10 cover songs I prefer to the original

November 11th, 2008 by amy

Max and Coralie and I were discussing cover songs the other day and Max came up with a challenge to list 10 cover songs we prefer to the original. Below are my choices (and here are Coralie’s).

1. The Clash, Brand New Cadillac

vs. Vince Taylor and His Playboys. No question, the Clash version kicks ass.

2. Devo’s Satisfaction
(video removed by WMG who hate people who love music)

vs. Rolling Stones. Cuz I am a geek.

3. Cake, I Will Survive
(original video removed by WMG, boo hiss!)

vs. Gloria Gaynor. This was super-hard, the original is fantastic, so passionate, an anthem really but I love the Cake version.

4. Iron and Wine, Such Great Heights

I like the original by The Postal Service but I love the slowness, solemnness of the Iron and Wine version.

5. t.A.T.u., How Soon is Now

vs. The Smiths. I know, I know, this is heresy, how can I prefer the cheap pop version of a song which moved generations of pale morose people like me? But I do, I love the t.A.T.u. version, it’s both light, fun and, to my mind, there’s a plaintive ache in the voice which suit the lyrics.

6. UB40, Can’t Help Falling in Love

vs. Elvis. There’s a sort of tradition in Ska music to do covers. I love Ali Campbell’s voice and the horn section is brilliant (UB40 hon mention: I Got You Babe)

7. Save Ferris, Come On Eileen

vs. Dexy’s Midnight Runners. I love the original but the Save Ferris cover gets me really revv-ed up and like I said, I’m a ska fan – I can’t help it, it’s the horns, the beat. etc.

8. Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Higher Ground
vs. Stevie Wonder. This is the Chilli Peppers at their best, pumped up and kicking it.

9. Tricky, Black Steel,

(see the actual video but embedding disabled) vs. Public Enemy. I love the original, a classic, but Martina Topley-Bird’s voice and delivery are fantastic.

10. The song which started the discussion, Faith No More’s cover of Easy Like Sunday Morning:
(original video again removed to WMG – wow, they’re awful!)

vs Lionel Richie’s

Extra: Hallelujah seems to be the classic cover song debate and many people are absolute and unyielding in their opinion. I know there is a strong Buckley faction but my preference is between Rufus and Leonard and it’s difficult to choose between the two. Rufus’ version is one of my all time favorite songs, but Leonard’s moves me. Rufus sings like an angel, his voice is gorgeous; Leonard’s voice is rough, a bit unsteady but passionate. Rufus’ version sounds like a hymn; Leonard’s more like some fervent prayer in the dark. I feel like Leonard means what he is singing. I’m probably always going to end up preferring the love song that is on it’s knees with yearning vs. one that soars above so for me this is an example where the original still tops a really excellent cover.

Rufus’ version:

vs. Leonard Cohen’s original (excuse the graphic, the original was removed)

Addendum: There were a few songs I was on the fence about and decided I like them both, but favored the original slightly more:
Bjork’s and Death Cab For Cutie’s All is Full of Love.
The Cure’s and Tricky’s Love Cats.

I can’t decide between Kate Bush’s vs. Placebo’s version of Running up that Hill. I love the darkness of the Placebo version and the passion of Kate Bush’s version.

Honorable mentions: Arctic Monkeys cover of Shirley Bassey’s Diamonds are Forever (Alex Turner has an incredible voice); Elvis Costello’s Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood and The Cardigan’s cover of Iron Man.

Lastly, but most cheesily, just for fun, Richard Cheese’s version of Creep is a must-listen.

Update: Another honorable mention is Rachid Taha’s part Arabic cover of The Clash’s Rock the Casbah. Also, it’s almost impossible to find a better cover of any song Nina Simone did, she just rips it up and owns it (see the Be Misunderstood hon mention above), but on the way home, I remembered this Muse cover of Feeling Good – an incredibly sexy song (original version removed by WMG – again, boo hiss x 100, WMG!

Update 1/11/09

Max mentioned that the Soft Cell version of Tainted Love is better than the original and it is such a fantastic song, I just had to add it here.
(another video removed by WMG due to a copyright claim. They are teh suck).

