It Goes to Eleven: Covers as good (if not better) than the originals
Everyone loves a good cover tune. People might not admit it so freely, lest they hurt the original artist’s feelings (because they know them so well. OMG this one time, they were following the Zombie Keith Moon’s twitter, and he said, ‘ZOMFG, I totes can’t staaand covers, thanks for your help, [people afraid to hurt original artist’s feelings], lol!’), but they definitely like at least one. There’s more to making a good cover than just re-playing the original song, though. There needs to be an element of originality to a good cover; something that makes the listener think, “Huh, I always thought so-and-so wrote this.” Homage to the original artists is always appreciated, but often it’s the more memorable covers that get remembered. So without further stalling for time, here’s eleven covers that are just as good, if not better, than the originals:
- All Along the Watchtower – Jimi Hendrix – Originally performed by Bob Dylan – Anyone who says that Dylan’s version is better is probably high or something. Dylan’s scratchy voice and, let’s face it, odd inflection make the original sound like someone’s kid singing with strep throat in the back of a bouncing car.
His voice is good for some things, and his songwriting is amazing, no denying that, but let’s get real everyone, Jimi Hendrix’s version of this track is FAR superior. From the opening chords to the final notes, Hendrix keeps the best parts of the song intact and makes it literally ooze sex. Seriously, if there’s not some weird goo hanging from your speakers after listening to it, then there’s something wrong.
- With A Little Help From My Friends – Joe Cocker – Originally performed by The Beatles – When the Beatles released this song back in 1967, Joe Cocker reportedly listened to it, vomited, fell ill for several months and required an iron lung, only to wake up feeling awesome and refreshed. He then set about writing his cover that is leagues better than the original tune (citation missing). When I say leagues, I mean fucking LEAGUES better. The original is chunky and kind of feels forced out of Ringo Starr’s mouth. When Paul McCartney (or his look-alike, based on who you ask) wrote this song, it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that when he ran into the recording studio to record this song, George McFly and Lewis Skolnick were eagerly awaiting him just to say, “Hey, Paul, I know you really like this song and want to sing it, but have we got an idea for you!”
and it ended up being this huge chunk of goof on an otherwise good Beatles album. Wait, that was from Sergeant Pepper? The point is, Joe Cocker’s version has so much more soul and gumption than the Beatles version, and that’s why we’ll always remember it. Well, that and The Wonder Years.
- Tainted Love – Soft Cell – Originally performed by Gloria Jones – Let’s face it, until you read this, there’s a good chance you’d never heard that Tainted Lovewas a cover. And there’s good reason. The original Gloria Jones track sounds way too upbeat and 60’s Motown to really be taken seriously. In the 80’s, the song got darker with the help of the DX-7 keyboard and electric drums, giving it a certain distance from the listener that helped to cement it as an 80’s staple. Now, front man Marc Almond mostly takes pictures of himself with eyeliner and faux-hawks, so you could say he’s doing all right.
- Birdland – Maynard Ferguson – Originally performed by Weather Report – There are few things in this world quite like a good jazz record; a good whisky, a fine automobile, even Shrinky-Dinks.
These generally pale in comparison to a phenomenal jazz record, though. Ferguson’s cover of Birdland isn’t just good, it’s FANTASTIC. The soaring trumpet lines are motivation for any jazz trumpet player to be better, in the hopes that one day, you’ll be as good as Maynard. Among his other covers (all of which are just as good by the way) are Gonna Fly Now, or as it’s known more popularly, ‘That one song from Rocky, you know, dun dun du du dun dat da dun dun dun…’
and possibly the greatest version of MacArthur Park without all the smarmy, 70’s-ness of Jimmy Webb.
- Jolene – Me First & the Gimme Gimmes – Originally performed by Dolly Parton – Me First have been around for a while, and as any good fan will tell you, they’re kind of awesome.
This cover of Dolly Parton’s Jolene, a song about a girl fighting to keep her man from the town hot chick/harlot, is right up there. As a band that specializes in covers, Me First definitely don’t disappoint. And it’s not like the original is terrible, either, in fact, it’s really good. This version just seems to be cooler. For one thing, it’s a bunch of dudes singing it, and for another, it has a bit more energy than the original. Sorry, Dolly, but you’ve been trumped on this one.
- One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer – George Thorogood – Originally performed by John Lee Hooker – It gets really hard for me to say that there’s a better version of a great blues song from a great blues legend, but George Thorogood makes this song pretty badass.
For one thing, he stretches it out to about eight minutes from the original three, and his scratchy vocals tell the story in a much more entertaining fashion. His guitar playing riding shotgun makes this tune not only one of the greatest covers in the world, but one of Thorogood’s greatest songs.
- High & Dry – Jorge Drexler – Originally performed by Radiohead – If there’s anything that is harder for me to admit that there’s a better cover of a good blues tune, it’s that there’s a good cover of a Radiohead song. Don’t get me wrong, there are covers of Radiohead songs, but they’re not necessarily good. Among the few I really like are John Mayer’s Kid A cover, and Jorge Drexler’s High & Dry cover.
It’s simple and clean, and a really great track all together. The great thing about Drexler is that even though most of his catalogue is in Spanish, there are some really catchy tunes in there. Go ahead, give it a listen. I’ll wait.
- Don’t Stop Me Now – Young Beautiful in a Hurry – Originally performed by Queen – Oh good, you’re back. It seems that I just can’t do a countdown without these fellas, but in my defense, it’s for good reason. There could not be a more perfect band for YBH to cover than Queen,and they do it so remarkably that if you didn’t know the original was a Queen song, then you shouldn’t be alive for one thing, and you’d totally swear that they wrote the song. The vocals are spot on, and the band is tight and alarmingly fantastic to the point that even die-hard Queen fans have to admit that they’re really on to something.
- Tiny Dancer – Ben Folds – Originally performed by Elton John – This is just generally a good song. Both versions are fantastic, and it really makes no difference whose is better. With the Ben Folds version, new rockin’ piano man meets old(er) rockin’ piano man, not on the same stage, but in terms of quality. Ben Folds has done nothing but get better ever since.
The guy is talented, no doubt, and the band he has backing him up is incredible. I wanted to do a review on his 2008 album Way to Normal because it’s a great album, but also seems to be a great breakup album for guys. And it’s a fun car album. And it’s little quirks that make it so legendary. I just couldn’t decide which one to write. So instead, I used this song (not from the album) because it demonstrates why Folds is still so relevant. He’s a guy who made taking piano lessons cool.
- Wonderwall – Ryan Adams – Originally performed by Oasis – The beauty of this cover is really in its simplicity. It sounds like Ryan Adams is alone in a really big hallway with a guitar bringing us this haunting rendition of an old favorite.
The thing with this one is, it sticks with you. Haunting doesn’t even seem to do it justice, it’s almost chilling. Adams’s soft vocals carry with them a weight that the listener can feel. A heartbreak that seems almost too real for anyone to handle.
- Get Ur Freak On – The Eels – Originally performed by Missy Elliot – This song is so much fun.
The original is the song everyone knows, but in the Eels hands, it turns into a really funny and strange twist of a song. Elliot is good, but the Eels are better at it. It’s by no means a dance tune anymore, it’s just a fun track that you can put on and hear people say, “Wait, is this…? I don’t… I don’t get it…” Then laugh as they curl up into a ball and sob themselves through the night that probably involved copious amounts of LSD, pot, and/or Mr. Rogers reruns.
It could happen.