Thursday, March 11, 2010

Top Ten Cover Songs that Are Better than the Original

The Ike and Tina song from a couple of days ago got me to thinking about examples of covered songs that turned out much better than the original. So with no further adieu, here’s my list of the top ten cover songs that are better than the original version:

10) Hallelujah, Jeff Buckley over Leonard Cohen. Cohen’s version was very strong and stands so well on its own. Buckley, however, with a lone electric guitar turned in a haunting performance that sends chills up your spine. I never get tired of this beautiful song.

9) You Really Got Me, Van Halen over The Kinks. For its time, the Kinks’ version was a strong one, but once the 70’s arrived with Eddie’s amazing guitar and Diamond David Lee Roth’s screaming, this song got to a whole new level. It was also the background for one of my favorite commercials of all time. I love the look on Ken’s face during the “Oh no!” part.

8) I Heard it Through the Grapevine, Marvin Gaye over both Gladys Knight and the Pips and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Marvin beat out two Motown icons and completely made this song his own. CCR also did a version, but nobody could hold a candle to Marvin.  It would eventuay be the biggest song of an amazing body of work for Gaye.

7) Proud Mary, Ike and Tina Turner over Creedence Clearwater Revival – CCR’s version was a top 40 staple and was arguably their biggest hit. Ike and Tina’s funky version with huge tempo change remained a concert spectacle for their short lived combined careers.

6) Blinded by the Light, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band over Bruce Springsteen – Manfred Mann took two obscure Springsteen songs, this one and Spirit in the Night, and turned them into musical gold. With the song totally reworked, the Earth Band sewed a whole new song from Bruce’s cloth.

5) Take Me to the River, Talking Heads over Al Green. This one was hard as Al’s version was an up-tempo funky groove, whereas the Talking Heads leveraged their new wave sound to break into the mainstream with a low key version.  The vastness of the rework earns the Heads a top 5 mention.

4) Sweet Jane, The Cowboy Junkies over The Velvet Underground. This song launched the Cowboy Junkie’s career, and still sounds a fresh today as when it was recorded 25 years ago. The Velvet Underground’s version, in comparison, has aged poorly. Kind of like Lou Reed himself…

3) All Along the Watchtower, Jimi Hendrix over Bob Dylan. Dylan is probably the most covered artist of the past 50 years. Part of it is because he’s a prolific writer and has an incredible volume of work from which to draw. Part of it is because he can write a damn good song. Jimi gets the nod on this one with one of the most classic covers of all time. It still sounds as timeless today as when it was recorded 40 years ago.

2) Whiskey in the Jar, Metallica over Thin Lizzy. Lizzy’s version was a strong song, but it always sounded like it was finished about four takes too early. The band could have really polished it more. That’s where Metallica steps in. Their cranking guitars take this song where it originally needed to go. If not for Johnny Cash, this would be #1.

1) Hurt, Johnny Cash over Nine Inch Nails. NIN’s version is simply OK – an otherwise pretty good song in their portfolio. Cash, at the tail end of his life, takes it and completely makes it his own. Producer extraordinaire Rick Rubin pulled everything out of the aging star, and the result was a body of work that is timeless. There will never be another treasure like Johnny Cash.  So in honor of the #1 position, here’s the video. Enjoy:

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