What's a cover song, asks he who has lived under a rock for the last, oh, eighty years or so? A cover song is a recording that an artist (or a scumbag like Britney Spears) might make of someone else's previously recorded work.
Can anybody make a cover version? Yes, and no. If you're thinking you might want to make a polka cover of the newest Justin Bieber song (in which case, your version will be a thousand thousand times more noteworthy than the original) you have to negotiate a license with the holder of the copyright for the original song. In some cases, the holder of the copyright isn't even the artist, those deals are made when contracts are signed between the music publishing companies, record labels or any one of a thousand other companies/agencies that get involved in the process of taking money from artists to be able to use their own work. (Gee, Georgie, bitter much? Why yes, yes I am. Too many up and coming musicians never read the fine print and manage to not only get fucked out of their money, but their own music.) In most cases, the copyright holder will need to be paid a "royalty" fee to obtain their permission for your cover. If the copyright holder
doesn't like you doesn't want a cover made of their song, they have every right to say no (and some of them probably should have). Don't cry, just pick another song. After all, money talks.
Anyway, after the jump are fifty of my favorite cover songs. Please remember I said MY FAVORITE. I do not care if you do not like them, this is my blog. Go write your own.
Read 'em and weep. (All links go to YouTube.)
1. Johnny Cash - Hurt. This is not only my favorite cover song, it's one of my favorite songs of all time and it can actually make me cry. The video where June is on the staircase looking down on Johnny with a sad look on her face gives me a lump in my throat. This is one of the few songs that I think was way better than the original, which is a Nine Inch Nails song. Trent Reznor recorded it for his most successful album, Downward Spiral, in 1995. Johnny Cash's cover is from 2002's American IV: The Man Comes Around.
2. Jeff Buckley - Hallelujah. Jeff Buckley was taken too early. I shudder to think of what he could have accomplished had he lived. This version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah (originally recorded in 1984) is emotional and showcases not only Buckley's talent, but his vocal range and versatility. Buckley's version is from his debut album Grace in 1994.
3. Korn - Word Up! The original, by Cameo, was an awesome rump shaker in the eighties. Korn turned it into something original, yet still recognizable. The video (featuring CGI superimposed heads of the band on dogs) is creepy and awesome at the same time. Korn has done other covers, but this is my favorite of them. Cameo's version is from 1986, Korn's from their first Greatest Hits album in 2004.
4. Guns N Roses - Knockin' On Heaven's Door. Bob Dylan wrote this song, and it's been covered a multitude of times, but I think GNR's version is the best. Dylan charted it in 1973, GNR in 1990 for the Days of Thunder soundtrack. It eventually ended up on their double Use Your Illusion release in 1991. (Use Your Illusion II, or "The Blue One.")
5. Black Crows - Hard To Handle. Betcha didn't know this was originally an Otis Redding song, did you? Originally written and recorded by Redding, it was released on his posthumous album The Immortal Otis Redding in 1968. The song brought the Black Crows national attention as a single released from their album Shake Your Money Maker in 1990. Their version actually uses a melody from another song, 1972's A Man of Many Words by Buddy Guy. So this song is actually a twofer.
6. Red Hot Chili Peppers - Higher Ground. Stevie Wonder wrote and released the original in 1973, and the Chilis recorded their version in 1989 for their album Mother's Milk. Also noteworthy: The Chilis covered The Ohio Player's 1975 single Love Rollercoaster in 1996. Both covers have the unique Chili's sound and they do the originals proud.
7. Annie Lennox - Whiter Shade of Pale. Procul Harum originally recorded this song and charted it in 1967. It's haunting melody and vocals are both suited to Annie's style and vocals. Her version is from her 1995 album Medusa.
8. Kid Rock - Feel Like Makin' Love. Bad Company did the original version of this song, and Kid Rock's voice is perfectly suited to the vocals. Bad Company's is from their 1975 album Straight Shooter and is as the 78th best hard rock song of all time, according to VH1. Kid Rock's cover is on his 2003 self titled album.
9. Marilyn Manson - Sweet Dreams ( Are Made of This). (You may have to confirm that you're over 18 to watch the video.) This song was pretty much what made the English duo The Eurythmics (Dave Steward and Annie Lennox) famous when it was released as a single from their album of the same name in 1983. Manson's cover is from his remix LP Smells Like Children in 1995. The song pretty much was responsible for bringing Manson mainstream, too.
