Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The 50 Greatest Cover Songs Of All Time Part 2 (30-1)

30. "Astronomy" - Metallica
Original By: Blue Oyster Cult

Like many groups Metallica got their start covering songs of their influences. In the early days it was mainly NWOBHM songs imported by Dane drummer Lars Ulrich, in 1998 however they released a double album collection of all the songs they've covered over the years and even included 11 new ones. Garage Inc. featured songs by The Misfits, Discharge, Black Sabbath and this gem originally by Blue Oyster Cult.

29. "Love Rollercoaster" - Red Hot Chili Peppers
Original By: The Ohio Players

The original saw a resurgence in popularity due to the urban legend associated with it, but thats another list for another day. It broke my heart to find out that was a cover, it genuinely felt like a Chili Peppers track with all their quirky staples. That in itself is a testament to how solid a cover it is.

28. "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" - Guns 'N Roses
Original By: Bob Dylan

This song also wins the award for most apostrophe uses in song title and band name. "Knockin' on heaven's door" has been covered by many artists: Eric Clapton, Paul Simon and even Avril Lavinge, it was Guns n' Roses' version that brought the masses to the threshold when it was used on the Days Of Thunder soundtrack and eventually their own record Use Your Illusion II.

27. "Hide Your Love Away" - Eddie Vedder
Original By: The Beatles

I just heard the original again today on the radio and made me really appreciate how good a job Eddie did on this. He's just a great songsman, whether he's performing his own song or someone else's EV can really step inside a song and make it his own. This was done for the I Am Sam soundtrack which was an album full of artists covering Beatle tunes....nothing topped this. Not even close.

26. "99 Red Balloons" - Goldfinger
Original By: Nena

It gives you a little taste at the beginning...a reminder of the simple pop tune it's honouring, then without warning becomes a full on punk assault. What's also great about Goldfinger's version is about halfway through John Feldman switches on the German vocals. Nena, the original artist, recorded 2 versions in both languages, Goldfinger paid tribute to where the song came from and knocked it out of the park.

25. "Sweet Dreams" - Marilyn Manson
Original By: The Eurythmics

In an instant a whole slew of teenagers became Marilyn Manson fans and those kid's parents became terrified of this man who took one of their beloved classics and turned it into Frankenstein's monster. Still one of recent history's best covers, Manson put his unique and undeniably brilliant spin on an already well-established tune. A move that definitely could have backfired.

24. "Blue Monday" - Orgy
Original By: New Order

There are some songs that I hope will never be covered...they are perfect in their own way and are not in need of an update. "Bohemian Rhapsody" comes to mind, Pearl Jam's "Black". Pretty much all of the Metallica library. The there are other songs that are begging to be covered like New Order's tinny and robotic "Blue Monday", maybe it was revolutionary in the 80's and something exotic, but I feel it came up short. Orgy did what they had to do and presented the song the way it was meant to be presented.

23. "Red Red Wine" - UB40
Original By: Neil Diamond

This really is UB40's song now. They took a song with sad lyrics and made it a sad song even with a reggae beat. Diamond's version was alright, but it's lounge feel never made me want to give it much of a chance. UB40's Robin Campbell actually sounds like he's singing and weeping to his drink at the same time. Tragic.

22. "Higher Ground" - Red Hot Chili Peppers
Original By: Stevie Wonder

Here's an example of how you shouldn't try to out do someone else's cover. RHCP did a great version of "Higher Ground" on 1989's Mother's Milk (which also included a cover of Hendrix's "Fire"). It was funky, catchy, modernized and cool. Just the way you'd expect the Chilis to do things. Then in 2003 Eric Clapton released a tired and boring version of it. Why? It reached it's pinnacle in 1989. If you're not going to improve on it or change the song drastically, leave well enough alone and cover "Part Time Lover".

21. "Blinded By The Light" - Manfred Mann Earth Band
Original By: Bruce Springsteen

This really is a cool cover. Manfred Mann's version hypnotized a nation and also set them on a debate as to what the chorus' lyrics are, which aren't really confused if you hear Springsteen's version. The very fact that it's not common knowledge that this is a cover cements it's place on this list.

20. "Turn The Page" - Metallica
Original By: Bob Seger

 Metallica are brave when it comes to the covers they choose. Picking them for reasons of respect, and relatability instead of popularity and profit. 1998's "Turn The Page" is not the song fans were hoping for as the first single from an album of covers, but Metallica felt the song's themes mirrored their lives too perfectly. Singer James Hetfield has said he was reluctant to do the song, because he was never a fan of Seger's work, but couldn't deny that he related to "Turn The Page"

19. "Layla" - Eric Clapton
Original By: Derrick & The Dominoes

I hear you sayin' "But J.Z, Eric Clapton was in The Dominoes thats his own song! You don't know anything! Epic fail! LMAOSIX29" Shut yer feckin' yap! This version was recorded live during Clapton's MTV Unplugged session and the majority of the crowd didn't recognize it until he started singing.  Yes it's his own song, but he effectively changed it enough that there are now 2 clearly distinct versions. And I feel this one is slightly better

18. "Inside & Out" - Feist
Original By: The Bee Gees

I Have nothing against The Bee Gees, I feel they were unfairly crucified after the whole disco thing imploded. They were once very esteemed songwriters...well I guess they still are. I like what Feist did with this disco tune though, didn't have to tweak it too much to make it a splendid jazzy affair.

