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Awesome Cover Songs

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by Steven G (subscribe)
Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published August 10th 2018
Sometimes the best isn't the original
Awesome Cover Songs
The cover song. Derided as the last refuge of the creatively bankrupt, sometimes re-interpretation is the best way an artist can show their talents, or it can be a way of paying homage to the original. But it is still always an interesting decision. And – of course – not all of them work. Madonna's version of 'American Pie', Britney Spears' version of 'I Love Rock And Roll', Jessica Simpson's version of 'These Boots Are Made For Walking'… the list of what could be considered not awesome cover versions is endless and painful

Jessica Simpson, album
My ears! My ears! (

This, however, is a celebration of the best of the cover songs that are out there, from all eras of the popular music spectrum. These are the ones I consider, well, awesome.

So, some ground rules before I start, or else this will be too long for the regular reader (oh no! TL;DR): I have ignored those redone by the original artists, or members of the original band. So, Del Shannon's great 1980s cover of 'Runaway', Jim Keays' 1980s version of 'Undecided' and Slash's remake of 'Paradise City' with Fergie and Cyprus Hill – great as they are – are disqualified. And also covers done in concert I've disqualified. Apart from that – see what you think!

Johnny Cash – 'One' and 'Hurt'

Couldn't decide, so 2 for the price of one. And it could have been more. The American Recordings sextet of albums contain so many brilliant re-interpretations of songs that knocking it down to even two was hard enough.

The original version of 'One' by U2 was all power chords and cigarette lighter in the air concert goodness. The original of 'Hurt' by Nine Inch Nails was a hard as gravel cry of pain.

Cash turned them both into lamentations about his approaching end. 'One' becomes a cry to God; 'Hurt' becomes a personal journey of, well, hurt. He makes both songs his own. The originals were great; Cash made them even better.

Frente – 'Bizarre Love Triangle'

Taking an electro-pop dance track and turning it into a jaunty guitar-driven piece of happiness was a stroke of genius by the members of Frente. New Order's original is approaching a darker tone, which makes Frente's cover all the more stark in contrast. This is not just a cover, but a complete re-interpretation.

I've seen Frente live a couple of times back in the 1990s. The only memory I have of them performing this song was that it was just Angie Hart and the guy with the acoustic guitar (whose name escapes me, and this will no doubt lose me credibility points) performing it, no other band members. I also remember the crowd singing along to the entire thing.

Yes, me included. Sorry… especially to those standing right near me at the time.

Jimi Hendrix – 'All Along The Watchtower'

Bob Dylan's original is a typical 1960s Bob Dylan song – acoustic guitar, harmonica, minimal backing. (This version is electrified from the 1990s...) An angry song filled with allusions to things that only exist inside Bob Dylan's mind. A typical Dylan song. So, Hendrix took it and amped it up to 11. Electric guitar over the top of a powerful drum beat and bass line, turning it into a prototypical heavy metal rocker.

Of course, it wasn't the only song he covered. His version of 'Wild Thing' is fantastic and his 'Hey Joe' is another great re-interpretation. But nothing can touch the sheer awesomeness of 'All Along The Watchtower' for power and passion.

'Knockin' On Heaven's Door'

This is a song, not an artist. Bob Dylan's original is a bit of a dirge from the soundtrack of a bit of a dull film. But it seems that every band and their dog has had a go at recording it. Some are, well, interesting (Guns'N'Roses for one), some are laughable, but some… Well.

Eric Clapton turned it into a slowhand blues. Heaven turned it into a power ballad rocker. Cold Chisel turned it into a balls-to-the-wall rock and roll number. It seems to be a song that is easy to interpret and, unfortunately, easy to outshine the original.

Sorry, Bob.

Elvis Presley – 'Hound Dog'

Big Mama Thornton's original is a pure blues belter, and it is, quite simply, brilliant. Then Elvis came along. He took that blues number and turned it into a rock'n'roll number back when rock'n'roll actually meant something. He made it his own, which is saying something considering the greatness of the original.

Elvis interpreted a lot of other people's songs – 'Blue Suede Shoes', 'All Shook Up', 'Blue Moon Of Kentucky' to name a few – but it is 'Hound Dog' that stands as definitive and is one of the songs people most associate with the King. Uh-huh.


Spiderbait – 'Black Betty'

Most people associate 'Black Betty' with Ram Jam – and theirs is certainly the definitive version to most people – but it was actually first recorded by either Leadbelly or James "Iron Head" Baker – the jury is still out. Either way, that was the 1930s! But it doesn't matter who recorded it first - when Spiderbait took it on in the early 2000s they took it as their own. The indie rockers grunged it up a little, accentuated the drumming and Kram's voice suits it perfectly. They owned the song.

Sipderbait is a band I love seeing live. It's been a little while since I last saw them, but to hear this on stage is an experience. A vastly underrated band in the world; they deserve to be better known in Europe and America. This is rock.

Joan Jett – 'I Love Rock And Roll'

Most people don't realise this is a cover. The original is by a glam rock group, The Arrows, from 1975. But in 1981 Joan Jett, fresh from the Runaways, took it with her new backing band The Blackhearts and owned it. No-one remembers the original any more, Joan Jett took it on so hard and furiously. And the video clip became as iconic.

Having said that, Joan Jett also covered Tommy James' 'Crimson And Clover' and did a freakin' awesome job of that one as well. It is probably unfair to portray her as a cover artist because another of her greatest songs – 'Bad Reputation' – was written by Joan Jett. Still, her cover versions are really worth it.

The Beatles – 'Twist And Shout'

Most people know this is a cover. But most people also think the original was done by the Isley Brothers. However, they were not the first – that honour goes to the Top Notes in 1961. Still, the Beatles took it and made it their own.

The definitive use of The Beatles' version is, in my opinion, the best scene in the classic 1980s film Ferris Bueller's Day Off, in the street parade. I went to a revival showing of it in the early 2000s and when that scene started the entire cinema sang along and danced and it was awesome. Fifty years later and the Beatles can still make people sing and dance with their cover of a song.

Disturbed – 'Sounds Of Silence' and 'Land Of Confusion'

Another two for the price of one. Simon And Garfunkel's iconic 'Sounds Of Silence', and Genesis' pop-tastic 'Land Of Confusion' have been covered by the American heavy metal band Disturbed, and – your mileage may vary on this one – while they are not better than the originals, they certainly stand up with them and Disturbed made them their own, for a time at least.

Like Joan Jett, it is unfair to consider Disturbed a covers band; one of their most popular songs is 'Down With The Sickness', which is an original. However, there is not doubting that their covers have been quite an amazing collection of music.

Twisted Sister – 'Leader Of The Pack'

Okay, I admit – this is a personal guilty pleasure. Dee Snider and co. took the Shangri-Las 1960s teenage death song and turned it into a metal-lite OTT anthem and…

I like it.

Live with it.

And that's my list. What did I get wrong? What did I get right? Sound off below!
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Why? Sometimes the original is not necessarily the best
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Your Comment
As much as I love Dylan, I agree with you re Heaven's Door and Watchtower.
by May Cross (score: 3|7889) 1005 days ago
Alwayd On My Mind by The Pet Shop Boys... can't believe I forgot that one!
by Steven G (score: 2|744) 1006 days ago
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