10. H.I.M. - Wicked Game. Chris Isaac's Heart Shaped World album produced this song in 1989, but it wasn't until Wicked Game was featured in a 1991 David Lynch film, Wild At Heart, that it really started to get noticed. A heavier, more guitar influenced version appears on the Finnish band H.I.M.'s demo album, This Is Only The Beginning in 1999, and they remade it for Greatest Love Songs Vol. 666 (1999). But it's the 2000 version from their Razorblade Romance album that I like the best. Singer Ville Valo must have really liked this song to cover it three different times.
11. Type O Negative - Summer Breeze. You will probably laugh at this but for the longest time I wouldn't listen to Type O because, for some reason, I thought they were a hard core rap band. (!!) Originally from the album Summer Breeze, Seals and Croft wrote and recorded this song in 1972. Type O covered it for their classic album Bloody Kisses in 1993. When Peter Steel sings the chorus, well, his voice gets really, REALLY deep.
12. Limp Bizkit - Faith. Faith, from the 1987 album of the same name, was Billboard's number one song of 1988 for George Michael. Limp Bizkit covered it for their 1997 album Three Dollar Bill Y'all$$. A lot of people did not like the Limp Bizkit version, especially Fred Durst's screaming of the lyrics. But I've always thought it was awesome. And this is... you guessed it... my blog.
13. Sam Kinison - Wild Thing. The Wild Ones released this song in 1965, but the famous version is by The Troggs in 1966. I absolutely love Sam Kinison's 1988 version the best. Kinison changed the lyrics around, "you're a lying, unfaithful, untrustable tramp and I think I love you," and added his signature scream to the song. Watch the video and see how many famous 1980's hair metal rockers you can spot. And yes, that's Jessica Hahn writhing around in the ring. It's hard to believe that Kinison died 19 years ago. And that he used to be a Pentecostal minister.
14. Fats Domino - Blueberry Hill. Gene Autry recorded this in 1949, but it became The Fat Man's signature song in 1956. I have huge emotional ties to this song, as it's one of my daddy's favorites and I pretty much grew up with it playing somewhere. I do want to thank my pops for my love of music. He did, however, create a monster. ;)
15. Van Halen - You Really Got Me. Ray Davies wrote this song and The Kinks recorded it in 1964. The guitar power chords were heavy and influential to rising metal musicians. Van Halen recorded their cover for their self titled 1974 debut album. It has been featured in commercials, movie soundtracks and on the Guitar Hero: Van Halen edition.
16. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts - Crimson and Clover. Tommy James and the Shondells' biggest hit, Crimson and Clover was released in 1968. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts caused a little controversy with their cover in 1982. The song is about the singer's love for a woman.
17. Alien Ant Farm - Smooth Criminal. When I first heard this cover, I was in an immediate state of WTF? A rock version of a Michael Jackson song? It works, though, and well. Jackson's original is from his album Bad from 1987. AAF's from their 2001 release, Anthology. Interesting note: 2 Cellos, a duo of Croatian cellists, recorded this for their 2011 debut album.
18. Marilyn Manson - Tainted Love. Originally recorded by Gloria Jones in 1965, this one got made famous by Soft Cell in 1981 during the British invasion of pop music in the eighties. By the time Manson covered it in 2001, a whole new generation of fans were exposed to it's awesomeness.
19. Snake River Conspiracy - How Soon Is Now? Written by Morrissey and recorded by The Smiths in 1985, Snake River Conspiracy recorded their version in 2000. The Russian (lesbian?) girl group Tatu also covered it in 2003.
20. Janis Joplin - Me and Bobby McGee. Written by Kris Kristofferson and first recorded by Roger Miller in 1969. It's been covered by a crapload of people, including Loretta Lynn, Olivia Newton-John, LeAnn Rimes and Jennifer Love Hewett, but Janis's 1971 version is by far the most popular and, in my opinion, the best.
21. Willie Nelson - Gravedigger. Originally written and recorded by Dave Matthews for his first solo album in 2003, Gravedigger was covered by Willie in 2008 for his album Moment of Forever. It's a song about people who have lived and died and the dates on their gravestones. The video has Willie playing several roles in a funeral, the gravedigger, the preacher, the limo driver and, ultimately, the dead guy in the coffin. Side note: Damn Willie got some long hair.
