I recently asked knowledgeable folks involved with the music business what they felt was "the best cover song ever recorded." Responses came in from music blogs, radio DJs and publicists. The resulting playlist is a compilation of the very best covers ever recorded. Please add your own to the comments.
1. Artist: Rikki Lee Jones Song: The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys Album: It's Like This Originally performed by: Traffic Rikki Lee Jones takes one of the best Jam songs ever written and gives it the acoustic treatment. The result is a matchless interpretation with poetic conviction. Although I would be hard-pressed to say this version is better than the original, it is at a minimum, just as good. It gives the song a new aura while starying true to the original intention of the songwriters. This is what a cover song should do in my opinion and after much thought I've chosen this remake above all others.
2. Artist: Shane MacGowan & The Popes Song: Cracklin' Rosie Album: Rare Oul' Stuff Originally performed by: Neil Diamond
The cover songs that I enjoy the most take a different track than the original artist, and imbibe a new angle to the song. When Neil Diamond sings "Cracklin' Rosie," it has an almost 70's big-lounge sound that engenders an audience singalong. Shane MacGowan takes a seedier approach, wringing the raw sex out of the tune with his world-weary voice and spitting it all over the listener. My wife said it best, "MacGowan makes the song sound so dirty."
3. Artist: The Gourds Song: Gin and Juice Album: Shinebox Originally performed by: Snoop Dogg
Being as eclectic as one person can be in his / her musical tastes, The first thing that strikes me about this remake is the drastic change from Hip Hop / Rap to a distinctive Bluegrass / Country feel. Gin and Juice, a short lived anthem of the 90s was brought back to life by this new version. The Gourds version keeps it fun and shows that two completely opposite styles can be meshed together to make a fun and tasty treat.
4. Artist: Dinosaur Jr. Song: Just Like Heaven Album: You're Living All Over Me Originally performed by: The Cure
When it was first released, I'm sure it seemed like J Mascis was having fun at the expense of The Cure. But it's really a sincere homage Robert Smith and his band's breakout hit. For the song, Mascis replaced the recognizable synth lead is with his tremelo-bar crazy guitar lead, and set the chorus with a death-metal shout out, and yet it... it all sounds right. Smith obvously appreciated it as he had Dinosaur Jr. open up for the Cure at a show in 1992, where they played the cover to the somewhat amused black-clad audience.
5. Artist: Cottonmouth Song: Whiskey Rock-a-Roller Album: Cottonmouth 4-song EP Originally performed by: Lynyrd Skynyrd
Cottonmouth is the consumate hard-rockin' Southern Band with great original songs like South Gastonia Blues and a host of new original material from their much anticipated/about to be released: RUSTY MONTE CARLO [November 2005]. This Americana garage band also covers the Door's-Roadhouse Blues and Hank Williams Jr.-Country Boy Can Survive along with a truly superior version of Lynyrd Skynyrd's Whiskey-Rock-A-Roller on the EP. It occurs to me that ONLY another southern roots rocker like Cottonmouth could have pulled off the remarkable feat of a 'cover tune' with more impact than the original, especially considering the stature of the original.
Selected by Cliff Anderson, Morning Drive DJ and Public Affairs Coordinator, 91.7fm WSGE
6. Artist: Elvis Presley Song: Tomorrow is a Long Time Album: From Nashville to Memphis: The Essential 60's Masters Originally performed by: Bob Dylan, although Odetta's version inspired this cover Elvis Presley’s output in the mid-60s is justifiably ridiculed. The Colonel had him cranking out a new bad movie and forgettable soundtrack every six weeks, which left little time for any serious recording. But all along, Elvis was still a true music lover who knew a great, heartbreaking song when he heard one. Bob Dylan didn’t officially release a version of this song until well after several people had covered it, and it was Odetta’s version that inspired the King to record one of his most soulful recordings of this period. You can feel his desolation as he delivers lines like: “I can’t see my reflection in the waters / I can’t speak the sounds that show no pain / I can’t hear the echo of my footsteps / Or remember the sound of my own name.” The heaviness of this recording grossly outweighs anything Elvis had recorded up to this point, and almost even makes up for the rest of his wasted decade.
7. Artist: Happy Mondays Song: He's Gonna Step On You Again ("Step On" is the retitled cover) Album: Pills 'n' Thrills and Bellyaches Originally performed by: John Kongos
I'm going to pick a completely left field nugget and cast my vote for "Step On" by Happy Mondays, a reworking of "He's Gonna Step On You Again" by U.K. based South Africa-born John Kongos. Kongos' 1971 version is a hardcore psychedelic and primitive hard rock number drenched in fuzz and distortion, with a thumpa thumpa thumpa rhythm under a big fat bass and with a pseudo-soul chorus and nightmarish wall-of-sound production from Gus Dudgeon; one of the strangest records ever to reach the Hot 100 (it peaked at #70 in the U.S.); an essentially uncoverable song. Happy Mondays keeps a big fat bass and the chorus, and transforms the rest of the original into an entirely new, claustrophobic dance-rock. It opens with bizarre Madchester drug slang, before catching a real groove; the band gets real soul singers to handle the choruses, Shaun Ryder singls like the thug he pretty much was, the guitars are psychedelic yet propulsive and the band's canny pilfering of licks and beats lend the song a familiar feel upon first listen, even to those who have never heard the original. Those who have heard both will know what a miraculous transformation this song was, and how it opened up a lot of new doors musically, which were explored by many 90's U.K. rock acts in their wake.
