Festival season is almost here, which means you are going to see a lot of bands playing cover songs. Since cover bands often get a bad rap -- and we presented our "cover song setlists from hell" last year -- we decided to present you with a list of our all-time favorite cover versions.
Use the Talkback feature to add yours. And, as always, rock on!
Molly Snyder Edler
This was a difficult list to compile, and I'm sure I am spacing a few favorites, but this is what I came up with after mulling it over.
"Sweet Jane" -- Cowboy Junkies (Velvet Underground): I love the original recording of this song by the mighty Velvet Underground, but Margo Timmons' sultry version takes it to an entirely new, and very sexy, place.
"Personal Jesus" -- Johnny Cash (Depeche Mode): The Man in Black nails this tune that was originally recorded by the dark '80s band. (Martin Gore eat your heart out.) Cash's cover of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt" is great, too.
"I Will Survive" -- Cake (Gloria Gaynor): Originally a 1978 hit, "I Will Survive" got funkier and way more interesting once Cake got a hold of it. The new bass line is simple but stand out.
"Follow Me" -- Innocence Mission (John Denver): Karen Peris' beautiful, innocent voice perfectly complements -- and adds an eerie edge -- to the simple sentiments of this classic John Denver tune.
"Red, Red Wine" -- UB40 (Neil Diamond): Overplayed, yes, but still a much better version of a run-of-the-mill Neil Diamond song.
Generally speaking, my feelings surrounding cover songs lingers near underwhelmed at best, but every so often someone just nails it. As far as I can tell, there's no specific formula to getting in right - Copious imitation? Make it your own? Who can say for sure? Whatever it is, the following songs (in no particular preference order) were treated properly by their step-parents.
"Little Red Book" -- Love (Manfred Mann)
"Runnin' Out of Fools" -- Neko Case (Aretha Franklin)
"Thunder Road" -- Bonnie "Prince Billy & Tortoise (Bruce Springsteen)
"Crazy in Love" -- Antony & The Johnsons (Beyonce)
"Oh! Susanna" -- The Be Good Tanyas (Stephen Foster...in 1848!)
It was hard to narrow my list, but this assignment was pretty much my idea so I can't really complain. I agree with Ms. Lawrence's opinion that covers are totally subjective. Some are so strong that they usurp the original, others head off in different tangents. Others are shamelessly faithful, but still effective. In the end, thinking too much about why you like something can actually make you not like it. Here are my favorites:
"Bertha" -- Los Lobos (Grateful Dead)
"Summertime Blues" -- The Who (Eddie Cochran)
"Lonely Weekend" -- The Remains (Charlie Rich)
"Rhinestone Cowboy" -- Soul Asylum (Glen Campbell)
"Money (That's What I Want)" -- The Beatles (Barrett Strong)
"Quarter to Three" -- Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (Gary U.S. Bonds)
"Hurt" -- Johnny Cash (Nine Inch Nails)
"Mr Tambourine Man" -- The Byrds (Bob Dylan)
"I'm Tired Joey Boy" Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (Van Morrison)
Pick: Billy Bragg covers
In the early days of his career, Billy Bragg stripped down tunes making songs like The Smiths' "Jeane," John Cale's "Fear is a Man's Best Friend," The Miracles' "Tracks of My Tears" (which he never recorded, but played at gigs) and Ry Cooder's "The Tatler" his own. And, to me, that's the mark of a great cover song. Note for note versions are completely worthless endeavors, although sometimes attempted note for noters can't help but be affected by the performers' powerful personalities and the results are great. I'm thinking of John Lennon writing his name all over Arthur Alexander's "Anna," for example. Another favorite cover is Elvis Costello's live, solo electric rendition of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" that was released on a 12" promo 45 around the time "King of America" was released in 1987.
These "charticles" lately are really stretching my brain. To come up with a list of my favorite cover songs, I scanned all 2,732 songs in my iTunes library and picked just 13 potentially worthy songs. I noticed as I look back on these tracks -- some from CDs I bought when I was 14-years-old -- I actually heard some of these covers before I heard the originals. And that's not to say the one version is better than the other, but like most music, these songs evoke strong memories. While I freely admit that not every one of these songs is a super-duper amazing tune, they're still my favorites. I narrowed the list down to 10, submitted in alphabetical order for the enjoyment and ridicule of our Talkbackers:
"Do You Really Want to Hurt Me" -- Violent Femmes (Culture Club)
"D'yer Mak'er" -- Sheryl Crow (Led Zeppelin)
"Gloria" The Doors (Them)
"I Fought the Law" -- The Clash (Sonny Curtis and The Crickets)
"Kiss" -- Tom Jones (Prince)
"Personal Jesus" -- Johnny Cash (Depeche Mode)
"Pictures of Matchstick Men" -- Camper Van Beethoven (Status Quo)
"Johnny B. Goode / Roadrunner" -- Sex Pistols (Chuck Berry
"She Caught The Katy" -- Blues Brothers (Taj Mahal)
"Volare" -- Gypsy Kings (Dean Martin)
I had to break my list into my top five favorites and my favorites covered by Springsteen and top five covers of Springsteen songs.
Top 5 favorites
"Early Morning Rain" -- Raul Malo (Gordon Lightfoot)
"Like a Rolling Stone" -- Rolling Stones (Bob Dylan)
"Believe" -- Robbie Fulks (Cher)
"The Heart of Saturday Night" Mary Karlzen with Matthew Ryan (Tom Waits)
"Bye, Bye, Bye" -- Further Seems Forever (N'Sync)
Top 5 Covered By Springsteen
"Drift Away" (Dobie Gray)
"Who'll Stop the Rain" (Credence Clearwater Revival)
"My Ride's Here" (Warren Zevon)
"London Calling" (The Clash)
Top five covers of Springsteen Songs
"Johnny 99" -- John Hiatt
"New York City Serenade" -- Pete Yorn
"The Fever" -- Southside Johnny
"Downbound Train" -- The Mavericks
"It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City" -- David Bowie