22. Cake - I Will Survive. Gloria Gaynor's tale of becoming empowered after a breakup was a smash hit when it was released in 1978. Cake's version, from their 1996 album Fashion Nugget, was a mild hit for them with a tiny lyrics change. "I should have changed my stupid lock" became "I should have changed that fucking lock."
24. Dope - (You Spin Me) Right Round. Dead or Alive dropped this little dance tune on their 1985 album, Youthquake and Dope covered it for their 1999 release Felons and Revolutionaries. Hip hop star Flo Rida also jacked the chorus for his 2009 song Right Round.
25. Richard Cheese - Down With the Sickness. Yes, there is a lounge music version of Disturbed's song from their 1999 debut album The Sickness. Richard Cheese (and his band, Lounge Against The Machine) made their version for their album Tuxicity in 2002. I first heard it as part of the soundtrack for the 2004 remake of the movie Dawn of the Dead. Noteworthy: Tuxicity has a shit ton of cool lounge-style covers, including Cypress Hill's Insane In The Brain, Baby Got Back by Sir Mix-Alot, and Van Halen's Hot For Teacher. This (or any album of Cheese's is worth a listen even if only for the novelty.)
26. Ram Jam - Black Betty. This is an adaptation of an African-American folk/work song, and Ledbelly recorded it a capella in 1939. There is a recording by a convict known as Iron Head in 1933. This song might have actually begun in the 1800's as a military marching cadence about a firearm called the Black Betty. Regardless, Ram Jam recorded their version in 1977 and set of a shit storm of boycotts by people like the NAACP and the Congress of Racial Equality. I guess Ozzy Osbourne didn't invent controversy after all.
27. Mötley Crüe - Helter Skelter. This song is from The Beatles' White Album, and was released in 1968. The Crüe covered it for Shout At The Devil in 1983. Unfortunately for The Beatles, Charles Manson used this song (along with the rest of the White Album) to brainwash his followers into thinking they were on the brink of a race war.
28. The Blues Brothers - Soul Man. Written in 1964 by Isaac Hayes and David Porter, Soul Man was a smash for Sam and Dave in 1967. Dan Akroyd and John Belushi covered it as The Blues Brothers for a skit on Saturday Night Live in 1978 then released a recording in 1979 for the classic movie The Blues Brothers. Nothing beats watching John Belushi doing cartwheels on stage to this song. Nothing.
29. Uncle Kracker - Drift Away. Originally recorded by John Henry Kurtz in 1972, Dobie Grey took it to number five on the Billboard chart in 1983. Uncle Kracker charted his cover in 2003, which featured Dobie Grey. His version made it to number two in the US.
30. Aretha Franklin - R.E.S.P.E.C.T. This one is also an Otis Redding original. His version, about a man who begs for respect from his woman, charted in 1965. Aretha's version, about a woman DEMANDING respect from her man, hit in 1967. It is such a powerful song that it became a hallmark of the feminist movement and encouraged women everywhere to demand their dues.
31. Reba McEntire - Fancy. For a long time, I didn't know this was a cover song. It is. Bobby Gentry recorded it in 1969. Reba McEntire covered the song about teenage prostitution for her album Rumor Has It in 1990.
32. The Gourds - Gin And Juice. This may very well be the funniest cover version of all time. Hillbillies (complete with banjos) doing a version of SnoopDogg's 1994 hit Gin and Juice. I know, right? The Gourds originally had this on their 1998 EP Gogitchershinebox and re-released it again on their 2007 album Shinebox. The video is exceptionally creative. (Although I'm not sure if it's an official video.)
33. Nightwish - Over the Hills and Far Away. In 1987, Irish blues/rock singer and guitarist Gary Moore wrote and recorded this song about a dude that gets sent off to prison for a crime he didn't commit because he didn't want to give up the fact that he was with the wife of his best friend for an alibi. Nightwish, a symphonic heavy-metal band from Finland, covered it for their first EP titled Over The Hills and Far Away in 2001.
34. Jimi Hendrix - All Along the Watchtower. Originally Bob Dylan's song from his 1967 album John Wesley Harding, Hendrix covered All Along the Watchtower in 1968 and it became one of his signature songs.
35. Skid Row - Little Wing. Of Little Wing, Jimi Hendrix said it "sounded like jelly bread." The song appeared on his 1967 record Axis: Bold As Love. Skid Row covered it on their 1992 record B-Side Ourselves. This is one of those rare cases where I like the cover better than the original. Sebastian Bach's vocals add an almost masterfully masculine and ethereal quality to the song.
