Billie Jean

Playlist: Remembering Chris Cornell

Last month we lost one of the best voices in rock, Chris Cornell. The news came as a shock to fans and those who knew him best. Many are still trying to make sense of the situation and come to terms that he’s gone. He may no longer be with us, but at least we have the gift of his unforgettable music. Not only did he make wonderful music with Soundgarden and on his own, he recorded various covers throughout his career. Whether with Soundgarden or solo, Cornell gave us some of the most chilling and unforgettable covers reminding us why he was a phenomenal singer. To remember Cornell, let’s look at some of his best cover songs.

“Come Together” – Beatles cover from 

Soundgarden takes this psychedelic Beatles song and turns it into a gritty, dirty affair. They bring in the down tuned guitars, sludgy riffs, and screeching guitars, slowing things down and making everything heavy as hell. They manage to turn the song into a bonafide rocker making you want to bang your head and stick up those devil horns. If you didn’t know anything about The Beatles, you’d be convinced Soundgarden were the originators. It may be gritty, yet Cornell’s vocals keep the soulful vibe of the original.

“Whole Lotta Love” – Led Zeppelin cover from Guitar Heaven The Greatest Guitar Classics of All Time

When you get one of music’s greatest guitar players along with one of rock’s greatest vocalists, you know you’re in for something good. In 2010, Carlos Santana and Chris Cornell teamed up for a rousing cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta love.” While it’s very true to the original, you can’t deny how much it just fucking rocks. Santana lights up the guitar making the iconic riff sound sweeter and sexier. Cornell easily gives Robert Plant a run for his money. He hits every note perfectly reminding you what a great singer he was. The Led Zeppelin version will always be great, but Cornell and Santana almost have them beat with their cover. Why didn’t they do a whole album together?

“Billie Jean” – live Michael Jackson cover

Lots of artists cover this Michael Jackson hit, but no one else brings you to tears with it like Chris Cornell. With only his vocals and an acoustic guitar, his rendition is absolutely haunting. Cornell manages to bring out the underlying darkness of this song that you often forget once you hear that iconic beat. He sings the song as if he’s been through this hell himself. His vocal delivery is so powerful and so intense, it would bring tears to your eyes before his untimely death. Not to mention the violent way he plays the guitar rousing a great reaction from the crowd. It’s not only a memorable performance, it shows how versatile he was as a musician.

“Girl U Want” – Devo cover from “Outshined” single

For the b-side on the “Outshined” single, Soundgarden covered this frantic Devo track. They suck all the bouncy energy and fun vibe out of it and turn it into a sludge fest. Everything is slowed down and played heavily as if the guitar’s a sopping wet with mud. Their version is heavy and somewhat dark with the haunting way Cornell delivers the lyrics. It’s a far cry from Devo’s version; if it wasn’t for the guitar riff you wouldn’t even know they were the same song. They definitely stamped the song with their gritty, raw rock sound.

“Nothing Compares 2 U” – live Sinead O’Connor cover

Cornell had a knack for making his covers sound haunting and somber. So it’s surprising that he managed to make this Prince song sound even sadder. That’s not to say it isn’t lovely. The acoustic rendition is as beautiful as the original and Cornell’s gruff vocals are perfectly suited for the song. There’s even a country vibe to it at times, but it doesn’t last long. Since the instrumentation is subdued, it gives you the chance to hear his singing, which is mesmerizing. It’s enough to give you chills, especially with his untimely passing.

“Imagine” – John Lennon cover from Songbook

The thing about Cornell’s covers is they’re straightforward and simplistic, but it’s his voice that makes them outstanding. It’s no different with this John Lennon classic. This song always had a melancholic mood to it, but when Cornell sings it, it’s enough to break your heart. Here we get the best of both worlds; he gives us a taste of his gruff, powerful vocals he’s known for, but we mostly hear his softer, gentler crooning, which is beautiful. Again, he doesn’t try to make the song his own. Rather he adds his chilling vocals for an unshakeable effect.