17. "Send Me An Angel" - Thrice
Original By: Real Life

I saw Thrice live in Toronto a few years back opening for Rise Against. They ended with this song and I knew I had just seen something special. The intensity and the energy the instruments gave off was almost cosmic. This song has also been covered many times, but jesus...this one is now Thrice's.

16. "Hey Ya!" - Matt Weddle
Original By: Outkast

See? Covers can go both way...a soft song made hard and fast. A Disco song turned jazzy. And here we have a hip hop favourite turned acoustic. This was used in an episode of Scrubs. I think.

15. "Landslide" - Smashing Pumpkins
Original By: Fleetwood Mac

I realize the song is special and very personal for Stevie Nicks, but theres something about the way Billy Corgan arranged his version. Not that it deviates much from the original, maybe the male spin on the song puts it in a different light for me. Love the solo too.

14. "Word Up!" - Korn
Original By: Cameo

Another classic hip-hop tune covered into a different format. Korn has always had ties with hip hop acts and have often been inspired by trends in the rap world, so this one wasn't too shocking. But the song is very well done.

13. "Across The Universe" - Fiona Apple
Original By: The Beatles

This has long been one of my favourite covers. Fiona Apple effortlessly creates a dreamlike representation to a Beatle song that's already slightly left of center. Her almost half-lipped drawl demands one to hear this song to the end. It's a shame she didn't get more attention than she did, but 400 letter album titles and public, furious outbreaks will have it's set backs to a promising career.

12. "Last Kiss" - Pearl Jam
Original By: Wayne Cochran

"Last Kiss" was originally released during that time in music when songwriting credits and artists often got blurred. You could release a song and then someone would put out a new version later that year. Pearl Jam are essentially redoing the version done by J. Frank Wilson & The Cavaliers. At the time it was Pearl Jam's most commercially successful track and probably the cover most people around my age identify as the quintessential. The Cavalier's version seems too happy to be a song about losing your high school sweetheart in a car crash. Leave it to Eddie's distinct melodies to bring the theme it's correct tone. This is still a staple at Pearl Jam shows around the world

11. "Wicked Game" - HIM
Original By: Chris Isaak

 Finland's HIM have been known to spin a cover or 2. They also do a rendition of "Don't Fear The Reaper" that's worth a listen. With Isaak's "Wicked Game" HIM served it up as a devastating barrage of unrequited passion. I can't listen to the original without wanting to hear this version halfway through it. Unless the original video is involved in some way.

10. "Smooth Criminal" - Alien Ant Farm
Original By: Michael Jackson

Here we go. The top ten ladies and gentlemen.

Before he passed and everyone was singing MJ's tunes Alien Ant Farm reminded us why he was such a unique specimen in the music world. The sign of a good song is it's seamless ability to be presented in any form and still be enjoyable. AAF kept the song's ass-shaking vibe intact and injected it with about 9000 ccs of adrenaline. Gotta love their inclusion of Jackson's signature "ows" and "Woos!" Perfect video too. The right way to revive a classic!!

9. "Thriller" - Imogen Heap
Original By: Michael Jackson

This is the top ten, of course you'll find some of the world's best songwriters up here. Back to back Michael Jackson covers, Imogen went the opposite way and slowed one of his best known tracks to a beautiful piano opus. Imogen has spent the majority of her musical career lurking around in obscurity and the underground, her interpretation here seems to creep up on you as well. Initially you may be put off....but the song's beauty will give you chills. Without doubt.

8. "The Man Who Sold The World" - Nirvana
Original By: David Bowie

Nirvana's MTV Unplugged album is littered full of weird and wonderful covers. I always thought those in attendance might have been disappointed at the time with the lack of classic Nirvana tunes played and about the 50% covers they heard. Looking back though, i'm sure those same people now realize and are grateful they were there on such a special night. This cover is so iconic of Nirvana, even the little mic feedback is great! Don't get me wrong, I love Bowie. In the future I predict a plethora of young artists covering classic Bowie stuff, but Nirvana's "Man Who Sold The World" is damn near perfect and it's live!

