Reader Request Week 2020 #7: Cover Songs

Let’s get musical! Keith asks:

Cover songs: The deity’s gift to humanity or an abomination unto said deity? What makes a good one? Any that you particularly love or hate?

I personally love a good cover song, and there are cases where I prefer the cover to the original, either because it’s the version I heard first (and therefore, to my ears, the “original”), or because the person performing it brings something to it that I thought the original lacked, for whatever reason — often this has to do with production but equally can be about performance.

Also, I think it should be understood that “covers” are a relatively recent concept, tied in inherently to the idea of the “singer-songwriter.” No one thinks of someone “covering” a song written by Gilbert & Sullivan, or Rogers & Hammerstein, or by Tin Pan Alley songwriters; they were just performed. There are in fact a whole lot of politics about musicians covering songs by other musicians — particularly, in the early era of Rock n’ Roll, white musicians covering the songs of black musicians and getting them onto the charts while the originals languished. I’m not going to get into that now, but just be aware it exists and is a real thing. “Covering” was not (and still sometimes isn’t) always a great thing.

As for what makes a great cover: Mostly, empathy and understanding on the part of the covering artist, of the original artist, or the original work, or both. It means that the covering artist gets where the song was coming from, and so when they make their version, can add to it in ways that build on the original, rather than detract from it. It’s not entirely surprising that so many great covers come from artists who are singer-songwriters themselves.

A bad cover, in my opinion, just lies there — a rote performance, or one where it’s clear the performer is not engaged with and/or does not understand the song. A bad cover makes you miss the original, or even worse, makes you wonder why anyone would have covered that song at all.

(There’s another category for me, which are songs that I don’t think are especially well covered but that I like anyway, often either because I have some personal affinity for the performer covering it, or because it’s so incongruous a cover, such an out-of-left-field choice, that I have to admire it even if I as a listener would not have ever considered it in the realm of possibility. Points for effort, basically.)

And now, because this would be the place for it, some of my favorite covers over the years. BE WARNED — remember how I said some covers I enjoyed even if I didn’t find them particularly great? Yeaaaah, there will be some of them here. This is not an exhaustive list of covers I like, and also, if in the comments you say something like “you forgot [insert cover here]” the answer is no I didn’t, this is just not an exhaustive list, okay, and also, that’s probably on your list, not mine.

(Also, I’m not putting in “Sweet Thing” covered by The Waterboys here, because it was featured in another recent compilation of other songs I assembled. But know it is one of my favorites.)

80 Comments on “Reader Request Week 2020 #7: Cover Songs”

  1. I pretty much agree with all of that you said here, and love when a cover brings something else to the song or does it completely differently, as in Hothouse Flower’s version of “I Can See Clearly Now” is not better than the original but wow I love their take on it. But in poking through your list I see that HOLY COW MANDY MOORE COVERED JOAN ARMATRADING’S DROP THE PILOT???? How did I not know this?

  2. Petra Haden did a cover of “the Who Sell out” . The entire album, acapella!! Pete Townshend liked it.
    Eva Cassidy, Alison Krause, k.d. lang. All gold.

  3. If memory serves, I believe Paul Simon himself praised the cover of The Sound of Silence by the band Disturbed. I like both the Simon & Garfunkel original (which I first heard as a child) and Disturbed’s cover.

  4. I’mma let you finish, but Mott The Hoople’s live All The Young Dudes was better than the Bowie cover everyone knows about.

    The Annie Lennox cover of Whiter Shade Of Pale is absolutely awesome, and even better with the video.

  5. Knocking on heavens door. I first heard the Clapton version as my parents were fans. My mates first heard the GNR version and preferred that. It was years until we found out that Dylan wrote it. I still prefer the Clapton version as I think it’s got a bit of swing that the others don’t but that’s just a personal opinion as the others are good in different ways.

  6. Love Alison Krauss’s cover of just about anything–Baby, Now That I’ve Found You, When You Say Nothing at All, Carolina In My Mind, there’s just something about her voice (and Union Station’s accompaniment) that blows me away. Unexpected like: Live Lounge Allstars’ cover of Foo Fighters’ Times Like These. Didn’t much care for the original, love the cover.

  7. I think a pertinent question would whether cover BANDS are a curse upon society. I mean, in my town (before the pandemic) you could have 3 different bands covering Fleetwood Mac and 8 covering the Grateful Dead coming to the same theater over a few months.

