The 10 Best Cover Versions Ever (and the worst as well)

I haven’t had a lot of time to do detailed posts recently, so hopefully my top 10 cover versions, remixes samples (and use of samples) will allow me to get through a lot of good stuff in not too much time. First, the greatest cover versions ever..

  1. Stevie Wonder – We Can Work It Out (cover of song by The Beatles): It takes a lot to beat a Beatles original, but this most certainly does. Takes one of the best songs from their mid-60s pomp, and adds soul, horns and a whole lot more.
  2. The Jimi Hendrix Experience- All Along The Watchtower (Bob Dylan cover): So good that many people probably think (as I did) that it’s a Hendrix original. I seem to remember reading that even Dylan admitted this was a better version than his own. Unlike U2’s.
  3. Donny Hathaway – What’s Goin’ On? (Marvin Gaye cover): A truly great song in it’s own right, this live version still finds something to add. Hathaway dies tragically early, and is credited by many as being one of the best vocalists of the 20th Century.
  4. Shirley Bassey – Light My Fire (cover version of The Doors’ track): I’ve already explained how much I prefer this to Jim Morrison & Co’s version, and why. Because it’s bold, brassy and packs more soul than the entire Doors catalogue in three and a half minutes.
  5. Oasis – I Am The Walrus (another cover of a Beatles song): Oasis were at their best when they hadn’t started believing the hype about being the new Beatles, and intsead just covered some of their songs. Turns a rather fey bit of psychadelia into an 8 minute signal of intent. And feedback.
  6. The Specials – A Message To You Rudy (cover of Dandy Livingstone ska classic): The Specials version of this wonderful ska tune had as much relevance to 80s Coventry as it did the 1st time round in 60s Jamaica. A truly beautiful tune about the pointlessness of the gangster lifestyle. Somebody should play it to 50 Cent.
  7. Massive Attack – Be Thankful For What You Got (William De Vaughan cover): Massive Attack were probably the most important British band of the early 90s for the way that they took lots of different things and made them their own. Here they do it by changing very little indeed of a beatiful bit of 70s soul. Apart from adding a rather naughty video.
  8. The Wedding Present – Theme From Shaft (cover of soundtrack classic by Issac Hayes): There can be fewer things more likely to sound ridiculous than a young man from the North of England trying to sing the words of Isaac “Chef from Southpark” Hayes. And yet this is fantastic – swapping snarling guitars for wah-wah pedals. (See also: Elbow covering Independent Women by Destiny’s Child)
  9. Mark Ronson feat. Alex Greenwald – Just (Radiohead cover): Although Radiohead have plenty of fans in the world of hip-hop their songs simply shouldn’t work done in that vein. Especially with a horns section instead of Colin Greenwood’s guitar. But it does. The most recent of the songs on the list, I’ve tried hard not to fall into confusing recentness with brilliance (see also: Angels being voted best song ever)
  10. Ian Brown – Billie Jean (cover of Michael Jackson’s 80s signature tune): This almost tips the line into comedy, but somehow Ian Brown manages to just make it work. Another case of a Northern English man giving an entirely new twist to a black American’ singer’s words.

Well – those are the 10 covers which are currently top of my mental hit parade. Feel free to let me know what you think.

Oh – and the worst cover version ever? The one that I hate the most at the moment has to be:

  1. Tin Tin Out – Here’s Where The Story Ends (originally by The Sundays): If there were different levels of musical crimes, then this would definitely be 3rd degree murder. It really oughn’t to be allowed.

To cheer you up, here’s the rather wonderful original:

11 comments

  1. Hey, this was linked from Wikipedia (“Cover Version”) and I have some issues with your list of covers.

    You don’t have any:
    Rolling Stones songs (just listen to any of their first 5 or so albums), Beatles songs (or any songs from the Rubber Soul tribute album), Nirvana songs, songs by The Clash, Rage Against the Machine (who released a whole album of covers), … I could go on …

    We have discussed crappy covers on our little blog a little bit, and came up with quite a few. You may have not heard such atrocities since you appear to be a Brit, but off the top of my head: anything Sheryl Crow or Smashmouth (numerous examples), Uncle Kraker’s “Fly Away” (Doby Gray), “In the Street” (the theme song for That 70’s Show originally by Big Star), “Just a Friend” by Mario (orig. Biz Markie), “Big Yellow Taxi” by Counting Crows (orig. Joni Mitchell).

    Mannfred Mann’s song is much better than the original, but still kind of goofy.

  2. This is just my take on the best covers – nothing more, nothing less.

    Rolling Stones – their early stuff just never really did it for me. Pale imitations of the originals (literally in most cases).

    Beatles – Twist & Shout was great, but I bypassed it to be honest because I actually forget that it’s a cover – they’ve taken ownership of the song – a bit like Aretha & Respect.

    Rage – Renegades of Funk I like, but they just make it sound like one of their own songs.

    And I’ve just never really got Nirvana or The Clash – sorry!

    Personally, and it is just personally, I tend to think that soul covers of rock give more than vice versa….

    Cheers for the input though – and I think I had blocked ALL of the terrible covers of Big Yellow Taxi out of my head!

  3. I know it’s just your opinion … it’s just mine too. But musical lists were made to be argued about, right? I’ll accept your explanations.

    With Rage, they do make it sound like one of their own songs, but not overly. I think that’s the sign of a good cover. I’m biased though with Rage (and Afrika Bambaataa).

    Thanks for the input on my little blog. I’ll listen to your songs and check on yours.

  4. Fucking stupid ass, NOBODY doe the Doors better than the Doors, and NOBODY, i mean NOBODY does Jim Morrison better than Jim Morrison. I don’t even need to back this up. This isn’t even an opinion, it’s a fact.

  5. Hey, you overlooked on song – “Turn the Page” by Metallica (original by Bob Seger). I consider it to be the best cover ever! It is so original and creative.. The original is a masterpiece no doubt, but the Metallica version is more rock & roll with Hetfield’s ohhh-so-soulful voice.. Check it out..

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