36. Seether - Careless Whisper. In 1984, Careless Whisper was George Michael's first solo single, though it was billed as Wham! featuring George Michael. I actually do not like Seether (much) but I love their version of this song which appeared on the 2009 reissue of their album Finding Beauty in Negative Spaces.
37. Metallica - Turn the Page. I will start this entry off by saying I hate, Hate, HATE Metallica's version of Lynyrd Skynyrd's Tuesday's Gone. Turn the Page, which began as a 1972 Bob Seger song, was covered by Metallica for their album Garage, Inc. in 1998 and it is an AWESOME cover.
38. Disturbed - Land of Confusion. Genesis recorded this song on their 1986 record Invisible Touch and made it to number four on the US charts when they released the single in 1987. I remember the video for it being crazy and featured puppets. In 2005, Disturbed recorded it for their album Ten Thousand Fists. Their video was animated by Todd McFarland (of Spawn comic book fame, who also did the animated video for Korn's Freak On A Leash).
39. The Fugees - Killing Me Softly. Lori Lieberman recorded this song in 1971, but Roberta Flack made it famous in 1973. In 1995, Lauryn Hill and her group The Fugees (which also included Wyclef Jean and Pras Michael) recorded it for their smash album The Score.
40. Chris Cornell/Eleven - Ave Maria. Ave Maria is an original composition by Franz Schubert originally published in 1845. Eleven recorded it with Chris Cornell on vocals for the 1993 holiday album A Very Special Christmas 3. The arrangement is not going to be for everyone, but I find it and Cornell's vocals to be a haunting reminder of what music used to sound like.
41. Israel Kamakawiwo'ole - Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Originally recorded by Judy Garland in 1939, Izzy, as he was referred to by his fans, made his cover in 1993 as part of a medley with What A Wonderful World.
42. Eric Clapton - Cocaine. JJ Cale wrote and recorded this song in 1976, but it's Clapton's 1977 version from his monster album Slowhand that made this song one of the biggest classic rock songs in history. I actually like the live version of this song better than the studio recording, which is saying a lot because I usually hate live recordings. Interestingly, another Clapton hit, After Midnight, was originally also a JJ Cale song.
43. UB40 - Red, Red Wine. This song about getting over a lost love was originally written and released by Neil Diamond in 1968. UB40 nearly turned it into a reggae song for their album Labour of Love in 1983.
44. Sinead O'Connor - Nothing Compares 2 U. Prince had a little side band called The Family and, in 1985, they recorded the original version of this song. In 1990, Sinead O'Connor covered it on her second album, I Do Not Want What I Have Not Got. This is the song that made her a star.
45. Nazareth - Love Hurts. This song was originally recorded by The Everly Brothers in 1960, but the version that most people remember is Nazareth's, from their massive 1975 album Hair of the Dog.
46. Quiet Riot - Cum On Feel the Noize. Slade's 1975 recording of this song went straight to number one in the UK when it was released. Quiet Riot covered it for their Mental Health album in 1993. Oddly, they covered another Slade song Mama Weer All Crazy Now on their 1984 album Condition Critical. And, yeah, I know those spellings are off, but they are right.
47. Tesla - Signs. Tesla is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated bands that ever was. In 1990, they recorded this song live for their Five Man Acoustical Jam album. The original was done by The Five Man Electrical Jam (coincidence? I think not) in 1970.
48. Ugly Kid Joe - Cat's In The Cradle. Henry Chapin wrote and recorded this folk song in 1974. Ugly Kid Joe (the band's name is almost a cover, it's a nod to punk band Pretty Boy Floyd), recorded the cover in 1993 for their album America's Least Wanted.
49. Great White - Once Bitten Twice Shy. In 1975, Ian Hunter wrote and recorded the original version of Once Bitten Twice Shy. Hair metal band Great White covered it for their 1989 release Twice Shy. As with a lot of cover songs, this one put Great White on the map.
50. Lenny Kravitz - American Woman. Although I usually get irritated when great classic rock songs are covered, Lenny Kravitz's 1999 version of The Guess Who's 1970 original was right on the mark. The lyrics and guitar are both perfect for Kravitz. In fact, I love it so much that I think I'll go listen to it now.