When done right, a cover song is two things — first, it’s one of the best tributes a band can give another band (as in, you know you’ve made it when somebody wants to sing your stuff), and, secondly, it can be even better than the original. Covers can turn a song you would NEVER listen to into your new favorite.
I’m not talking about the kind of covers a bar band does night after night. I’m talking the let’s-put-a-new-twist-on-something-old kind of covers more famous bands do. Dig deep, and you’ll find a hidden trove of covers from every band out there.
It’s no secret covers (along with mash-ups…but that’s for a different day) are some of my favorite songs. I have hundreds of them on my computer, some of which are awful (yeah, I’m looking at you, obscure punk bands that cover 90’s songs, rap songs, pop songs, etc. for Fearless Records compilations), and some of which are just incredible.
In no particular order, here are my top 10 favorite covers (as always, written with the knowledge that I will soon find something I like better, and this list will change):
“Wonderwall” — Cartel (originally by Oasis)
I love Oasis. I wish the Gallaghers would stop beating each other up and learn to get along so they could tour. I kick myself every time I think about the fact that I missed seeing them in Toronto a few years ago. And, on top of all of this, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? is a totally classic album, and “Wonderwall” is, of course, the song EVERYONE knows. So, covering it’s a pretty big job.
Fortunately, when Fearless Records decided to do their Punk Goes ’90s compilation, they found Cartel for this cover and gave us this hidden gem in the coal mine that is their typical entire CD of obscure punk bands covering the Backstreet Boys and Destiny’s Child (I’m not kidding you; I’m sorry). Lead singer Will Pugh doesn’t try and copy the intonations of the original version (see the second verse’s “I don’t believe that anybody…” line), and the band did a great job of making the song their own. Plus, I have it on authority this guys are pretty cool as people, so that helps.
“Careless Whisper” — Seether (originally by George Michael)
There are a lot of goth-rock bands out there like Seether, but they have a couple things that put them in a separate category from the others. First off, they’re from Africa (I don’t know, this just makes them more awesome to me); they do that slow-rock-ballad thing pretty well, as well as that goth-rock “I hate (slash, love, slash, want to have meaningless sex with) everyone” thing; third, they made this song listenable.
Seether took the 80s elevator/synth music of George Michael and made it into something you wouldn’t even know was a cover. Honestly, it sounds Seether-like. The only thing that would make it better is if we could get Amy Lee and Shaun Morgan back together and make it a duet.
“Simple Man” — Shinedown (originally by Lynyrd Skynyrd)
When you’re going to cover Skynyrd, you better make it good. But when you’ve come up in that same southern rock tradition (see Three Doors Down, Saving Abel, Kid Rock, and these guys), you probably know that, and you probably don’t want to get lynched if you eff it up.
This cover gives me chills. I have to sing it every time I hear it. You could substitute their version (OK, maybe not this particular version, but the studio one for sure) into a playlist of Skynyrd songs and it would fit right in, which just makes me admire Brent Smith’s voice even more, because he can sing something like this and his own, more rock stuff. He just sounds like he belongs in the ’70s. I’m serious — it’s that damn good.
But, then again, when you’re southern rockers at heart, I think this stuff comes naturally.
“I Don’t Want to Know” — Goo Goo Dolls (originally by Fleetwood Mac)
Yes, yes, I love the Goo Goo Dolls. Yes, yes, they can do no wrong in my mind. But this song would stand as a good cover whether all that was true or not. They recorded their version of IDWTK for a Fleetwood Mac tribute album. It’s a touch on the obscure side, so I can’t find it online, but the song is totally redone — which is good, because it’s one song on this list, the original version of which I don’t like.
If you can find a copy of this song, pay attention to the guitars and the way Johnny Rzeznik and Robby Takac’s voices blend. Also, and credit to FM for this, the lyrics are great.
Anything from Aaron Lewis/Staind
Aaron Lewis can do no wrong. He does shows where he lets the audience just call out songs (as you can hear) and he’ll sing them. He could sing me the alphabet, and I would throw myself at him (I think it’s the “I can still remember just the way you taste” line in “It’s Been A While” that started that for me).
And if him covering Katy Perry’s “Hot N Cold” — and the following comments — or just the entire video — don’t make you love him, then I don’t believe you have a soul.
“Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” — Nickelback/Kid Rock (originally by Elton John)
Truth be told, I love love LOVE Elton John, but I hate hate HATE his version of this song. I think it’s too ’70s piano-disco, and I honestly just think the lyrics don’t match the music. Put the lyrics into the mouths of Chad Kroeger and Kid Rock, however, and it’s a whole different, and far more appropriate, ball game.
You’ve got current music’s self-proclaimed American Badass and one of the most popular (and most hated, I suppose) arena/sex, drugs and rock n’ roll rock bands singing about bar fights, alcohol and girls. You’ve got the uncontested theme song for hockey fights and boxing/wrestling/UFC without even trying. And, quite honestly, you’ve got a better version of the song than you started with.
(Ignore the freaky video; I don’t know what’s up with it, it was just the first one I found.)
“Possession” — Evans Blue (originally by Sarah McLachlan)
Would you know this song was originally by Sarah McLachlan? Nope — didn’t think so. Once again, you have a song that sounds totally different than the original, and would never have reached the ears of Evans Blue-style music fans had they not done this cover. I don’t know who Tara MacLean (the female voice you hear, according to Wikipedia) is, but her voice fits perfectly, and, I think, the lyrics fit a band like Evans Blue and this style of music more than they fit Sarah McLachlan (it’s about her encounter with a stalker, which is decidedly in realm of topics for the goth-pop-punk-rock category of Evans Blue). Either way, I can listen to this song on repeat for an hour.
“Straight Up” — Halifax (originally by Paula Abdul)
Once again, one of the few Pop Goes whatever releases I can stand. It’s hysterical to hear the song, however, if you really listen to the lyrics, because it’s these punk guys singing lyrics written for an ’80s pop singer. But they do a good job with it.
“Stand By Me” — Incubus (originally by Ben E. King)
Incubus needs to put this song on an album ASAP. “Stand By Me” is what I would consider one of those “classic” songs that you really shouldn’t mess with, for fear of coming up with a product that is just awful and makes everyone hate you (“Incubus? Yeah, they’re that band that butchered that Ben E. King song.” “OMG, how could they?! That songs a CLASSIC!”).
Brandon Boyd, however, is another one of those guys that could sing the alphabet, and I would stand in awe. He keeps the vocals like they should be — really only pulling out all the stops on the “stand by me” lines, just like in the original — and the rest of the band doesn’t try to be overly fancy with the music. It’s a beautiful cover of an already beautiful song.
“Smooth Criminal” — Alien Ant Farm (originally by Michael Jackson)
You can’t hate this song. You just can’t. It’s rocked out to it’s full potential. Plus, there’s a touch of AAF releasing their inner MJ in the high parts of the chorus and the “Ow!”s between verses.