificently!
The Lemonheads- “Amazing Grace”
Back in my teen years just south of the St. Louis at night I would sit in my room and listen to the WSIE radio station coming out of Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, IL. whose signal could only be picked up at night. They played all the punk and alternative that I craved and couldn’t get from the radio. One night this purient blast blew through my speakers and hit me head on. The Lemonhead’s were famous briefly in the 90’s alternative boom for another cover they did of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson.” The sound of this cover is vastly different from that song. It is a straight punk rock burner that obliterates the original hymn into 1:26 of punk fury!
The Secret Machines- “Astral Weeks”
This Dallas band put an epic spin on an already epic song. The Secret Machines take Van Morrison’s love song and put power drums and chords to the mix. They start it out slow and precise but ramp it up slowly as the song moves forward. Great job, this band should have been bigger than they were.
James Chance & The Contortions- “Jailhouse Rock”
James Chance was a saxophonist, jazz musician, post punk auteur, no wave pioneer, noise monger from New York. His brand of punk, improvisational free jazz may not be for everyone. Chance’s live performances from this period were often derogatory confrontational affairs sometimes resulting in fisticuffs with audience members. Chance and his band completely restructure the Elvis Presley song with a bruising new attitude. Listen at your own risk!
Me First & The Gimme Gimmes- “Hello”
Me first are a punk super group comprised of members from NOFX, No Use For A Name, Swingin’ Utters, and Lagwagon. They are known for releasing albums of cover songs with a theme such as 50’s and 60’s songs, R&B songs, country songs, etc. and wearing matching clothes onstage. “Hello” comes from their album of R&B songs Take A Break. The band take Lionel Richie’s love ballad and punk it up big time, and for a little twist, add some Three Stooges love to it!
Social Distortion- “Under My Thumb”
Mike Ness is a beast! And I mean that in the best possible way. Ness is a no compromise, massive talent and an intense songwriter and guitar player. Social Distortion has been one of the toughest and best punk bands since they started raging with “Mommy’s Little Monsters” way back in the 80’s. Ness takes the Rolling Stones classic and adds some real meat and potatoes classic punk attitude to it. You better recognize fools!
The Bad Plus- “Iron Man”
The Bad Plus are a jazz trio from Minneapolis, MN. While the band does play original compositions they usually throw in a cover song or two on every album they release. This is a straight jazz version of the Black Sabbath tune. Not the bottom heavy rocker of the original but an interesting take to put the metal original through jazz paces. The Bad plus have also covered Rush, Nirvana, Pink Floyd, Blondie, and Neil young among others. You should seek them out.
Dynamite Hack- “Boyz in the Hood”
In the tongue firmly in cheek department comes this acoustic jam of the Easy-E hip hop song. Dynamite Hack were a band from Austin, TX. that never really went past this song. The band take their name from the golf classic Caddyshack. This song was a minor hit and the video enjoyed regular airplay while it was hot.
Tricky- “Black Steel”
This song comes from Tricky’s first album Maxinquaye recorded after leaving trip-hop pioneers Massive Attack. The song takes a couple verses from Public Enemy’s tale of black man being locked up due to refusing to be drafted and adds the female vocals of Tricky’s girlfriend at the time, Martina Topley-Bird, who sang them instead of rapping them. Tricky also used heavy percussion and guitars to round out the sound. Tricky takes the song in a whole new direction yet keeps it angry and dark like the original. The original bare bones Public Enemy version, which is actually called “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos“, is outstanding as well.
Scissor Sisters- “Comfortably Numb”
Scissor Sisters are a pop, nu-disco, glam band from New York that are actually more popular worldwide than at home. For this song they turn the epic Pink Floyd sermon into a disco party anthem. Disco music still gets the skunk eye treatment even though it still fills the dance floor at any reunion, wedding reception, party that you are at. I mean, just by mentioning the song “Funky Town” I got you to sing the chorus in your head right now!