  8. John, the historical understanding of the origin of “cover” in your second paragraph cannot be repeated too often. I’m old enough to remember when Little Richard’s and Pat Boone’s recordings of “Tutti Frutti” were both available. We kids knew the difference, even if the current sense of “lame” had not yet entered our vocabulary and we were (probably mostly) ignorant of the racial politics behind Pat getting the mainstream airplay. (We were also unaware of the specially edited versions of movies that played in the Jim Crow south. So much innocence.)

    I’m also old enough to remember when a songwriter performing mostly original material was becoming a Thing. Hipper kids might have known that Mel Torme co-wrote “The Christmas Song” (we didn’t think that Nat Cole wrote it, either), but I suspect that only a relentless reader-of-label-credits noticed that Maurice Williams wrote “Stay.” (I completely missed the Four Seasons’ cover version a few years later.) But nobody expected Frank or Ella or Tony or Johnny Mathis to write their own tunes. It’s called “repertory.”

    Now you’ll have to excuse me, as I’m expecting a bunch of unmasked and insufficiently-socially-distanced kids will be crossing my lawn soon.

  9. You might enjoy Sara Bareilles’ cover of Yellow Brick Road. Very different from Elton John’s original. Elton likes it because she put her own take on it.

  10. I hit high school in the 80s, and Naked Eye’s rendition of Always Something There To Remind Me had the airplay; with the instrumentation and production, it always struck me as one of the quintessential/most representative 80s songs:


    So I was surprised, many many years later, to find out that it was originally a Burt Bacharach/Hal David song from the 60s, with Sandy Shaw’s cover reaching #1 on the UK pop charts in 1964:


    What strikes me is how representative both covers are of their era; if the Naked Eyes version is quintessentially 80s, the Sandy Shaw version has an early 60s bubblegum feel.

  11. Jimi’s cover of Watchtower is, to me, orders of magnitude better than Dylan’s original.

    And The Bangles’ cover of Hazy Shade of Winter is so far above the original Simon and Garfunkel recording that I find the S&G recording painful to listen to.

    I also agree about The Waterboys’ cover of Sweet Thing. But then, I’m a sucker for rock and roll fiddle (see: Breathe by Maria McKee and anything by Wild Colonials).

  12. @Andrew F – There are lots of versions of Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, my faves being Jerry Garcia, and Warren Zevon’s, done when he really was close to a-knockin.

    Other greats: The album Deadicated, all covers of Grateful Dead, has some stinkers, but some true greats: Bruce Hornsby’s piano-centric Jack Straw almost lets you forget the guitar duels of the original, Jane’s Addiction’s version of Ripple is far from beautiful, but is a very cool interpretation.

    Here’s a couple of my other favorite covers: Jazz Jamaica doing Stevie Wonder’s My Cherie Amour as ska Leo Kottke doing Fleetwood Mac’s World Turning — it’s all about precision and rhythm: the guitar is more percussion than strings (and somehow reminds me of Paul Simon’s So Beautiful or So What, not a cover) Mary Lee’s Corvett doing Tangled Up in Blue (everyone covers Dylan, she released the whole of Blood on the Tracks as an album)

  13. Longtime reader, first time commenter — favorite covers is a topic that I can’t resist.

    Starting with one that I’d bet money Scalzi will enjoy (even if it’s only sort-of a cover)

    Skylar Gudasz covering Big Star’s “Thirteen” —

    One that I just love irrationally (from the AV Club undercover) Calexico’s cover of ‘Danger Zone” —

    (I like that they clearly realized that it could go very, very wrong and so they have to complete commit to avoid looking foolish — and they pull it off).

    Joe Jackson covering “Summer In the City” (in NYC) just perfect —

    And how about something a little off-beat. I love “A Foreign Sound” the album of Caetano Veloso covering American classics. Here’s one of the riskier choices — “Come As You Are” —

  14. I listened to an interview with Springsteen once where he was asked what he thought about Manfred Mann’s cover of “Blinded by the Light”. Springsteen was highly complementary, and said he was grateful for the cover because the only one of all of of his songs that ever went to No. 1 was Mann’’s cover.

  15. Should have added in my first comment–one of my all-time favorite CDs is Annie Lennox’s “Medusa” which is nothing but covers.