“Waiting for the Sun” – Doors cover from Echo of Miles: Scattered Tracks Across the Path

For Soundgarden’s cover of this Doors song, things start out muted and somewhat psychedelic. Cornell sounds like he’s mumbling through the lyrics. Just when you’re ready to nod off, the band kicks into high gear and lets it rip. The distorted guitars, throbbing bass, and pounding drums add a much needed dose of adrenaline to the song. It takes a drug induced classic to something that kicks ass. Whenever you hear that brief pause before everything explodes you’re left waiting in anticipation, waiting for the sweet release. When it finally comes, it’s the most satisfying moment.

“Dear Prudence” – live Beatles cover

Cornell puts his spin on yet another Beatles hit. Cornell is known for his powerful vocals, but for this cover, we get to hear a softer side. With a gentle acoustic guitar setting the mood, Cornell croons this classic never missing a beat. He sounds downright sweet when he hits those high notes at the end of the verses. His quiet, subdued delivery makes the song beautiful. It shows Cornell’s impressive range; he had the chops to make us rock out, but his croons also bring tears to your eyes.

“Cop Killer” – live Body Count cover

Did Soundgarden really cover Body Count’s controversial 1992 song? It sounds too good to be true, but they actually did during one of their Lollapalooza sets. After an impassioned speech from Cornell about exercising your power and not letting others tell you what you can’t do, the band launches into the notorious song. Everything about the performance sounds mad as hell; Matt Cameron beats away at the drum as if trying to break them, while the guitars sound like they’re screeching on their last breath. Cornell gives it his all rallying the crowd for a call to arms. During an unforgettable break, Cornell reassures us the song’s not about killing others, it’s about fighting for your rights. He then launches into a “fuck the police” chant. It’s an exciting, heart-pounding moment that riles you up and gets you ready to fight. Too bad the performance hasn’t been cleaned up and remastered for an official release.

“Hotel California” – live Eagles cover

“Hotel California” is one of those songs everyone knows is good, but no one listens to thanks to the radio playing it to death. Cornell’s acoustic cover makes the song exciting again. It’s a simple, straightforward rendition, but as always, it’s Cornell’s vocals that take it to another level. The grittiness of his vocals makes it sound like he knows what this person’s been through. He adds this harrowing vibe to the song and makes it fresh again. His version reminds you how good the song is. He can’t outdo the original, but his version comes close.

“Thank You” – Sly and the Family Stone cover from John Peel BBC Session 

Soundgarden gets funky for this cover. With a thick bass groove that sounds like it’s summoning Flea, the band lays down a heavy dose of funk mixing it with their heavy, dirty sound. The result is a stellar cover that more people should be talking about. As soon as that opening riff hits and Cornell lets out that wild scream you can’t help but nod your head with an intense feeling of “hell yes!” The band leaves their unmistakable mark on the song, but they manage to keep the soul of the original. And just when you thought the song couldn’t get any sicker, bassist Hiro Yamamoto gives us a hot solo. It’s not only Soundgarden’s best cover, it’s one of the best cover songs out there.

“I Will Always Love You” – live Whitney Houston

You wouldn’t expect a rocker like Chris Cornell to cover this Whitney Houston classic. Performed during a 2012 concert, his version is stripped back with only him and his acoustic guitar. He doesn’t try any fancy tricks with it or even try to make it his own. He just sings it straight. It’s his honest, passionate delivery that makes it so great. Even though the poor audio quality of the Youtube videos, you can hear how amazing he sounds. He holds those soaring notes with ease and his vocals are just as powerful as Houston’s. Though you would expect the cover to make you sad after his death, in a weird way it’s reassuring as if it’s a message to fans and family. His love will always be with us through the music.

Thank you for the wonderful music, Chris Cornell. You won’t be forgotten.