Dread Zeppelin- “Heartbreaker (At The End of Lonely Street)”
I’ve preached the praises of Dread Zeppelin before in an earlier post. Dread Zeppelin have made a career of doing covers. The whole theme or schtick if you will, was to do Elvis Presley and Led Zeppelin songs while playing reggae. And as juxtaposed as that sounds it worked well, really well. It is a special thing when you can not only do a cover justice, but also twist it up into something completely different and still pull it off! Dread Zeppelin has done this time and time again. This particular song combines Led Zep’s “Heartbreaker” and Elvis’ “Heartbreak Hotel” perfectly with the reggae music. Seriously, if you don’t smile listening to this your dead inside.
Obadiah Parker- “Hey Ya!”
The story goes that Mat Weddle, the real life alter ego of Obadiah Parker, took requests from fans as to what songs he should cover and this Outkast song was one of the songs picked. While Andre 3000’s original version contained upbeat music that accompanied his lyrics, Parker’s acoustic strumming and folksy vocals really bring out the sad undertones of doubt and cold feet that the song is really about. And to his credit Weddle does not bungle the “Shake it like a Polaroid picture” breakdown and ends the song an an emotional note as well. Many rap/hip hop songs have been turned into different styles, but none as well as this, well done.
Tori Amos- “Rattlesnakes”
Tori Amos is no stranger to doing cover songs. She has done a few over her long career, most notably Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” for this song she covers little known (at least in the U.S.) Lloyd Cole & The Commotions. The idea for the album that this song comes from, Strange Little Girl, in which she re-interpreted songs written and sung by men to a woman’s point of view. The results are a mix of outstanding results and head scratching bemusement. The most notable cover was of Eminem’s “97 Bonnie & Clyde.” But I always come back to this haunting version of the Lloyd Cole song.
Gypsy Kings- “Hotel California”
This is absolutely one of my favorite covers ever. Everyone knows this Eagles classic, that is not at all about Satanism, and occult stuff that was hemmed about in the 80’s, but about the the hedonistic and excessive lifestyle of L.A. in the 70’s. Nice try, but maybe some of their other songs were a tip off, “Life in the Fastlane“or “Wasted Time” anyone? What the Gypsy Kings did was to give this song a flamenco makeover and sing it in Spanish. The end results are fantastic and epic. You may recognize this song as it was used in one of the best movies ever, The Big Lewbowski!
Luna- “Sweet Child O’ Mine”
Dean Wareham had already laid out a solid musical palette with his previous band Galaxie 500. After the demise of that venture he teamed up members of The Feelies, The Chills, and The Belltower over several albums to form Luna. This Guns N’ Roses cover comes from their 1999 album The Days Of Our Nights. Luna’s version is slowed down and sleepier, more open and breezier and considerably less heavy than the original but is still pretty good nonetheless.
The Futureheads- “Hounds of Love”
The Futureheads doubled up on this cover and actually have two different versions they do. They have this guitar version and an acoustic version, so its kind of like they do a cover of their cover! We will concentrate on the guitar version. Taking Kate Bush’s legendarily elegant pop gem and beefing it up with rock guitars and speeding the tempo up The Futureheads make an instant classic for themselves. Great band, great song.
Ryan Adams- “Wonderwall”
Ryan Adams himself may be the king of the cover song. He has put out almost an entire catalog of cover songs alone. People either love or hate the band Oasis, but you will have to admit that the massive hit “Wonderwall” was and still is a fantastic song. I’m still not sure as to what the song is really about. Noel Gallagher has said it is about two entirely different subjects! Adams strips the song down to a haunting and mesmerizing acoustic ballad.
Pet Shop Boys- “Where The Streets Have No Name/Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”
The mighty Pet Shop Boys, a vastly underrated band in my book, pull of a double whammy here. They take U2’s sweeping epic and the Frankie Valli soul pop classic and combine them into an electro/disco/pop adventure. Very nicely done.