  16. Speaking of covers, Jonathan Coulton’s Some Guys album is amazing. It’s like a great painter painting studies of old masterpieces. The love for the original material is palpable. I avoid most things that bring me back to junior high but not this. It brings back the feeling of how important music was to me and how it was a big part of shaping who I was becoming.

    And I want to second that everyone needs to listen to Petra Haden’s a capella remake of The Who Sell Out. Even Pete Townshend loved it.

  17. The best cover band I’ve found on YouTube is Foxes and Fossils. Amazing harmonies.

    The Coulton album is great, too.

  18. I’ve always felt Joe Cocker’s version of “With a Little Help from My Friends” was superior to the original because it added so much emotion to the lyrics and made it feel really personal.

  19. I’m trying to restrain myself — I’m going to be thinking of favorite covers for the next day or two, but here’s one that’s just great.

    Arlo Guthrie singing “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” —

    The video has an introduction which feels even more poignant at the current moment:

    “One time a few years ago I was over in Denmark . .. we were playing over there at a folk festival. It was after the wall in Berlin had come down. It was a wild time to be over there. It was a euphoric feeling … Here we were playing at this folk festival . . . thirty thousand people showed up. Not just from Western Europe, from all over Europe. Some of them too young to remember a time when you could just go down the road and hang out in some other town with some other folks; have some beers and take it easy.”

  20. It’s always surprising that Bob Dylan wrote All Around The Watchtower, when it feels so “inhabited” by Hendrix. (And Bear McCreary’s version I have a soft BSG-y spot for too!)

    The one that somehow “gripped” me was Johnny Cash’s cover of Hurt. So, so different, and very awesome. I didn’t hear the original until later, and thought way less of the original :-(.

    The same Cash album had his take on “Personal Jesus” that was so strangely absent of the sarcasm clearly intended in other recordings. Nowhere as good as Hurt, but it was interesting nevertheless.

  21. Chiming in with my favorite; Soundgarden’s cover of “Into the Void” is especially tasty.

    An album of covers that had an interesting reaction to it was Pat Boone’s “In a Metal Mood…”. It was amusing for the obvious reason (Boone covers metal songs) and it was amusing for the subtle reason (Boone made his career in the ’50s covering songs by black musicians, now he’s covering songs from a white dominated genre). Of course, his primary audience (old conservative white people) didn’t get it and he had to retreat to being what he was.

    My favorite album of covers is probably Tom Jones’ “Reload”.

  22. I like covers that bring a different dimension, or different vibe to the original version. One that was particularly mind-bending to me when I first heard it was A Perfect Circle’s version of “Imagine.” I particularly like it since I feel like a lot of musicians are reluctant to mess with the Beatles or the Beatles solo music. So it’s cool to hear people do something different with their songs. (Note the Beatles are my favorite group, so I understand the reluctance to mess with greatness. And of course the Beatles did quite a few covers as well.)

  23. (quietly going “Squeeeee! He picked my question!”)

    As expected, a thoughtful response, which I agree with entirely, and would not have expressed nearly so well.

    What I look for in a good cover is something markedly different from the original; if you’re not giving me something new, why should I listen to you instead of the version I already like? (This is what baffles me about the jukebox musical; why spend $150 to hear a reasonably competent imitation of Group X’s Greatest Hits when I can just put on the CD and get the real thing?)

    A few of my own favorites: “Loves Me Like a Rock” by the O’Jays; “Snowbird” by Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem; “Ring of Fire” by Earl Scruggs & Billy Bob Thornton; “Que Sera Sera” by Pink Martini; “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today” by Claudine Longet; “All I Have to Do Is Dream/A Summer Place” by Christine Lavin; “Go West” by Pet Shop Boys; “I Can See Clearly Now” by Holly Cole; “Twist in My Sobriety” by honest-to-god Liza Minnelli; “Love Me Tender’ by Caetano Veloso.

    And the most gloriously misguided thing you will ever hear, Frank Ifield’s “Lovesick Blues,” a manically cheerful bellow backed by xylophone and horns that will leave you dazed, confused, and weirdly delighted.