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Top 10 Michael Jackson Covers

This Sunday would’ve been Michael Jackson’s 57th birthday. Instead of dwelling over the fact he’s no longer with us, it’s a time to celebrate his wonderful music. No matter what you thought of him it’s clear his music has inspired artists across a span of genres from R&B to rock. Some artists have even taken it upon themselves to cover their favorite Jackson song. Of course no one does it better than Michael, but some artists have come close. There are a ton of terrible ones out there, but here are ten of the best Michael Jackson covers.

10. “The Girl is Mine” – Richard Cheese

Richard Cheese is known for making lounge style covers out of popular songs. He previously covered Jackson’s “Beat It,” but it’s his version of “The Girl is Mine” that’s unique and hilarious. The song starts out like a standard lounge tune and Cheese sounds smooth and silky. Just imagine him snapping his fingers to the beat while listening to it. After the first verse he introduces a special guest, which is supposed to be Stephen Hawking. Yeah, you read that right. Of course it’s not actually him, but hearing an automated voice singing this Jackson duet is weird, but is sure to put a smile on your face. It’s a bit silly, but you gotta admit Jackson’s tunes sound pretty good in lounge style.

9. “Billie Jean” – Nonpoint

This song has been speed up to be a punk rock anthem and tuned down to be a metal nightmare, but Nonpoint puts a different spin on it. They slow things down to make a brooding, melancholy song. Singer Ellias Soriano sounds vulnerable, broken, and hurt as he wails “but the kid is not my son.” Any ounce of happiness or fun is completely stripped away from the track. We’re left with the underlying angst and anger that was masked by the catchy beats. It’s not until you hear the song in this style that you realize how somber it can be.

8. “Dirty Diana” – Bruno Mars/Christina Aguilera

Both of these artists covered the sexy song during live performances and they’re both excellent. Mars’ version is very faithful to the original. In the clip, he plays the dirty riff while the synth soars behind him. He didn’t go too far from the source material, but he at least sounds really good while singing it. I’m sure he could release this as a single and it would sell well. The same goes for Aguilera’s version, which she sang at a Jackson tribute concert. But her impressive vocals matched with the steamy lyrics will give you chills.

7. “Speed Demon” – Xerath

It may come as a surprise to learn how many metal bands love covering Michael Jackson songs. “Beat It” seems to be the favorite track, but this British band went for one of the underrated tracks from Bad. Everything about this version kicks ass from the riff given a dirty make over to the intense vocals screaming “Speed demon!” that sounds like singer Richard Thomson is ripping his vocal cords. This track captures the dangerous and edginess Jackson tried to give off on the original. This track has the same spirit of the original, yet has its own flavor that makes it unique.

6. “P.Y.T.” – The Wood Brothers

There’s a good chance you may not have heard of this Americana blues band, but they know what makes a good cover song. As part of the A.V. Club’s project where artists choose a song to cover from a list, these guys choose this tune from Michael Jackson’s Thriller. It starts out a little wonky with the jarring vocals and silly music, but it all falls into place by the time they reach the hook. They turn the song from an R&B dance track to a smooth, folksy tune that sounds just as silky as the original. The coolest part is during the refrain where instead of singing “Pretty young things/repeat after me” they freestyle riffs instead, but that doesn’t stop a chorus of people from responding with “Na-na-na-na.”

5. “D.D.” – The Weeknd

With comparisons to the late pop star, it’s no surprise that The Weeknd covered this sultry track from Bad. It starts out pretty faithful to the original, but once it gets to the chorus hard electronic beats take over creating a lush soundscape of pulsating rhythm. This version takes the grittiness and edge out of the song, but turns it into more of an atmospheric track that ends up sounding more sad than angry. It’s a subtle tweak to the song, but it’s effective at giving it a completely different vibe.

4. “Billie Jean” – The Bates

This German punk band, known for their cover tunes oddly enough, turns the R&B filled track into a raucous punk anthem made for moshing. Their version is pretty faithful to the original except when it comes to the music. Their gritty guitars and energetic vibe punches up the song and brings it into the rock realm. The best part is the chorus where you can picture them pogo dancing while singing “Billie Jean is not my lover.” Something about it is fun, upbeat, vibrant, and just really inviting. Whether you like Michael Jackson or not this song is sure to get you in the pit. They’re cover songs are pretty spectacular. Check out their version of The Cure’s “Wailing Wall.”

