You’re at a show, standing amid a sea of music-loving concert-goers. In the middle of the 2-hour set, the band breaks into a sleek rendition of another artist’s tune. It’s usually a well-known track that pays homage to that artist, while allowing the band to add its own unique twist. It encourages sing-alongs and gives the set depth and gusto, but more importantly, it unifies the crowd and helps turn a simple show into an experience.
Who doesn’t love a good cover? Throughout the course of music history, covers have added yet another layer to music. Sometimes covers even surpass the exposure and success of their predecessors. They are esteemed relics of music that always make a statement and should never be ignored.
The headline of this post may be misleading, but the truth is I’m not that big of a douchebag. So here are a few of my own personal all-time faves, in no particular order, and hopefully the universe agrees with me on some of ’em.
Fiona Apple – Across the Universe
Whenever Ms. Apple opens her mouth, the result is always haunting. This can absolutely be said of her cover of this 1969 Beatles tune, which originally debuted on the charity album, No One’s Gonna Change Our World. Fiona’s version is a beautiful tune performed with heart; it’s relaxing, transcendent, and slowly blossoms into an ethereal lullaby.
Sublime – Rivers of Babylon
There’s no question that Bradley Nowell was taken too soon, but shit happens when you’re into heroin. Despite the devastating loss of Nowell and his potential, this cover is noteworthy for two reasons: 1) It covers a pretty rad rocksteady/reggae band called The Melodians, and their music, along with many other reggae acts, were clearly influences on a lot of Sublime’s early tunes; and 2) This song captures the spirit of what Bradley loved to do: Hang out with his friends and play music. Every time I hear this version, I always long for the Sublime/No Doubt tour that never was.
Jimi Hendrix – All Along the Watchtower
Sure, Bob Dylan is great and all, but once Hendrix stepped up to the plate, his version of “Watchtower” blew the former out of the water. Right from the tune’s opening licks and carrying on to Jimi’s cool, calm and collected vocals, Hendrix’s version soars throughout the entire four minutes. Bonus points: Hendrix covered “Watchtower” just six months after Dylan released the original. Dylan spoke of the cover saying: “It overwhelmed me, really. He had such talent, he could find things inside a song and vigorously develop them. He found things that other people wouldn’t think of finding in there…I liked Jimi Hendrix’s record of this and ever since he died I’ve been doing it that way… Strange how when I sing it, I always feel it’s a tribute to him in some kind of way.” Nicely put.
Guns N’ Roses – Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
Another shoutout to Dylan, GNR’s 80’s version included Slash’s signature shredding, Axl’s in-your-face frontman swagger, and a chorus bolstered by the harmony of a choir. It was a toss-up between this and Guns’ “Since I Don’t Have You,” (or anything off The Spaghetti Incident, really) but I think this has a little more edge to it. Good memories from this one. Good times.
Save Ferris – Come On Eileen
Sure, this mid-90’s ska-punk band from Orange County may not have made too many waves throughout their two-album career, but damn-it-all-to-hell, I loved these guys growing up. Still do. And their cover of Dexys Midnight Runners’ “Come On Eileen” is an underdog not to be forgotten! Singer Monique Powell’s classical opera training certainly aided her already-strong pipes, as Save Ferris transformed the 80’s pop hit into a ska-infused party jam!
Scissor Sisters – Comfortably Numb
Pink Floyd purists probably hate this version, but those with an open mind should appreciate its flair. Thanks to this rock-disco-dance hybrid, the Scissor Sisters have turned a classic slow-paced haunt into a dance-floor favorite. It’s hard to ignore the band’s bold and brazen choice of cover. Every single thing about this version is a complete 180 from the original, which is exactly why it’s so, so deserving of the accolades.
Fugees – Killing Me Softly
Say what you want about Miss Ego, Lauryn Hill, but the Fugees’ cover of Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly” (Flack actually covered it, herself) was a phenomenon when it came out in 1996. This particular version is considered to be one of the best Hip-Hop songs ever, one of the best 90’s songs ever, and one of the best and most successful cover songs of all time. Credit where credit is due – The Fugees nailed this one. It’s a shame that reunion never panned out.
Eric Clapton – Cocaine
It’s sad to think that many people forget that Clapton’s version of “Cocaine” is in fact a cover of a 1976 J.J. Cale track. But this song has it all: groovin’ guitars and a catchy hook. It’s the recipe for a perfect summer song. Sure, Clapton doesn’t really take the song in too new of a direction (which really is my sole criteria for a beloved cover), but it’s fucking CLAPTON, man! Bow to your sensei!
No Doubt – Sailin’ On
You didn’t think I’d have a ‘Best Of’ list and not include No Doubt did you? Biases aside, the third-wave ska/reggae group definitely put their own stamp on this classic Bad Brains tune, turning hardcore punk into dubbed out reggae. And I’ve always got a soft spot for reggae.
Gary Jules – Mad World
Most probably know Gary Jules’ “Mad World” cover from Donnie Darko. Both the film and the cover are dark, withdrawn, and frankly, kind of creepy. Gary Jules (with composer Michael Andrews) approached the Tears for Fears song with a very minimalist approach, and Jules’ shaky, sullen vocals give it that extra oomph to make it as haunting as humanly possible. It’s quite chill-inducing, and quite lovely at the same time.
Maybe this post is already worthy of a Part 2…so I want to hear from you! What should’ve made the cut? What did I forget? What’s your favorite cover?