Friday, January 30, 2009

Top 5 Cover Songs That Are Better Than The Original Versions

Pretty self-explanatory; the topic came up when we were at a bar and someone said that "Crimson and Clover" by Joan Jett & The Blackhearts was the best cover song ever. A-haha.

Ryan's Top 5:

1. "Everybody's Talkin'" - Harry Nilsson - This is definitely one of my favorite songs of all-time, so you bet your ass it's my favorite cover song. Fred "Not Harry Nilsson" Neil apparently performed a version of this song that pre-dates this one. Go figure!

2. "All Along the Watchtower" - Jimi Hendrix -
This is the quintessential example, for me; nothing wrong with the Dylan version, but the Hendrix rendition is iconic rock.

3. "I Fought the Law" - The Clash - Once again, I like older versions of the song, but The Clash definitely knows how to amp up the ass-kickery. I'm fairly sure The Clash could cover anything and I'd like it better.

4. "I Will Survive" - Cake - Cake does the song in their own particular styling. Notably, they amend this lyric: "I should have changed my fucking lock / I would have made you leave your key." See that? They added the word "fucking." Brilliant!

5. "Stand By Me" - John Lennon - This narrowly defeats Van Halen's cover of "You Really Got Me," which loses points because The Kinks are one of my favorite bands. Anyway, I guess it's not a given that this version is incredibly superior--if you're a big R&B fan--and I'm not--so in the end this wins. Also, I like John Lennon. A lot.

Dan's Top 5:

1. Aretha Franklin - Respect (orig. by Otis Redding) - This is the only instance I can think of where the song's meaning is essentially transformed. When Aretha sings it, her womanhood is an essential element of the song.

2. Johnny Cash - Hurt (orig. by Nine Inch Nails) - Easily the newest original on the list to be covered, and by a man who was a living legend. If the Man In Black wants to sing your song, you know it's good.

3. Cream - Crossroads (orig. "Cross Road Blues" by Robert Johnson) - OK, I haven't heard the original, but "Crossroads" is my favorite Cream song.

4. Jimi Hendrix - All Along The Watchtower (orig. by Bob Dylan) - While I agree almost 100% with Ryan's selections, I've allowed myself one overlapping listing. This is it, because Jimi rocked and Dylan's got plenty of other good songs. He can spare one.

5. The Dropkick Murphys - The Fields of Athenry (orig. recorded by Danny Doyle) - Gains the quality of being much more easily adapted to sports scenarios.

Honorable Mention: Van Halen - You Really Got Me (orig. by The Kinks), Gnarls Barkley - Reckoner (orig. by Radiohead) - only omitted because it's not been released, Joe Cocker - With A Little Help From My Friends (orig. by The Beatles), Creedence Clearwater Revival - Heard It Through the Grapevine (orig. by Gladys Knight and the Pips) - omitted because it's too damn long.

Tim's Top 5:

1. If Not For You – George Harrison - The slide guitar on If Not For You works so magically, I don’t even know how to explain it. I think this is one of the greatest love songs ever recorded, not that you’ll be able to tell from that recording. And as much as I love Bob Dylan, his version of his own song just doesn’t measure up. It sounds like he was borrowing some of Hendrix’s work from All Along the Watchtower and makes it a fluff pop song. Harrison’s recording is a sincere and plaintive cry, almost an elegy in advance. The fact that it also works so well on All Things Must Pass means it would be sacrilege to put any lower down the list.

2. Hard to Handle – Black Crowes – I am a fan of Otis Redding’s version, but it’s not even a close contest. The Black Crowes completely reinvent this song and make it sound completely current (both for 1990 and 2009) and I was in disbelief when I actually opened the liner notes of Shake Your Moneymaker and saw that Otis Redding wrote the song. It’s the quintessential Black Crowes song, the best on what is an absolutely phenomenal album, and this song works blissfully well with the country-tuned sounds that they bring to the table on the album.

3. Slut – Big Star* - I include it solely because it’s on a released album, the inaptly titled “Columbia – Big Star Live at Missouri University” album that is inaptly titled, since 1) it’s not really Big Star (hence the asterisk -- it’s the second iteration of Big Star -- Alex Chilton, Jody Stephens, and two members of the Posies (Auer/Stringfellow), since Chris Bell had died long before the “reunion” show), and 2) there is no such thing as Missouri University. Nice try. But it is a phenomenal performance overrun with exuberance that far outpaces the comparatively turgid and horribly produced Todd Rundgren original. A faster tempo and the less enunciated voice of Alex Chilton prove the key here. If I ever put together a band, there is absolutely no way we would not cover this song in the style Big Star does. “S-L-U-T…she may be a slut, but she looks good to me.”

4. Do Ya – Matthew Sweet – Another live cover, this one is documented on Live From 6A, a compilation CD of recordings from Late Night with Conan O’Brien. It’s the lone track on the album that wasn’t actually performed on the show; they did the track as the sound check before the show. It’s a song that’s uniquely Matthew Sweet, perfect for his voice and unassuming tone and captures the superb musicians that he always surrounded himself with for his albums and tours. ELO isn’t a great band, but they are made to create good covers (OK Go almost made the list for covering “Don’t Bring Me Down,” but it’s hard to say their version is definitively better than the original. No such problem here.)

5. I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better – Tom Petty – There’s nothing quite so ironic as getting on this list by covering a band who made their career by covering other people’s songs. But it worked for Tom Petty, who included this version of a Byrds hit on Full Moon Fever. The cleaner digital production is 99% of the reason that this song improves upon the Byrds song, which is one of their best. But the recording is dated, tinny, contains a heavy tambourine and sounds like a hit song played on an AM radio (unsurprisingly). Petty’s song is a much clearer recording and seems a note higher, matching the song more closely with its lyrics.

Honorable mention: 99 Problems – Jay-Z – I exclude this because it’s not really a cover, even though it takes its title and chorus from Ice-T’s cut of the same name. But if it were a cover…oh, it’s on the list; Harvey Danger – Save It For Later – Harvey Danger was way too good a one-hit wonder band to burn out as fast as they did; Draggin’ the Line – R.E.M. – this one-note performance is on the Austin Powers: the Spy Who Shagged Me soundtrack, and is easily the best thing about that horrific movie. Why more people don’t cover Tommy James songs is well beyond me. They’re a guaranteed success – Mony Mony and I Think We’re Alone Now were both hits for later artists, this song is awesome, and Crimson and Clover just begs to be covered (although apparently the Joan Jett fan Ryan mentioned already thinks that job's done); All Along the Watchtower – Jimi Hendrix; It Ain’t Me Babe – The Turtles, Quinn the Eskimo – Manfred Mann - I lump these in because they’re all Bob Dylan covers. Covering Bob Dylan is obvious, but only a few stick out as real successes. The Turtles capture a sardonic taunting tone to a song that Dylan left untouched, Hendrix simply created a new song, and Manfred Mann recorded a ludicrously catchy but still inexplicable song.


Eric S. said...

Pearl Jam's "Last Kiss"

Roughly Speaking... said...

I had no clue "Everybody's Talkin'" was a cover.