8. Artist: Miles Davis Song: 'Round Midnight Album: 'Round About Midnight Originally performed by: Thelonious Monk
All Music will prove its status as a standard. Davis' version, the first song on his first Coumbia album, is a reworking that quietly flaunts innovation (at least partially the responsibility of Coltrane's arrival) while holding Monk's original melody. There are few cover songs that manage not only to better the original, but also serve as such an effective gateway to the genre.
Selected by the FIQL team
9. Artist: Petra Haden Song: I Can See For Miles Album: Petra Haden Sings: The Who Sell Out Originally performed by: The Who
The selection of the best cover songs ever recorded is a daunting task. The choices are many, from Led Zeppelin covers of blues classics to the Dead Kennedys punked-out version of Rawhide. However, once I thought about it, the choice was obvious. Petra Haden's version of The Who's "I Can See For Miles" is a gem in a treasure trove of riches. Petra perfoms "I Can See For Miles" completely a capella by mixing only her voice to create something truly unique, while still having the emotional impact of the original. In fact, her performance is so compelling you will soon forget that it is a completely vocal performance. If you have not heard Petra's version, please check it out. You will not be disappointed. Petra did not stop with The Who's "I Can See For Miles," she actually covered the whole Who album, The Who Sell Out. It is truly a mindblowing experience!
10. Artist: Widespread Panic Song: Peace Frog/ Blue Sunday Album: JACKASSoLANTERN Originally performed by: The Doors
This Wide Spread Panic album, entitled JACKASSoLANTERN, is a collection of their favorite cover tunes. I have always thought that the Doors version of Peace Frog had more potential than the Doors, themselves, were able to unlock. The powerful groove is well suited for extended solo section possibilites and Wide Spread Panic has exploited this very well. The extra percussion gives the tune an even stronger backbone. The neat segue into the more subdued Blue Sunday was a great idea. The vocals preserve Jim Morrison's sound and inflections beautifully. I believe that Wide Spread Panic's live take on these is one of the greatest cover jobs ever and it is an definate improvement from the original.
11. Artist: Iron & Wine Song: Such Great Heights Album: Garden State OST Originally performed by: The Postal Service
This was likely the most difficult selection I've made for a community playlist. The Postal Service's version of "Such Great Heights" is a boppy, happy, beat-driven pop morsel. Put this song in front of Sam Beam and his lovely guitar and it clobbers you. The spectacular songwriting comes to the fore and it becomes an earnest, honest love song. My favorite kind. People were upset that it was included on the Garden State soundtrack and was used in an M&M's commercial. That tells me that I'm not alone in sensing that this song feels like a secret that should be kept, or shared only with those who truly deserve it.
12. Artist: Humble Pie Song: Hallelujah, I love her so Album: Rockin the Fillmore Originally performed by: Ray Charles
A great cover takes the original and reinvents it. It turns the original into something new...and yet the essense of what made the original sparkle still comes through. A great cover pays homage without mimicry.
Humble Pie was a hard rocking group headed by Steve Marriot on vocals and Peter Frampton on guitar. Steve's singing and Frampton's piercing guitar rock heavy from the outset of this cover of the Ray Charlse classic. About 3/4 way through Marriot slows it down and gets you ready for the big ending. He breaks into 'Walk Right In'' It is the type of song that builds up tension for the big ending. You wait for the climax as Frampton doodles on guitar and Marriot sings, repeating the same phrases...building tension...
"And you know...and you know....and you know and you know and you know you don't know, Hallelujah, I love her so"
More guitar doodling. And finally when you can't take it any more...the big scream. Usually I leap into the air...air guitar in hand. "Well...." The guitar and heavy bass come back in strong..."I just love her so" and Frampton's guitar brings it home. Steve Marriot...oh could he sing. Ray too!!!
Honorable Mentions: "All Along The Watchtower" by Jimi Hendrix originally by Bob Dylan "Respect" by Aretha Franklin originally by Otis Redding "Twist & Shout" by The Beatles originally by Isley Brothers "Rusty Cage" by Johnny Cash originally by Soundgarden "Under Pressure" by Crooked Fingers originally by Queen w/ David Bowie "Kiss" by Tom Jones with Art of Noise originally by Prince "Got to Get You Into My Life" by Earth ,Wind & Fire originally by The Beatles "Eye Of The Tiger" by Paul Anka originally by Survivor "Say Hello, Wave Goodbye" by David Gray originally by Soft Cell "Common People" by William Shatner originally by Pulp " . . Baby One More Time" by Travis originally by Britney Spears
Some of my favorite covers include Wonderwall by Cat Power (I don't care for Oasis, but she makes this song sound great - remeniscent of the reaction in High Fidelity - is that Peter F_ing Frampton??), Sweet Dreams by Marylin Manson (This is a philosophical argument, but I disagree with those who think covers should stay true to the original - the Eurythmics created a classic, and Marylin Manson redefined it in a way only he could), I Will Survive by Cake (Don't get me started on the subtle cultural critique created by the attitude and male voice covering this favorite of gay culture) and Faith by Limp BizKit (ok, no list is perfect, but I love singing along to this parody of George Michael).