Everybody loves a good cover song, whether it’s completely reinventing the song to make it something new and different or just sticking with the original to pay homage to an artist. Of course, not all cover songs are good, but that’s for a different day (and a different list). Just about every musician out there has covered something and while there are a lot of good ones, these are the ten that I feel are amazing and stand the test of time. And since I already did a list of metal covers, this one will focus on covers in other genres.
- “Tainted Love”-Gloria Jones/Soft Cell
This is one of those songs you always forget that’s a cover. Other people have tried to match or outdo the greatness of this version and failed (Manson). Nothing beats the Soft Cell recording. I would take this version over the original any day. There’s just something about the music that when those beeps at the beginning of the song come on, everybody knows what song it is and proceeds to dance their ass off. There’s also something about the music that’s in this area of dark synth pop, kind of like Depeche Mode. It’s just a fun, feel good song; one of the better ones from the 80’s. And it definitely stands the test of time.
- “Imagine”- John Lennon/A Perfect Circle
This version leaves you with no hope for the future. With the pounding drums beating throughout the song, it brings on an impending sense of doom. This cover would be perfect playing over any movie footage of the apocalypse. Lennon’s version seemed more optimistic, while this one has anger, frustration, and sadness in one song. Maynard James Kennan’s voice is the right pitch and tone for this song. It even carries a hint of sadness. You can find this cover on their album Emotive.
- “I Love Rock N Roll”- Arrows/Joan Jett
This has got to be one of the best hard rocking songs out there. So many people love this song and the best thing it’s aged incredibly well. Also, it fits the whole badass attitude of Joan Jett. Not only does she sound like she’s looking for a fight, she looks like it in the video for the single. Her voice just has this amazing snarl behind it, especially when she says “Owww!” after the first verse. This is a classic to this day and one of the staples of rock music.
7. “Mony Mony” – Tommy James and the Shondells/Billy Idol
This is the song that showed that the young punk had rhythm and soul. It’s like with this song he wanted to get everyone on their feet. What’s interesting about this cover is it has a lot of elements from the original from the vocals to the rhythm of the song. It’s like Idol wanted to keep everything that made the song great in the first place, but he added a few guitars and his haunting vocals to make the song his own. It still sounds like a vintage song from the 50’s, he even has the background singers that sound like old school girl groups, but the synth and the hard guitars add a tough edge to it. It’s probably one of Idol’s most loved songs and it’s just really fun.
- “Smooth Criminal” – Michael Jackson/Alien Ant Farm
This has got to be the oddest, but most awesome cover of a Michael Jackson song ever. Driving guitar riffs, odd vocals, and various screams trying to imitate the King of Pop, this song rocks hard. This song shows that Jackson’s song translate really well the rock genre. This cover takes everything that was amazing about the original and turns it up way past ten. Aside from the style, the song stays pretty true to the original in terms of pace and vocal style (kind of). Not only is the song a great homage to MJ, the video is as well. It’s full of references to Jackson and even has elements from his other videos, such as the light up steps from “Billie Jean.” This song also helped to teach a younger generation how awesome Michael Jackson was and could be. Unfortunately, it’s also the cause of many people thinking Alien Ant Farm were the originators of the song.
5. “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These)”- Eurythmics/Marilyn Manson
This is the song that launched the band into popularity. The original version has a more futuristic sound with synthesizers and Annie Lennox’s sultry vocals. Manson’s version is anything but sweet dreams. This song (and the video) will give you nightmares for weeks. Everything from the slow, dredging guitar riff, to the weird warping noises, heard in the beginning, and even Manson’s shrill vocals unnerve you. I think this version really shows the dark undertones that were in the original that were masked by how catchy the song was. Manson stripped away those elements and left us with pure terror.
4. “The Man Who Sold the World”- David Bowie/Nirvana
This cover is often hailed as better than the original. The subdued, mellow tone of the song blends well with Cobain’s scratchy, anguished vocals. He sounds a little sad, yet joyful at times during the song, even a little reminiscent while he’s singing. There’s something about the way Cobain sings here that makes it sound like he’s so familiar with the song, as if he wrote it himself. There’s just something about this version that sounds sorrowful and vulnerable, while Bowie’s sounds a but more psychedelic. The hypnotizing guitar riff and the looping bass line traps you in the song and makes you remember why this is now considered a Nirvana classic.
- “Feeling Good”- Cy Grant/Muse
This cover is one of the best and under appreciated cover songs out there. It’s one of Muse’sbest-knownn songs and one that really displays Matt Bellamy’s hauntingly beautiful vocals. It manages to keep the spirit and the tone of the original, but it also adds this attitude and just a hint of darkness that can make the song unnerving and creepy at times. What’s even more interesting is the bridge when Bellamy pulls out the megaphone and continues to sing. At times he sounds like he’s speaking gibberish, at others he sounds like a sweet angel. Maybe the song is so amazing because it’s one that Bellamy has admitted he wish he wrote himself.
- “I Will Always Love You”- Dolly Parton/Whitney Houston
For the longest time I had no idea that this was a cover song. If anything it sounds like it was written just for Whitney Houston. The original can’t even stand up to this one. While this version manages to keep the same tone and mood of the first version, Houston’s voice is so beautiful and power that it makes it more intense. The part that always gives me chills is when the music stops, the boom of the drums come in, and Houston holds that note during the last chorus. She may have had her own demons to deal with later in her life, but it doesn’t change the fact that she had one of the best voices in music.
- “Where Did You Sleep Last Night”- Leadbelly/Nirvana
There is not one person who can really claim recording the first version of this song since it’s been around since the 1870s under different names. But the two most popular versions are by Leadbelly and Nirvana. This would be Cobain’s last televised performance and he made sure it was memorable. There is so much emotion in this song. You can feel the pain and anger when Cobain sings. You even get a hint of defeat when he lets out a heavy sigh before singing the last words. Just listening to him shriek out the lyrics is really haunting. This is the most powerful and gut wrenching Nirvana performance. It becomes eerie when thinking about how Cobain died a year later.
Bonus: “Psycho Killer”- Talking Heads/Cage The Elephant
This quirky song by legendary band Talking Head becomes even more chaotic and awesome when covered by Cage the Elephant who are not only crazy, but unpredictable and full of energy. And that’s exactly what they bring to their version. It’s really singer Matt Shultz who makes the song. His vocal style is unchained, raw, and unstable. The original is kind of subtle and quiet with hushed vocals, but Cage’s version is loud, in your face, and makes you wonder if one of the members actually is crazy enough to be a killer.