7. "The Messenger" - The Tea Party
Original By: Daniel Langois

Canadians covering Canadians, and the results are sublime. Daniel Langois is not only one of my country's most prolific songwriters, but also one of it's best exported producers. The Tea Party i'm sure recognized they were working with some rather sacred material on this one, and you can hear the care and effort in every strum of guitar. Jeff Martin's voice sounds like it's going to break under the pressure at any moment, or maybe his heart and mind is so in tune with the lyrics, he's singing them like they're his own. A masterpiece.

6. "Hurt" - Johnny Cash
Original By: Nine Inch Nails

Johnny Cash gets it man, he just fucking gets it. Where most artists from the golden age may be stuck in their ways or refuse to acknowledge the new stuff, Johnny embraced it. Nine Inch Nails of all bands!!  He took Trent Reznor's sombre words and painted them as his epitaph. Reznor even admitted he felt like the song wasn't his anymore after hearing Cash's version. The pain in his voice and years of addiction and suffering just scream from the speakers. Getting chills just thinking about it.

5. "Superstar" - Sonic Youth
Original By: The Carpenters

God I hated the Carpenters. Not sure why...maybe just never gave them a fair chance, hating was safer than liking. Then I heard this. Wow. Is this the same song? Sonic Youth invited a ghost into my head and it's been living there ever since. Just haunting....Thurston Moore's voice even sounds like it's echoing from beyound the grave, or somewhere etheral. The lyrics are timeless, but Sonic Youth gave a generation's sound nay, essence into a tired classic

4. "Easy" - Faith No More
Original By: The Commodores

Faith No More were known for wild stage antics, off stage feuds and experimental metal/rock music. So when they made this beautiful and masterful version of a Motown classic it turned the world on it's ear. They could have gone the expected way and butchered it through quick power chords and  machine gun drum beats. Instead they left the heart of it intact and painted their own likeness on it's canvas. It's going to be difficult to top "Easy".

 3. "Mad World" - Gary Jules
Original By: Tears For Fears

Tears For Fears had their version with synthesizers and typical 80's pop instrumentation, but the lyrics were so bleak. Maybe they were trying for satire, but I always found it confusing and hard to listen to. Come 2002 when Gary Jules put his spin on a dark song making it an isolated and haunting darker song. The moment is cemented in time when I first heard it: watching the end of Donnie Darko, sitting on my fireplace's hearth. I need to know what this song was. I'll admit I heard the cover first and the original second...of course I did, the original is buried.

Ok, before I get to numbers one and two i'll take a break and list some other good covers that didn't make the list. For one reason or another.

- "In The Air Tonight" - Nonpoint (Phil Collins)
- "The Ballad Of Peter Pumpkin Head" - Crash Test Dummies (XTC)
- "Lovers In A Dangerous Time" - Barenaked Ladies (Bruce Cockburn)
- "Army Of Me" - Helmet (Bjork)
- "Rivers Of Babylon" - Sublime (The Melodians)
- "I Believe I Can Fly" - Me First & The Gimme Gimmes (R. Kelly)
- "Wonderwall" - Ryan Adams (Oasis)

Alright, enough procrastinating. I debated a long time over what would be #1. Between these next two songs it was tough, both are great songs on their own and both are magnificent covers. Both are songs by legendary artists...all 4 of them. Both artists who covered them are no longer with us. I pray I did the right thing...

#2 "Hallelujah" - Jeff Buckley
Original By: Leonard Cohen

Cohen knew he was on to something special when he was writing "Hallelujah". Reportedly it took him months to come up with the right lyrics and had pages and pages of handwritten prose all over his house. A song with that much care and effort put into conceiving it cannot be approached lightly when it comes to covering it. Buckley's version is vulnerable, isolated and ageless. Like he walked out of a heavenly light with his guitar, stopped in front of a silenced and hushed crowd, sang this and moved on to places unknown to mortal minds.
Where Cohen's "Hallelujah" features the choir singing it's chorus one can't help but imagine it's lines being about religion and history, whereas Buckley's trembling voice and longing brings up images of the most intimate passion and sex. A better time gone by, frozen in one's own history. A prison cell of memory full of loss, regret but also gratitude that we were there to experience it. Once.

#1 "All Along The Watchtower" - Jimi Hendrix
Original By: Bob Dylan

From it's iconic first chords, through it's mesmerizing licks and riffs, Jimi's version of  "All Along The Watchtower" is not only the greatest cover ever put to tape, but a shining moment in music history period. Dylan's version is typical Dylan folk/poetry, which is all fine and good, but goddamn when Jimi comes out of that solo hollering "All Along The Watchtowerrrrr" it's about as good as it gets. Dylan himself has even said he's been doing Jimi's version during his live songs...when the original artist changes the way he does his own song, you know you've done something right.
There you go folks, my list of the 50 greatest covers of all time. Hope you enjoyed it!! I'll leave you with Mr. Hendrix. Doing what he did. The best.

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