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.