  24. The Beatles *were* a cover band before they became auteurs–bar bands have depended on OP’s hits and favorites forever. Every musician who taught me how to play in public came through that kind of environment–know what your audience wants to hear and how they want to hear it. It’s not the same as the “tribute band” phenomenon (which is currently the mainstay of our local rock scene) but a way of serving an audience by mixing the familiar with the innovative. And the command of “cover” material feeds into one’s own original work–witness the Beatles’ early compositions and arrangements.

    One of my primary mentors understood that a popular tune’s hook was crucial, though he was also able to translate, say, a Billy Joel piano-based tune like “My Life” into a guitar-driven adaptation. (Not all guitarists have the chops or the ambition for that.) Similarly, my other long-time partner liked to adapt big-band hits into guitar duets. It was a real musical education to play with both these guys.

  25. Let’s not forget Devo’s brilliant cover of the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”. Suddenly, the song made sense!

    For off-the-beaten-track, I really like Tori Amos’s version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. It’s so wrong, but at the same time, so right. Although Megadeth’s version of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots” is pretty awesomely wrong-but-right as well. And, of course, we can’t forget the Sex Pistols version of “My Way”. Which is mostly just wrong, but still has entertainment value. 😀

  26. The first thing I noticed was what a wild and woolly song list you, John.

    I would have liked to see any of the covers of John Prine, who recently passed from Covid. Best of those is Angel from Montgomery by Bonnie Raitt.

    “Paradise” has been a staple of a bunch of hill country types, even those with washboards and jugs.

  27. @dglnj –
    I’ve never heard a cover of a Dylan song I didn’t like better than the original.

  28. Ahh, covers. Machine Gun Fellatio’s cover of Jill Sobule’s I Kissed a Girl is very amusing, I love Disturbed’s Sound of Silence, didn’t know that Springsteen wrote Blinded By The Light and that Guns ‘n’ Roses even did Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door. Cher’s version of Walkin’ In Memphis is great and I love Vonda Shephard’s Songs From Ally McBeal album. I have also only ever once, from memory, preferred the second version of a song I heard, it’s pretty much always been the first version.

  29. I have to throw in every cover that Aretha Franklin did from Respect, Somewhere, to Son of a Preacher Man. Her melding of soul and jazz was sublime.

  30. Not a lot of covers of men covering songs made famous by women. Personally, if I had the musical chops, I’d cover Ingrid Michaelson’s Mountain and the Sea.

    I like albums of that cover the entire oeuvre of one artist, like Black Sabbath cover album Nativity in Black. Dave Grohl took the concept even further by covering the “feel” of songs by his favorite underground 80’s metal bands on Probot.

  31. It’s a complicated question, but I would tie the concept of “covers” to the rise of recorded music, rather than the emergence of the singer-songwriter. Once a particular performance became commodified, it could be positioned as the “real” version. (There used to be advertisements for albums containing “original songs by the original artists,” a response to labels that had bands record songs mimicking the original recording.)

    Consider, for example, Madonna’s songs. She wrote “Lucky Star,” contributed some lyrics to “Papa Don’t Preach,” and did not write “Crazy for You” or “Like a Virgin.” But if anyone were to record versions of those songs, they would all be “Madonna covers,” regardless of author.

    Similarly, @xtifer, above,mentioned the Sex Pistols cover of “My Way.” But who were they covering? Frank Sinatra, presumably, though he didn’t write it — the lyrics were by Paul Anka, set to the melody of a French pop song. (Speaking of Paul Anka, for those who haven’t heard it, he recorded a collection of cover songs about 15 years ago, giving various rock songs the big band treatment. Some work better than others, but the versions that land bring out interesting aspects of the original.)

    The term “cover” can also get a little tricky when a cover version takes over, in the cultural landscape, as the original. “Twist and Shout,” for example, is pretty much regarded as a Beatles song, even though the Isley Brothers scored a hit with the song a year or so before John Lennon shredded his throat recording it — but the Isley Brothers version was itself a cover. And so it goes.

    Another thing to add to the mix is when bands re-record their own songs. Squeeze did an entire record consisting of re-recordings of prior songs (“Spot the Difference”) with the explicit goal of being able to recapture their rights to the recordings. I suppose those count as “covers,” but it’s not quite the same.

  32. Oh god I love this topic.

    Once Johnny cash covers your song he OWNS it.
    He made his bones covering old folk and country songs back in the
    Several people have already mentioned his cover of NIN’s Hurt. Most of his last four (or is it five?) albums were covers. Another video to mention from those albums is God’s Gonna Cut You Down – a traditional folk ballad.
    Others from those four or five albums are on a youtube playlist which includes Johnny and Fiona Apple doing Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Waters and Johnny and Joe Strummer covering Bob Marley’s Redemption Song.

