Cover Songs that are OK by Me
Most music lovers have a love/hate relationship with cover songs, including me. I welcome the opportunity to completely discredit a cover song, yelling about the artist's attempts to take something sacred and make it their own. Ultimatley, artists covering songs are really brave. There is the ‘they changed it too much it doesn’t pay tribute to the original’ side of the argument and the ‘they made it sound too much like their own and are not paying tribute to the original’ side. These artists really can’t win. I am among the debaters, I am extremely picky about who covers what and how. But isn’t that the point of music, to garner an opinion whether it be negative or positive? A lot of new artist’s fame is attributed to first covering an established song to get their name out there. I love to hear new covers, ears perked, ready to pick them apart. But every once and a while, I have no cause for any ensuing outrage. There are some covers out there I actually enjoy. To warn you- nothing is sacred, if I like a cover of a Beatles or Stones song better than the original then so be it. Also there is no accounting for taste- I like what I like and I’ve always felt the whole point of music is to be unpretentious, to enjoy whichever genres you want and to not feel the need to explain it.
Foo Fighters ‘Darling Nikki’ Prince original- A lot of Prince songs are laced with innuendo, while this one just comes right out and says it. Prince’s original version is actually credited as one of the songs that started the whole explicit rating system, Tipper Gore being responsible as a co-founder of the group that got on record companies to devise a rating system. Lyrics aside, the song sounds better as a rock song. I love hearing Dave Grohl really growl and he doesn’t always do that on Foo Fighters original tracks. I read somewhere that Prince did not approve of this cover, he was quoted as saying something along the lines of artists should stick to their own music and not do covers of others' work. The Foo Fighters version is tough to purchase, since it was never intended to be released, eventually making its way onto a vinyl album only.
Side-note: Prince covered Foo Fighter’s 'Best of You' at the Super Bowl in 2007 without the band’s prior knowledge. It was never clarified whether it was a complement/peace offering or retribution for them covering his song without his permission.
Second Side-note: Prince apparently approved of Incubus’ cover of ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ which appears on their recent greatest hits album ‘Monuments and Melodies.’ It’s a good cover, indicating Prince's songs are amenable to a more rock version.
Pearl Jam’s ‘Dock of the Bay’ Otis Redding original- I love Eddie Vedder’s raspy voice, and that is what he contributes to this version of the song. Not sure if they ever made a studio version of this cover, I had it on a cassette tape and I would listen to it during the summer months, sitting at the beach with my Walkman. I love that it is a live version, it makes it sound even better. It appears on the album Unplugged and Undrugged.
The camera work is a little shaky, but this is the version I had on my Walkman.
The Sundays ‘Wild Horses’ Rolling Stones original- I actually will argue, more so than the other covers on this list, that this cover is better than the original. I think the mood set by the Sundays version better fits the lyrics. And I think it sounds better with a female singing it. Sorry Mick.
Boyz II Men ‘Yesterday’ Beatles original- I was a huge Boyz II Men fan when they were making albums, ‘End of the Road’ is probably one of my all-time favorites so when coming up with a list of good covers I couldn’t leave their rendition of 'Yesterday' off of it. Now I won’t claim it is better than the original, but better suited to someone whose only option for screaming at the TV was MTV as opposed to The Ed Sullivan Show.
Chris Cornell ‘Billie Jean’ Michael Jackson -Again, like Vedder, Cornell has that sweet raspy voice and it gives an air of originality to any cover he does. His version of 'Billie Jean' is a stripped down, slowed down version. One of those where you think it is an original, new song by the artist and then you notice you already know the words and it dawns of you 'This must be a cover.' I like MJ covers because they are great songs, and when they are done a little different they still sound great and don’t take away from Michael Jackson’s original versions. Others include Alien Ant Farm’s ‘Smooth Criminal’ and Fall-Out Boy with John Mayer on ‘Beat it.’
Side-note: Special recognition of Cornell’s recent tribute to Whitney Houston by singing ‘I Will Always Love You’ (which is also a cover, so it’s a cover of a cover for those keeping score.)
George Michael’s 'Faith' covered by Limp Bizkit- Here’s where I evoke the 'no accounting for taste' rule- I cringe to even type the band name, but I can't help really liking this cover. Rock in all its forms is my genre so I love when harder versions of songs are made. It also makes you appreciate the original more, before Limp Bizkit covered this song, the George Michael version was in cobwebs. But often times a cover makes you go back and enjoy the original again, giving it a boost in airtime on the radio and maybe even a lift in record sales as well.
My Chemical Romance’s ‘All I want for Christmas is You’– I love everything MCR does so it’s no surprise that when I find out they covered Mariah Carey’s Christmas hit (I’ll admit I love the original) I hunted on eBay and Amazon until I found a recording of it to purchase. It’s awesome, as long as you love cheesy Christmas songs and My Chemical Romance, which I do so for me it's pure bliss. This is what I love about music, the diversity- here you have the exact same lyrics, sang in totally different ways and the result is two great songs. Especially since a lot of Christmas covers sound exactly the same as the original My Chemical Romance really hits it out of the park for me on this one.
Johnny Cash’s version of Nine Inch Nail’s ‘Hurt’ Here’s an example that you cannot help but respect because first of its Johnny Cash. But also because he puts such a different spin on it than Trent Reznor’s original. I think the hallmark of a really good cover is one that is a great version on its own but doesn’t take away from the original. Both are great in their own way, and I can’t help but get a little teary at Cash’s version.
Side-note- Cash did not want to swear on his version, so Reznor agreed to change the lyrics for him. It’s funny to me because Johnny Cash is always portrayed as a rebel with a hard edge. I think it is sweet he didn’t want to swear because his interpretation of the song dealt with his strong Christian beliefs (the lyric 'crown of thrones' replaced 'crown of s--t'). And luckily this closed the door on any chance that he’d do a 'Closer' cover.
'I Want You To Want Me'- Letters to Cleo’s cover of Cheap Trick- Here’s another example of a version I definitely prefer over the original. Letters to Cleo is a Boston based band who I have seen live a few times. This song was probably their biggest hit since it appears at the end of the (awesome) teen movie 10 Things I Hate About You. Cheap Trick's lyrics are clever, the play on words carried out throughout, but the original just sounds so dated to me.
'Simple Man'- Shinedown, covering Lynyrd Skynyrd- I’m hesitant to put this song on the list because I don’t think it varies significantly from the original, but at the same time when thinking of covers that first come to my mind as favorites I think of this one. Even though it doesn’t deviate all the much from the original it still sticks out to me. I love this song, I think the lyrics are so great and Shinedown’s cover is stripped down which suits the song. This is one example where I equally enjoy the original and cover.
I love hearing covers, I think now with heightened internet use and YouTube, we are privy to even more covers. Additionally I think artists and their teams are realizing getting an artist's name and music out on the internet is great publicity. I love when a really mellow artist takes a cheesy pop star's song, strips it away, and sings it acoustic. I like hearing an artist from a different genre than the original take on a song and really make it their own. I also enjoy pumped up versions of songs, Newfound Glory and Me First and the Gimme Gimme’s have many covers of some old-school songs that I love, but l Ieft them off the list in order to show diversity of my top picks. But I love Newfound Glory's version of Peter Cetera's 'Glory of Love' from the Karate Kid Part II soundtrack, it got their name out there- allowing them to put their own stuff out. While Me First's cover of Cat Steven's 'Wild World' is up there for one of my favorite original and cover combinations.