3. “I’ll Be There” – Mariah Carey

This Jackson 5 track was always kind of mushy and definitely got the feels going, especially when Michael performed it in concert. Carey does a very faithful rendition of the song that doesn’t hold back on the emotions. Her soft soaring vocals that made her a household name in the 90s, work perfectly with this slow track and turns it into something beautiful. She did such an amazing job with it that it became a regular in her catalog and many believe it surpasses the original. She was even nominated for a Grammy for the song in 1993. Of course it took on new meaning when she performed it at Jackson’s memorial service in 2009. Say what you want about Mariah now, but back in the day her voice was something out of this world.

2. “Smooth Criminal” – Alien Ant Farm

These guys proved it was possible to make a kick ass MJ cover without royally fucking it up. Jackson has always incorporated rock influences into his music and this proves how well his songs work when you replace the synth with gritty guitars. It turns this classic Jackson jam into a headbanger. What’s even better is the video filled with references to the singer’s videos from Bubbles to the “Thriller” ending. How many can you spot? Alien Ant Farm may not be remembered for anything else, but at least they gave us this awesome cover that shows how universal Jackson’s music is.

1. “Thriller” – Imogen Heap

Ever think the creep-tacular filled “Thriller” would work as a soft ballad? Somehow Imogen Heap makes it work. With a stark, beautiful piano accompanying her she sounds haunting, yet beautiful as she sings Jackson’s iconic tune. She sounds breathy and airy as she whispers “Cause this is thriller/thriller night.” It really catches you by surprise with how awesome it is. Who would’ve thought the song would work well at a slower speed and without Vincent Price’s eerie laugh? This is everything a good cover is supposed to be: a hint of the original, but different enough to grab your attention.

Which Michael Jackson cover is your favorite? Is there another great one I missed? Let me know in the comments!

Top 21 Michael Jackson Songs

Yesterday was the King of Pop’s 54th birthday. Though he died in 2009, his music is still with us and reminds us of what an amazing artist he was. I know I say it a lot times, but I’m gonna say it again: there will be never be another musician like him. To celebrate the King of Pop’s birthday here are the top 21 songs that made Jackson a star and ones that have stayed with us long after his death.

21. Rock with You

The video may have not been MJ’s finest, but this is one of the best songs from his 1979 album Off that Wall. What I love about it is it’s the perfect intermediate tempo: it’s not slow enough to be a sad or romantic song, but it’s still something you can move to if the mood strikes you.

20. Remember the Time

Another song with a great video. I can’t help but think of Egyptians and pyramids whenever I’m listening to this. But the music and the format of the song does a pretty good job of making you think of the Egyptian era. Aside from that, one of the best parts of the song is the bridge when Michael sings “Do you remember girl?” It’s awesome because he sounds like he’s trying to woo a lady, but he’s screaming at her at the same time. Either way, it’s a classic from the Dangerous album.

19. You Are Not Alone

1995’s HIStory got a lot of flack when it came out, but no one can deny the beauty of this single. It’s actually pretty heartbreaking, especially after his death. He just sounds so sweet, romantic, and sensitive here. It’s not even one of those cheesy love songs that you love to hate. This song also shows off Michael’s amazing vocal ability. I always loved the way he held the note on “heart” towards the end. It gives me chills every time.

18. Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough

This may not be one of Jackson’s greatest songs, but it’s one that everybody loves. Who can’t resist moving and shaking along when the disco beats begin. It’s just a really fun song that makes you want to dance and sing. Hell, even little kids who don’t know who Michael Jackson is yet will shake their butts to this track. One thing that stands out about the song are the vocals. This seems to be the only time that Jackson sings completely in falsetto, but it works for the track. I really can’t imagine the song any other way.

