Sunday, August 16, 2009

My Favorite Cover Songs

A cover song is tricky. What approach should one take? Stay true to the original, so as to show respect? No, that's boring. Make it so different that it's unrecognizable? That works sometimes, but mostly that's annoying and pretentious. So what to do? I'm not exactly sure, but the artists that recorded the twenty songs listed below figured it out. Lucky them. Enjoy. (I've included YouTube video links for the songs that have YouTube videos. Who doesn't like YouTube?)

1. Joe Cocker--With A Little Help From My Friends (originally by The Beatles)
I know, I know. What am I doing putting Joe Cocker at #1? He's not hip and cool. But this cover is the gold standard for covers. He took a pretty mediocre Beatles song and transformed it into a goosebump inducing rock and soul anthem. It retains very little from the original, but it's still recognizable. Cocker's voice never sounds better than on this track right here. A true classic.

2. Devo--(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction (originally by The Rolling Stones)
Devo was good at the cover (see: Secret Agent Man as well), and none of theirs were more triumphant than Satisfaction. It transforms a decent Stones rock song into a bizarre, clunky, robotic post-punk jam. It's fun and weird and so jittery and disjointed that it's hard to sing along to, because Mark Mothersbaugh's Mick Jagger is better than Mick Jagger's Mick Jagger.

3. The Flying Lizards--Money (originally by Barrett Strong)
This song has been covered by just about everyone, but no one turned it on its head like The Flying Lizards. Taking a similar approach to Devo, they turn a rock n' roll song (a great one, at that) into a clunky post-punk experiment. They were able to take that almighty riff, synthesize it and then use it solely to accompany the singer's laid-back and completely weird vocals.

4. John Cale--Hallelujah (originally by Leonard Cohen)
I might just be saying this because I don't want to use Jeff Buckley's version on the list for fear of ridicule, but the reality is that John Cale's version is just as good and just as innovative as Buckley's. In fact, it might actually be better. To be honest, Buckley kind of copied Cale. Nevertheless, they're both beautiful interpretations of a beautfiul song.

5. Incredible Bongo Band--Apache (originally by The Shadows)
They took a classic instrumental guitar song from the 60s and created the foundation for hip-hop. Pretty impressive if you ask me. The Incredible Bongo Band used the riff from the original Apache and added hypnotic percussion and an army of horns to the mix to make yet another cover that indeed surpasses the original.

6. Blue Cheer--Summertime Blues (originally by Eddie Cochran)
Take a rockabilly standard (and brilliant song) and add a lot of yelling and really heavy guitars, and you have this cover. It's a psychedelic, rebel-rousing, proto-metal jam that sounds just like the original while sounding nothing like it at all. Blue Cheer pushed rock n' roll forward with this song, and it wasn't even theirs.

7. Tricky--Black Steel (originally by Public Enemy)
Hip-hop covers are uncommon, and when they do happen, it's usually by white people doing them ironically. And those are terrible. But Tricky was able to take one of the better hip-hop songs of all time and make it sound like Tricky, which is one of the chief goals of a cover. It's still chaotic and wild, but it sounds totally different. And totally good.

8. Eddie Hazel--I Want You (She's So Heavy) (originally by The Beatles)
Here's another soul-ified Beatles cover. Eddie Hazel turns this desperate, frustrated, great song into an extremely sexy funk freakout. His guitar is the focus (because, well, he's one of the best guitarists in the history of rock), and it sounds amazing, but the other parts of the song sound good, and it does a good job of sounding like Eddie Hazel while still sounding like The Beatles.

9. Big Black--The Model (originally by Kraftwerk)
Big Black followed this trend of taking a classic song and making it sound exactly like a Big Black song. And it works perfectly. It's heavy and noisy and angry in a way that the Kraftwerk original (though still great) never was, which is interesting because they play it very similarly to Kraftwerk. Just with a lot of distortion.

10. TV on the Radio--Mister Grieves (originally by Pixies)
The only a capella cover on this list is this one. It turns the original reggae-influenced, guitar-centric chaos into soulful barbershop singing and finger snapping. But it's far from joyful. The song switches from the Pixies upbeat and manic tempo to become dark and slow. It's raw and messy, like the original, and the lyrics are the same, but that's all.

And roundin' out the top 20...
11. Scissor Sisters--Comfortably Numb (originally by Pink Floyd)
12. The Amboy Dukes--Baby Please Don't Go (originally by Big Joe Williams, I think)
13. Spacemen 3--Transparent Radiation (originally by The Red Krayola)
14. The Sonics--Roll Over Beethoven (originally by Chuck Berry)
15. Sonic Youth--Superstar (originally by Delaney & Bonnie)
16. Daniel Johnston & Jad Fair--Tomorrow Never Knows (originally by The Beatles)
17. Dean Carter--Jailhouse Rock (originally by Elvis Presley)
18. Grace Jones--La Vie En Rose (originally by Edith Piaf)
19. Nirvana--The Man Who Sold The World (originally by David Bowie)
20. Chromatics--Running Up That Hill (originally by Kate Bush)

That's what I think. Comment. That is, if you want to.

1 comment:

  1. i think van morrison and them also did baby please don't go