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All Time Best Cover Songs Part 1

Updated on August 4, 2013

Music is foremost a way for people to express themselves. It can be used to release a musician's stress, heart break, love, or any other emotion. At the same time, it can be used by the audience to express themselves too. There are sites all over the internet where fans can come together and interpret what they think their favorite songs are about and most of the time there are conflicting opinions.

That is why when a separate musician decides to cover a song, the tone can be completely changed. Covering another musician's song is a hard task because it will automatically receive judgment from fans of the original but if a band can pull it off, the outcome can be brilliant. Below is the beginning of my all time favorite covers.

1. Kristin Hersh's - "Your Ghost" covered by Greg Laswell

This song is originally by Kristin Hersh featuring Michael Stipe (of REM fame) and was released in the mid 90s. Whether you think of "Your Ghost" as literally someone who has passed away or as a relationship that fell apart, the song perfectly describes losing someone from your life. Hersh depicts being haunted by someone, including the idea of calling their phone number, hoping to hear their voice. Honestly, the only way to describe either version of this song is haunting. The title fits the sound too well.

Original Version

Hersh's version of this song is very monotone but at the same time I think that was her intention. I purposely listened to her other work to compare it to this song and her vocal range is normally all over the scale and more powerful at times. I think she kept the same dullness throughout this song to give an numbing and dead feeling to her voice. She's being haunted by something and is so emotionally drained from it.

That is why Michael Stipe is such a great addition. At the end of the song he sings "You were in my dreams" while she sings the normal "I think last night" and they come together to end with "you were driving circles around me". His voice adds definition and change to her monotone voice. The cello in the background also adds a beautiful and mournful undertone.

The Cover

Greg Laswell is a master of covers and for that, he will show up later on this list. For now, I am analyzing "Your Ghost". At first, Laswell keeps the same monotone voice that Hersh did in her version but it almost feels like he couldn't. That the thing that was haunting him kept forcing his voice to rise higher and become more passionate. There is almost a struggle. For example: the first 26 seconds he's very low and keeping the same tone. Then at 27 seconds it gets slightly higher but still even. At 49 seconds it's as though he can't hold it in any longer and belts out before pulling himself back to monotone at 1:06.

I also love the background music that Laswell uses. While Hersh's guitar is beautiful, Laswell knows how to use backup and uses a piano instead. In both songs after the line "Your not that tough" they pause. The big difference is that after Laswell pauses for 3 seconds, the music in the background kicks in powerfully as though it is a last effort to fight against the ghost that haunts him. In the end, he goes back to singing monotone and the one haunting him is still driving circles around him. He lost.

Final Opinion

So who wins this round? The original or the cover? Stipe definitely added a lot to Hersh's original version but in the end I think that Laswell's cover defeats the original. His passion and use of the music behind him makes for a much more powerful song.

Which version of "Your Ghost" do you prefer?

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2. Nirvana covering Lead Belly - "Where Did You Sleep Last Night"

Originally recorded by Lead Belly, "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" (also called "In the Pines" or "Black Girl") became famous when Nirvana covered it on their MTV special Unplugged in New York shortly before Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain killed himself. The origin of the song is unknown and many others have covered it so for this instance I took the two most popular versions.

The "Original"

Lead Belly (Huddie William Ledbetter) was a blues musician in the early-mid 1900s. If you have only ever heard the Nirvana version of this song, the original will probably sound shockingly different at first so give it a couple listens.

I love the emotion that Lead Belly uses in his version. There is a sense of loneliness and longing. Typical with early blues songs, he also adds some spoken commentary in the background between many lines. Since it was recorded so long ago, it has such an absolute raw sound to it and it's beautiful.

The Cover

As stated earlier, Nirvana's version is the most popular of this song. It was the final song for the MTV special. Nirvana's version is very similar to Lead Belly's except it has less of a blues sound and there are more instruments involved.

The most amazing part of Nirvana's cover starts at 3:50 (on the version I posted) where Kurt Cobain begins screaming the lyrics. Anytime I research this song, everyone talks about how it ended because the complete passion in Cobain's voice in spine tingling. At 4:47, he does this little sigh, looks up for a split second, then belts out the last two words of the song. It is a memorable experience and Cobain's last hurrah before his death.