17. Working Day and Night

Even though this song deals with overworking yourself, it’s all a good time thanks to the shuffling rhythm, brassy horns, heavy funk bass, and upbeat tempo. Even Michael had a blast performing this on tour. It’s another song that you can let loose to and just dance like no one’s watching. Plus, it’s a song everyone can relate to. Who isn’t sick of working all the time with no time for fun?

16. They Don’t Really Care About Us

In the 90’s Jackson got tired of not only his abuse from the media, but abuse everywhere. The result is the anger filled “They Don’t Really Care About Us.” It’s another one of his aggressive songs, but with the heavy percussion and intense music, you can actually feel the anger and frustration just by listening to it. Some people may think he was laying on the message too thick, but he said what he felt needed to be said. Nevertheless, it’s a great song that’s fit for an angry mob. You’ll be pumping your fist in the air by the end.

15. Off the Wall

I always thought this song was a precursor to “Thriller” mostly due to the creepy laughing and the ghostly sounds at the beginning. Honestly, I have no idea what that has to do with having a good time with your life. The intro is pretty deceptive when you think about it. You hear the horrible laughing think that the song is about ghouls in the night, not “living crazy.” I guess you can argue that it’s people having a good time, but if that’s what they sound like I never want to meet those people. Either way, it’s a great song that deserves more attention.

14. Money (Fire Island Radio Edit)

This is another Jackson song under the radar. The original song is found on HIStory, but I feel that the remix from Blood on the Dancefloor is far superior. The music matches the dark, cryptic tone of the song. Michael sounds so cynical here, especially since he’s not actually singing during the verses. He’s doing more of a spoken word thing. The remix is great because it turned a decent song into an amazing one, something most remixes can’t achieve.

13. Scream

As a way to prove they weren’t the same person, Michael recorded a duet with baby sister Janet that resulted in the most expensive music video to this day. The song is not only great because it’s catchy and has a cool hard rock edge, but it’s also great because it was little sister Janet defending her big brother. This entire song is a big fuck you to anyone who has ever said anything bad about them. It’s a shame that this is the only song they ever did together because this track proves that they could make great music.

12. Who is it

This song was released as the fifth single from Dangerous and it’s one of Jackson’s most underrated tracks. Something about the feel and sound of the music gives the a song a sneaky, suspicious tone, which fits the subject of cheating on a lover perfectly. The music seems to be pretty dark for an MJ song and maybe that’s what makes it stand out. It’s not the most danceable Jackson tune, but it’s definitely one of the most interesting out there.

11. Morphine

Unlike a lot of the songs on this list, this one is not a single and is probably not that well known. It’s featured on Blood on the Dancefloor: History in the Mix and has got to be Jackson’s darkest song. I remember having his catalog on shuffle after he died when this song came on. It was all good with its aggressive, heavy drumbeat and in your face music, but there’s one part that sent chills down my spine :”Demerol, Demerol, Oh god he’s taking Demerol.” After I heard that, I turned it off. This song seems to be about his drug problems, yet it is severely ignored. That whole section of the song is creepy. The heavy music stops and is replaced with a jarring piano instead. What’s worse is there are the sounds of a heart monitor in the background. It’s a jarring song, especially after his death.

10. Liberian Girl

This is probably one of the prettiest Michael Jackson songs ever. The soft vocals, the beautiful foreign tongue, and the tropical beat let you get lost in the song. I think it’s one of his overlooked singles. It was released and had a terrible video (nothing but celebrity friends with Michael making a brief appearance). But the song really is great and quite romantic if you ask me. There are a ton of MJ slow songs out there, but I think this is by far the best one.

9. Dirty Diana

The steamiest MJ song ever, “Dirty Diana” tells the story of a groupie who is basically a home wrecker. The song is aggressive and in your face,especially with the blazing guitar solo from Billy Idol guitarist Steve Stevens. Seriously, this song probably has some of the best guitar work…maybe aside from “Beat It.” The music here also sounds pretty dark with odd breathing like noises in the beginning and the dark hum of the keyboards. This is another song that doesn’t seem to get much love, but it’s been one of my favorites for a long time.

