Take one iconic rock song, add a contemporary artist, jack up the beats per minute and wrap it all up in a shiny new film clip and Voila!: you have a hit on your hands.
That’s one approach to covering another artist’s song.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. When an artist gets inside a great song and makes it their own, the cover version can be a noble undertaking, every bit as fresh as the original.
upstart has compiled the following seven examples of covers that do the original justice. Whether or not they’re the best covers of all time or better than originals is a matter of personal taste. Nevertheless, they offer fresh reinterpretations of well known songs.
Tell us about your favourite cover versions.
I will survive
While Gloria Gaynor is reported not to like the this version of her 1978 disco hit because of its use of the “f” word, Cake’s 1996 version, which was a minor hit in the American college charts, completely reimagines the context of the song in both style (instead of disco rhythms, this version is dominated by a grungy bass) and storyline — the protagonist is no longer a woman moving on after a disastrous relationship, but a parking officer hellbent on handing out tickets. By the time Cake’s version had came out, Gaynor’s song had long been a gay anthem — Cake might completely subvert this and drain the camp elements out of the song. Yet the theme of resilience that made the original so great remains intact, demonstrating how resilient the song itself had become.
…and the Gloria Gaynor’s original
‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ by Banda Do Sul featuring Natascha
Ever wondered what would Sweet Child O’ Mine would have sounded like if Slash had played flute and Axl Rose was a chanteuse? Wonder no more. Banda Do Sol replaced the signature guitar riff with a flute and Natasha on vocals to create a softer, more intimate version of this stadium rock anthem.
…and the original by Guns and Roses
‘Hit me Baby One More Time’ by Tori Amos
It’s easy to dismiss Britney. I did so via the link in the second sentence of this article. But look past the hype and her songs are perfect pieces of pop confection, backed by great production values and complex composition. (Yes, yes, yes, the credit really goes to Britney’s song writers and producers, but we quibble.) Tori Amos shows just how sound Britney’s songs are with be with a live performance of ‘Baby One More Time’.
…and the original by Britney Spears
‘Paranoid Android’ by Christopher O’Riley
Radiohead are musicians’ musicians, so anyone taking them on better know what they’re doing. Classical pianist Christopher O’Riley takes it all in his stride, with this arrangement of Paranoid Android from his album True Love Waits. O’Riley isn’t the first to take on Radiohead. Jazz pianist Brad Mehldau’s version of Paranoid Android is also worth a listen.
…and the original by Radiohead.
‘Mad World’ by Gary Jules
Warring in Afghanistan, boat shoes and John Howard in positions of leadership: three things that many wish had stayed confined to the 1980s. Given the high rotation of ‘Shout’ on FM radio, Tears for Fears could easily be added to that list. ‘Mad World’ saves them from that fate. True, it took Gary Jules to dig out the inner brilliance of the song, but — credit where it’s due — he was dealing with great source material.
… and the original by Tears for Fears.
‘Into the Groove(y)’ by Ciccone Youth
In the late 1980s, Sonic Youth bumped into Madonna and Madge suggested that she record a duet with Thurston Moore of ‘Get into the Groove’. It didn’t happen quite that way, but ‘Into the Groove(y)’, which Sonic Youth released under the name Ciccone Youth gives some idea of what it would have sounded like. Ciccone Youth also covered Robert Palmer’s Addicted to Love
…and the original by Madonna
‘2000 Man’ by KISS
You can rely on Mick and Keef to get things right. Right? Maybe not with ‘2000 Man’. Where the Stone’s opted for a slow-paced hippyesque feel, Ace Frehley made the song his own on KISS 1979’s Dynasty by turning the Marshall’s up to eleven and getting back to the kind of meat-and-two-veg driving blues that the Stone’s pioneered. While Frehley’s efforts were overshadowed by that album’s hit ‘I Was Made for Lovin’ You’, it remains one of the peacock rockers’ finest songs.
…and the original by the Rolling Stones
‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ by Frente
This could have been a mess. Imagine if Frente had applied the same upbeat, happy, pop of ‘Accidentally Kelly Street’ to New Order’s classic. (Not that ‘Kelly Street’ is a terrible song, but everything in its place). Fortunately, they knew exactly what they were doing. A fraction of the length of the original, and using only acoustic guitars, Frente’s version is both faithful to the original while also giving it a twist.
…and the original by New Order