    My personal favorite cover that VASTLY improved on the original is 7 Second’s punk cover of Nina’s 99 Red Balloons.

    Three others that improved on the originals are Jeff Buckley’s cover of John Cale’s edited cover of Leonard Cohen’s song Hallelujah, U2’s cover of Patti Smith’s Dancing Barefoot and Social Distortion’s punkish cover of the aforementioned Johnny Cash’s song Ring of Fire.

  33. grrrr…

    I put the playlist tag so it started with the first video.

    wanted this one Johnny and Joe Strummer doing Redemption Song.

  34. I would say most covers of Leonard Cohen songs are better than the originals.
    Concrete Blonde’s version of Everybody Knows being a prime example

  35. I liked Johnny Cash’s version of Hurt as well. Totally changed the meaning of the song.

  36. Chris Shorb says:
    Not a lot of covers of men covering songs made famous by women.

    Here is a cover that applies. IMHO a far superior version in which I can clearly hear the lyrics and without that annoying autotune.

    DMA’S cover Cher ‘Believe’ for Like A Version

  37. This thread would not be complete without Haley Reinhart’s cover of Black Hole Sun (with Postmodern Jukebox). Just awesome.

  38. Angelique Kidjo’s full-album cover of Remain in Light by the Talking Heads is a revelation. Takes an album heavily influenced by African rhythms and sounds and reinterprets it back into its own influences. Mind-blowingly good.

  39. There’s an entire album of folk/bluegrass covers of Dylan (A Nod to Bob) in which every single rendition demonstrates that Jimi was right, when asked about why he continued to sing: “They let Bob Dylan sing, don’t they?” The musicianship on that album is extraordinary, and the rockin’ bluegrass cover of “All Along the Watchtower” is one of the highlights. One could make up a pretty compelling album of covers of just “All Along the Watchtower”: Hendrix, Tom Landa & the Paperboys, U2, Indigo Girls, at least a dozen others competing for the rest of the runtime.

    I’d go farther than Jimi did, or a couple of commenters above did: Bob Dylan should be locked away, never to perform again, writing material for competent musicians to “cover.” In the grand tradition of most (not all, by any means!) classical composers.

  40. C’mon, John!

    “No one thinks of someone “covering” a song written by Gilbert & Sullivan, or Rogers & Hammerstein, or by Tin Pan Alley songwriters; they were just performed.”

    The Beatles covered Meredith Williams song from the Music Man, Till There Was You, in 1963!

  41. And for my money, the two best covers of all time are:

    I Heard It Through The Grapevine by Credence Clearwater Revival
    – and –
    Roll Over Beethoven by Electric Light Orchestra (which gets double credit because they covered both Chuck Berry’s song and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in the same track.)

    I certainly agree with you that white rockers performing black songs in the 1950’s and early 60’s shouldn’t be considered ‘covers’.

  42. Quite happy, but not entirely surprised, that I see Clash at Demonhead here.

    To me, there’s another category of cover songs: The ones where they bring the original to a new genre. I personally listen to *some* Hiphop, Pop and Dance, but I’m a lot more picky in these genres than, say, in Rock or Metal, so I really like well done rock and metal covers of other genres. (Looking at you Leo Moracchioli!). They usually also make me appreciate the original more too!

  43. There are also certain bands that many think of as “originals” bands that made their name with cover songs.

    Three of Santana’s early hits were covers: Black Magic Woman, She’s Not There & Oye Como Va.

    Of course, Jimmy Page’s antics on the first four or five Zeppelin albums are well documented elsewhere. While he no doubt deserved writing credit on many of the contested songs, his refusal to credit other writers as well was sketchy to say the least. Of all the contested songs, “Dazed and Confused” was one of the most obvious. He changed the lyrics, but not the subject. The music was simply rearranged from acoustic folk guitar to hard rock. And, of course, he didn’t change the title.

  44. To Clyde at May 14, 2020 at 10:39 pm.

    Thanks for the Postmodern Jukebox rabbit hole.
    No Joke.
    I’m loving some of this stuff.