The Dan Band- “Total Eclipse of the Heart”
The Dan Band is not really a band but a comedy parody band formed by comedian Dan Finnerty. The band gained notoriety from its appearance in the movie Old School and subsequent scenes in other films such as Starsky & Hutch and The Hangover. The Dan Band’s twist to its covers was that they usually covered female artists and put a ton of expletives in them which worked to hilarious effect in Old School during the wedding reception scene.
Evergreen Terrace- “Sunday Bloody Sunday”
I First heard this inside of a Hot Topic store as it was playing at massive volume. I don’t even know why I had wondered in to the place to begin with. I remember asking the heavily pierced youngster behind the counter who the band was that were totally rocking U2’s classic anti-war song and not being able to understand what he was saying due to the studs protruding from his lips. I thought he said Evergreen Terrorist, which would have been a kick ass name! So I spent countless hours searching out a fictional band and probably raising a few eyebrows at internet servers and the powers that be with the Patriot Act in full swing and all! Finally discovering it was TERRACE not TERRORIST! Anyway, the song is great. One of my favorite covers ever.
Bran Van 3000- “Cum On Feel the Noize”
Bran Van 3000 are an electronic ensemble from Montreal, Quebec. This cover comes from their first album Glee released in 1997. The folk guitar, female vocals, hand claps fuzzed out guitar and electronic noises take it completely in the opposite direction that Slade and Quiet Riot took it too. About halfway through it sounds like the singer almost busts out laughing while singing.
Hindu Love Gods- “Raspberry Beret”
Hindu Love Gods were really just R.E.M. backing Warren Zevon. Zevon was using Peter Buck, Bill Berry, and Mike Mills as his backing band during recording for the Sentimental Hygiene album sessions. The Story goes that they had a few brews and took a little break and recorded these songs as a one off. The results are cool and loose as expected and here they actually take an already good song up a notch.
Easy Star All Stars- Brain Damage
Easy Star All Stars are another band that spends a lot of time doing covers. Their specialty is to take songs and put them under the reggae spell. This Pink Floyd cover comes from their interpretation of Dark Side of the Moon called Dub Side of the Moon! It’s not a real stretch to imagine “Brain Damage” as a reggae song, more specifically a dub reggae song. Dub is a style of reggae that emphasizes sound effects, echoes, and bass. The two merge perfectly on this tune and the rest of the album is done well too.
Matt The Electrician- “Faithfully”
This light and sparse acoustic version of the classic Journey ballad is quite good and, heads up fellas, a heart string puller on any compilation mp3/cd/tape for your special love interest. Here’s what you need to know about Matt The Electrician. His name is Matt. He is from Austin, TX. He was actually an Electrician. This song comes from his 2009 album Animal Boy. His music is folk and roots based and you need to check it out as soon as possible.
Ra- “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic”
Ra are a metal band from L.A. that’s been around for quite some time now. Here they take on The Police’s hit song not really changing much except adding some power guitar chords and bit of funk that really muscle up the song. This song can be found on their 2005 album Duality. Check them out.
New Found Glory- “Crazy For You”
New Found Glory have made a second career doing cover songs. They were/are good at it. This Madonna cover comes off the From the Screen To Your Stereo Part II album, which is made up of songs from movies. The movie this song comes from is the 1985 high school wrestling classic Vision Quest. I’m gonna wrestle Schute man, I can do it!
John Cale- “Hallelujah”
This is hands down the best cover of this Leonard Cohen song. It may possibly be the best cover ever. Cale takes Cohen’s soulful ballad and strips it to its barest essence. Using only a piano and singing in an achingly mournful tone that capture’s the desperation and despair of the original and almost improving on it, which is a real feat because Leonard Cohen is a genius. Originally recorded for the 1990 Cohen tribute album I’m Your Fan, this version has wound up used in countless movies and television shows due to its powerful imagery.
And on that note we will end our first look at some of the great covers that are out there. So the next time you see that your favorite artist has put out a cover song don’t just sigh and move on, check it out, it may be worth it! Before you leave you should take a moment to sign up for Bandbook.com.