8. Black or White

An infectious guitar riff by the great Slash, an innovative video, controversy, and a message of equality. This song had it all! Even Bart Simpson thought it rocked! Though the song has an important message, the music is so catchy and fun that it makes you burst out in song and dance whenever it comes on. The song also continued Jackson’s rock n roll side to his music. The song may be remembered more for the last minutes of the video where Michael smashed cars and windows, but it’s damn good still.

7. Bad

No one actually bought MJ’s claims of how “bad” he was on this song, but you can’t blame a guy for trying, especially with a song this good. Beginning a new era for the King of Pop, “Bad” is a fusion of funk, RnB, and pop that gets everyone asking “whose bad?” As with most of MJ’s songs, the video may come to mind when you think of this song, but it’s awesome either way. But I don’t know if dancing and singing is going to get a vicious bunch of guys off your back. It seems to work for Michael but I wouldn’t try it at home.

6. Human Nature

This song from the infamous Thriller is one of Michael’s prettiest. Everything from the music to his voice is so soothing and relaxing here. You sit in awe as he begins trailing off at the end. He’s not even saying anything, but it’s pretty amazing nonetheless. This was another song featured prominently on Jackson’s tours and you know it made the ladies go wild (am I right?). It’s a breathtaking track that still sounds amazing some 20 odd years later.

5. Thriller

The jacket. The zombies. The scary bear. It’s gotta be the one and only “Thriller.” This is a song that will never go out of style. It’s not only catchy and one of the best songs of all time, but the dance routine is perfect for flash mobbing. This is one of Jackson’s most unique songs mainly because it’s about all the scary things in horror movies. How many songs are about zombies and what not? Back in 1984 just one: this one. The best part is it doesn’t even have to be Halloween in order to enjoy it. You can rock out to “Thriller” all year long and perfect your scary bear dance.

4. Beat It

Another classic for the King of Pop, this song became a hit with some help from Eddie Van Halen. This song among others that include guitar solos shows that Jackson knows how to pick out the best players. Aside from the guitar work, who doesn’t love shouting out “just beat it” when the time comes? The song’s message of don’t run with gangs will probably get lost because you’re too busy dancing and singing along. It’s definitely one of his best. Since it came off the best selling album ever do you expect anything but?

3. Wanna be Starting Something

This must’ve been one of Jackson’s favorite songs because it was performed on every one of his tours as far as I know. And why wouldn’t it be? It’s a great song filled with energy, fun and so many sing along moments. Even if you don’t know the words, you are at least familiar with the infamous “Mama-say mama-sah ma-ma-coo-sah.” You don’t know what it means, but it’s just fun to say. It’s also one of his best live tracks. Just look at the Bucharest performance to see what I mean.

2. Smooth Criminal

The song about being a badass criminal almost didn’t make it on the Bad album, but now it’s one of Jackson’s most well known songs (thanks to an Alien Ant Farm cover). This song also has some pretty dark lyrics about murder and intrusion, but the question on everyone’s mind is who is Annie? Years later and this still this seems to have no answer. Along with being an awesome song, it has an amazing video with the mind boggling anti-gravity lean. It’s still pretty underrated when compared to “Beat It” and “Billie Jean” but it is one of his most memorable tunes.

1. Billie Jean

Bust this song out at any party, wedding, or barbeque and everyone will attempt their best moonwalk. It’s the song that made Jackson a superstar in the mid-80s, so how can it not be here? With it’s shuffling rhythm and dancing riff the song is irresistible. The video also paved the way for videos by black artists to be played on MTV. Both the song and the video are groundbreaking for music history. This is pop music at its finest. And over 25 years later the song hasn’t aged a bit. It’s still something everyone loves and keeps discovering with each generation.