  45. Am I the only one who prefers Sting’s original recording of ‘Fields of Gold’? It has a quiet dignity and sincerity compared to the Cassidy version, which feels a bit overblown and sentimental to me.

  46. I actually like most covers. The only time I don’t is when the artist is relatively well known and is becoming long in the tooth, so they’ll do a cover just to keep their band alive (one your faves, U2, is a good example of a band putting out a mediocre cover). There’s been quite a few times where a cover has totally blown the original out of the water. A good example is “The Boys of Summer”. The original done by Don Henley to me, has a beat that seems to be as bit rushed for the lyrics written to it. However, The Hooters did an absolute killer rendition of the song (can be found on their c.d. Time Stands Still). They slowed the beat down, made it more soulful and sensual and it quickly became of my personal faves about love lost.

  47. One way to assess cover songs is to dig deep (wikipedia and youtube help) and listen to the original. You might find something better, or worse, or totally different and equally worthy.

    Just for instance look at the song “(Let’s) Get Together. Everybody knows the Youngbloods version from a billion classic rock airplays but few know that was the *sixth* version recorded. – for the original

  48. 2dot: No, you’re not the only one. I love Eva Cassidy, and I even think that I heard her “Fields of Gold” before the original, but when I hear it in my head, it’s still Sting I hear.

    My favourite cover is certainly Cash’s “Hurt” (What @AlexYKwan? “Totally changed the meaning of the song.” Not a bit, but he sure brought it to life) but a very strong runner-up is Joan Jett’s “Crimson and Clover”.

    As for Dylan covers, I said to my wife long ago that Dylan’s songs would probably be remembered long after people forget who he is, because so many people think they were by someone who covered them. How about the Byrds covers. And the omnipresent “Wagon wheel” (though he’s only a co-writer).

  49. oh, oh, oh. I know John hates it when you use multiple posts where you could have used one, but serious brain fart:

    Serena Ryder’s cover of Dylan’s “This Wheel’s on Fire”. Covered, of course, by the above-mentioned Byrds, but my favourite version by far.

  50. Is it a cover song if the artist who wrote the song released it after another had already recorded it? (e.g . Bowie’s All the Young Dudes, John Denver’s Leaving on a Jet Plane and Prince’s Nothing Compares 2 U)

    My favorite cover album is a three way tie between Nanci Griffith’s “Other Voices Other Rooms,” Emmylou Harris’ “Wrecking Ball,” and Linda Ronstadt’s “Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind.”

    The AV Club Undercover is a great source for great renditions (The Punch Brothers on “Just What I Needed”) and just plain weirdness (G.W.A.R. covering Kansas’ “Carry On My Wayward Son). My favorites are Lisa Hannigan, Glen Hansard and John Smith playing “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” Hannigan’s vocals give a wonderful immigrant feel to the song.
    And The Regrettes covering Fox on the Run. Just plain fun.

  51. Almost anything from Scott Bradlee’s Post Modern Jukebox. My current favorite is “Last Friday Night” featuring Olivia Kuper Harris. PMJ has well over 100 covers on YouTube and a massive worldwide following. You should also take a look at Scott’s book “Outside the Jukebox”

  52. @Chris Shorb says: — “Not a lot of covers of men covering songs made famous by women.”

    That’s an interesting note. I’m often more interested in women covering songs made famous by men, because male voice are more of the default in the rock/pop world. But the reverse doesn’t happen very often (though there was the recent Ryan Adams cover of a Taylor Swift Album which got very mixed reviews.

    After mulling it over for a while I thought of Jimmy Buffet doing “She’s got you” (made famous by Patsy Cline). It’s a decent cover but nothing remarkable

    Obviously lots of people have covered “Crazy” which was also made famous by Patsy Cline, but that’s a different case because Willie Nelson is also famous for the song.

    Huh, while I was looking around on youtube I found John Legend covering Adele, which I hadn’t heard before, and it’s really good —

    “Almost anything from Scott Bradlee’s Post Modern Jukebox. ”

    For some reason I don’t like most of their covers (though I do like the cover of “Royals” which was one of the first that I saw from them and is a male singer covering a song made famous by a woman — ) and I’ve tried to figure out why. I love slightly quirky covers in general, but PMJ often gives a slight feeling of condescension. Like they look down slightly on what made the original song great. It may just be me.