Final Opinion

This is a tough one to choose. In hindsight, they are two fairly different songs based on the styles the musicians used. In the end, Nirvana wins for me, mostly because of Cobain's performance at the end of the song.

Which version of "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" do you prefer?

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3. Dolly Parton - "I Will Always Love You" covered by Whitney Houston

Dolly Parton originally wrote this song about Porter Wagoner whom she was splitting with at the time (in the early 70s). One of the reasons the song is so timeless is because the lyrics are about letting go of your past relationship and hoping the best for them in the future. There is no anger or need for revenge. It is just about two people who love each other but can never work out together.

The Original

What I love about Dolly Parton's version is that she is very calm and almost reserved when she sings. She is saying goodbye to a man she loves and while there is a hint of sadness, she is also happy and ready to let go. You can tell she means it when she wishes her ex happiness and love.

The Cover

Whitney Houston covered this song for the movie she starred in called The Bodyguard. Houston took a very different approach to the song. Not only is it more soul based but there is so much longing in her voice. Houston sounds like letting go of her ex is the hardest thing she has ever done. She is forceful and it gives me goosebumps especially at 3:09 when the drum hits and she just lets out everything she has. At the same time, I feel like she really isn't ready to let him go.

My Opinion

This one is a draw for me. While Houston's version is extremely powerful and heart wrenching, Parton originated the song as a subtle way of letting someone go. Each woman took this song a different direction so for me, neither can be better.

Who sings "I Will Always Love You" better?

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4. The Cure - "Lovesong" covered by 311 and Adele

This song has not one but 2 great covers so I have decided to discuss both. Originally by The Cure, "Love Song" is one of those songs that everyone has heard in one form or another. The lyrics are pretty self explanatory. It's about a person being in love with someone no matter what happens in their relationship.

The Original

The Cure started in the late 1970s in England and throughout the 80s and early 90s continued to grow in popularity. Their gothic style reached out to the freaks and geeks of that generation. There most well known songs are "Friday I'm in Love" and of course "Lovesong". Lead singer Robert Smith wrote the song about his longtime girlfriend/fiancé.

Cover #1

311 covered the song for the 2004 movie 50 First Dates starring Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler. 311 brought their reggae style sound to the hit song changing it considerably from The Cure's version. They also slightly changed the title by adding a space making it "Love Song".

Cover #2

British sensation Adele covered "Lovesong" on her 2nd album 21. Adele changes the sound drastically by slowing it down and making it sound more mournful as though she is no longer with the person but she still loves him. It is a very interesting change since the lyrics can fit for either a current loving relationship song or as a break up song. It is a beautiful interpretation of an already amazing song.

My Opinion

I honestly believe that is impossible to ruin this song. 311 and Adele both have great covers of the song but in the end I think the original is the best. Second place goes to Adele with 311 receiving third place.

Who do you think plays "Lovesong" the best?

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5. U2 - "Love is Blindness" covered by Jack White

This song was on U2's 1991 album Achtung Baby. Guitarist The Edge was currently going through a separation from his wife and that helped shape the song.

The Original

The original version is a slower song and is comprised of mostly piano and The Edge's heartbroken guitar solo at the end. Lead singer Bono wrote the lyrics which are full of detailed imagery. Throughout the song, Bono compares love to drowning and being numb and when he sings the words he is very sorrowful.

The Cover

If U2's version describes of the depression of being heartbroken, Jack White's is the rebuttal when the anger finally settles in. Jack White destroys everything in this song in the best way possible. The way he sings the song and his guitar solo turns this into a completely different song. When White screams the lyrics out, it is chilling. It sounds like he is crazed.

Jack White's version went on the soundtrack for The Great Gatsby and was used in one of the trailers for the movie. It really fits the tone and storyline for the movie.

My Opinion

Once again, these two musicians changed the meaning and emotions of this song by how they recorded it. As I said, U2 is the sadness and depression while Jack White is the anger and frustration. In the end I think Jack White's version blows the original out of the water.

Who plays "Love is Blindness" better?

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So there are my first 5 favorite covers! Which songs do you hope to hear in future hubs?


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