  53. I think bands tend to choose covers that fit their sound, at least in concert, so they generally play them with some enthusiasm. If you’re going to stray from original material there must be something about that song that really appeals to you. Freddy Mercury sang Hey Big Spender from Queens very early days (pre Bohemian Rhapsody) all the way till when he was too sick to perform anymore, doing a video late in his life.

  54. Recently I saw Curt Smith of Tears for Fears doing a COVID-19 duet with his daughter of “Mad World.” They copied the haunting/leisurely pace of the Gary Jules cover.

    The cover that has most affected me is this one of a Leonard Cohen song. When I first heard it I wanted nothing more than to hear it again. Unfortunately, it was on the radio, and I didn’t know the name of the song. This was the 1980s and it was public radio. I called the station, and the DJ answered the phone. I asked him the name of the song he just played.
    Which one, he asked.
    The one about the famous blue raincoat, I said, though those three words occurred only once in the lyrics.
    Then that would be “Famous Blue Raincoat” from Jennifer Warne’s new album Famous Blue Raincoat.

  55. So many good ones already listed! Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” will probably always be my favorite, and the Disturbed “Sound of Silence” is also great.

    A couple that I didn’t see during a quick read – Chris Cornell’s cover of “Nothing Compares to You.” And although it’s Prince’s song, Sindead O’Connor really catapulted it to fame, so that’s kinda sorta a man covering a song made famous by a woman. Disturbed also did a great cover of Genesis’ “Land of Confusion.” I’ll always love Elton John’s “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” , in part because I heard it first but as an adult I just like the interpretation better.

  56. Talking about funny covers.
    How about a band that does Reggae covers sung by a 300 pound Elvis imitator.
    Most of the songs they covered in their early years were Led Zeppelin songs.
    They later expanded to cover Elvis Presley, Bob Marley and the Yardbirds as well.
    Were successful enough to release 15 original albums between 1990 and 2011 and still make a living by touring to this day.
    I give you…Dread Zeppelin.
    Covering Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song.

  57. If you listen to “I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats,” they had Amanda Palmer on in season 1 (episode 1×09 at 39:20) and she made a great point about covers: “Every song I cover I assume that the listener has some familiarity with the original or at least could go listen to the original and not listen to mine and say that’s just sort of a bullshit faithful cover, it adds nothing, it does nothing, it changes nothing, it doesn’t add to the conversation of the song, it’s just a bullshit cover. And to me a bullshit cover is a faithful cover and a faithful cover is boring. If all the covers are faithful, we’d just go listen to [the] record.”

    And then John mentions his bandmate’s rule that covers either need to outdo the original or you have to transform it completely. They also mention one of the definitive covers, Jeff Buckley covering “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen.

    In that vein, I think the following songs all do interesting things:

    Leslie Odom Jr. covering “Winter Song” by Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson

    Chip Taylor covering “On the Radio” by Regina Spektor

    Bastille covering “What Would You Do” by City High

  58. Did a quick skim through my iTunes library looking for male-covers-female, and there aren’t many, but to the small group already mentioned I can add Lyle Lovett doing Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man; Jagger/Bowie doing Martha & the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Streets;” and Fun Boy Three doing The Go-Go’s’ “Our Lips Are Sealed.”

  59. To David A. W. at MAY 15, 2020 AT 5:05 AM.

    Thanks for the Postmodern Jukebox rabbit hole.
    No Joke.
    I’m loving some of this stuff.

    Cool. It’s a pretty nice rabbit hole.

  60. I’m glad to hear the original version of Something There To Remind Me, which I hadn’t heard before. Sandy Shaw’s version is more soulful, the much better-known Naked Eyes cover from 1983 is iconic and catchy, and probably the definitive version.

    In response to commenter Keith:

    Fun Boy Three doing The Go-Go’s’ “Our Lips Are Sealed.”

    I love both versions. They are different, but both genius, and make the same point about social alienation.

  61. — I second the Annie Lennox version of Whiter Shade of Pale and the Bangles version of Hazy Shade of Winter. I much prefer the covers.
    — Debbie, the SYTYCD choreography for Blackbird is definitely lovely. I’m actually a fan of Kenny Rankin’s version
    as well as his version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps
    — I’m annoyed by Phil Collins’ version of You Can’t Hurry Love because he changed one line of lyrics and changed the meaning. The original by The Supremes was “You got to trust, give it time” but Phil sang “You got to trust in a good time” and it always seemed creepier that way.
    — I first heard Marilyn Manson’s cover of Personal Jesus on an episode of the TV show Medium and it was perfect for the soundtrack but too creepy for my general listening taste over the Depeche Mode version.
    — Flying Lizard’s cover of Money was a favorite of mine when it came out.
    — I much prefer the Post Modern Jukebox version of Closer than the Chainsmokers version.

  62. David A. W. . . . I came here to extol Dread Zepp . . . their version of When The Levee Breaks (originally written in 1923!) has become definitive for me.

  63. Something I always found interesting is that early on in their career the Rolling Stones made it into the UK charts in late 1963 with a Lennon/McCartney song, namely “I Wanna Be Your Man” ( The Beatles recorded it around the same time with Ringo on vocals (, but they also specifically offered it to the Stones, who were looking for a follow-up to their first single, a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Come On.”

  64. This was a great request question.
    Is there a level of difference between covers and just other versions of songs?
    If there are 7 versions of a Xmas song in my playlist, are they covers? Or just too many versions of Blue Christmas or Santa Baby?
    Do standards count? A lot of artists veer into an album of standards.
    Queen Latifah doing
    Cyndi Lauper singing “At Last” and “Walk on By” are a couple of my favs.
    The Tammy Wynette tribute album has a Melissa Etheridge version of “Apartment Number 9” that I like.
    Or is a cover defined by being done differently? Like Cash’s version of “Hurt”.

  65. Sorry–
    part of my post was
    “Queen Latifah doing “The Dana Owens Album” has some great covers.

  66. Some people get stuck on a single version of a tune and hate other interpretations. I feel enriched by the ability to match my mood with variants of the same tune.

    And let’s note that sometimes songwriters take influence *from* covers. The most noted example of this is probably “All Along The Watchtower,”, which Bob Dylan now performs closer to Jimi Hendrix style/version than his own original.

    And it can be interesting to listen to a song ‘evolve’ over time and versions, like this blues-funk-rock progression – (Allman Brothers, Buddy Miles, Molly Hatchet)

    1 –

    2 -

    3 –

  67. Covers that bring a little something extra:
    Indigo Girls covering Clampdown
    Vanessa Carlton covering Paint It Black
    Indigo Girls covering Romeo and Juliet

  68. @Jaws – I like your sentiment; “I’d go farther than Jimi did, or a couple of commenters above did: Bob Dylan should be locked away, never to perform again….”, but have you never heard of the Bob Dylan/Tom Petty/Keith Richards school of performance? “There’s gonna be some music and some rhythm, and I’m gonna talk at you while all that’s going on.”

  69. Being a little more self-indulgent, as the thread is probably nearing an end here are some more excellent covers worth mentioning.

    First thee covers off excellent live albums (the first two in particular are often listed among the greatest live albums ever.

    The Who covering “Young Man Blues” by Mose Allison —

    An interesting example of how The Who combined a sense of humor and irony with raw power as a rock band. There’s nothing tongue-in-cheek in their performance, but that’s part of the humor. The lyrics can’t quite be taken at face value, and The Who are aware of that.

    Curtis Mayfield coveing “We’ve Only Just Begun” by The Carpenters —

    Unbelievably beautiful. His performance takes the song about growing up, getting married, getting a house and performs it with a (subtle) undertone of racial liberation. “We’ll find a place where there’s room to grow and yet, we’ve only just begun . . . ”

    Nirvana covering “The Man Who Sold The World” by David Bowie —

    I have never been a Nirvana fan, but the MTV Unplugged album completely wins me over. It’s great from beginning to end, and the cover of “The Man Who Sold The World” is haunting.

    Nadeah covering “When Doves Cry” by Prince —
    Very sexy and embraces the weirdness of Prince (“animals strike curious poses”).

    Rickie Lee Jones covering “Show Biz Kids” by Steely Dan —

    I came across this video years ago and, for some reason, pairing the song with video of driving on a snowy night is perfect. It’s not easy to do a good Steely Dan cover and she does.

    Eilen Jewel covering “Satisfied Mind” by Porter Wagoner —
    It sounds wonderfully old and contemporary.

    Willie Nelson (and his daughter) covering “Rock Me To Sleep” by Tom Hunter —
    Gorgeous Lullaby

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