25 Responses to “10 cover songs I prefer to the original”

  1. Mark Baker Says:

    I posted about my fav covers earlier this year;


    Of course, I prefer all the DM originals 8-) But in the group of 7 non-DM covers, I’d say that I prefer all of them to the original (except for the La’s, which I’ve never heard).

  2. amy Says:

    Hey Mark, thanks!

    I too prefer the DM originals :) I like the Johnny Cash version of Personal Jesus, but the original is just so good. I’d not heard it before but that kd lang version of Helpless is great.

  3. barbie-dull Says:

    Et voila, here’s my take regarding fantastic covers and great music:


  4. Richard Harris Says:

    Friend of Ann Bassetti. Good idea and selection, I think.

    Have you heard Madeleine Peyroux’s jazzy covers of Dylan (“You’re Going to Make Me Lonesome) and Cohen (“Dance Me to the End of Love” and “Blue Alert”?


  5. amy Says:

    hi Richard! any friend of Ann’s is someone well worth knowing :) thanks for your comment.

    I know Dance Me to the End of Love, it’s my other favorite Cohen song, but I don’t know Blue Alert. I’ll have to check that and Madeleine Peyroux’s cover too (I have a vague notion I’ve heard the name, is she like a modern Billie Holiday?).

  6. Richard Harris Says:

    Yes, a slick Billie Holiday; great instrumentation. She is a former busker in Paris, so sings some in French. (She, like Obama, is a half-breed. (Makes for strong genes.)

    Am now one of your Twitter followers, thanks to Annbass


  7. Max Says:

    Add to that:
    – obviously Jeff buckley’s Hallelujah (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AratTMGrHaQ), much better than any other version
    -Grace Jones’ La Vie en Rose (album version, not the scary vids on youtube)
    – Coolio’s Gangsta Paradise (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N6voHeEa3ig), and yes, Weird Al’s version too.
    – Led Zeppelin’s When The Levee Breaks (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_FJTn1jbk0, audio only)
    – controversially, Sid Vicious’ My Way (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLC3uT3aCoE)

    and probably many more. Guessed the original artists? Cohen, Piaf, Wonder, McCoy/Minnie, and François

  8. Dean Says:

    Hello? Chipmunks, anyone?

  9. Dean Says:

    Or anything done by the Muppets.

  10. dino Says:

    In my dreams I imagine the chipmunks doing a cover of a muppets cover.

  11. dino Says:

    The Goodies version of “Wild Thing”. (Yes, I remembered this via thinking of the Muppets)

  12. Richard Harris Says:

    Eric Clapton’s covers of Robert Johnson are good–probably with less soul–but better audio and thus more accessible. Also, Clapton is performing with other, excellent musicians, thus more musical depth.

    (The more rootsy and jazzy focus of my favorites is probably a reflection of my age, which is the same as Dylan and John Lennon, if he were still around.)

  13. amy Says:

    Richard, I thought similarly re: a reflection of age. I realized how many songs mentioned above (either as an original or cover) I first heard when I was in high school or college.

    I read something on tricks of the trade that piano sellers should try to guess the age of the person then play something popular from when they were 18 as this would induce emotional resonance. Certainly music is something we all strongly identify with.

  14. Richard Harris Says:

    Interesting, Amy. Just got back from a few days with Ann and Gene in Seattle. Many chuckles among old buddies on their sweet houseboat. Thorough Web 2.0 lessons. Annie holds you in high regard.

    Re. covers: What a great project! My inclination is not to judge vis-a-vis original but to savor differences, especially in back-up arrangements and instrumentation, e.g., how jazz musicians can transform a song. Not necessarily total deconstruction a la John Coltrane, (which too is very cool) but more accessible stuff like Madeleine Peyroux rendition of Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome,” or obscure singer/jazz pianist Etta Jones’ version of Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Mister Bo Jangles.” Whole new musical messages. Or Keith Jarrett’s crystaline “Over the Rainbow.”

    Enjoying all the links in Twitter

  15. Richard Harris Says:

    Beginning to obsess re. covers:

    Your comment about age–the nostalgia factor, really–is limiting but so true, and one which I try to at least acknowledge in myself and hopefully, from time to time, am able to transcend by LISTENING.

    But modernist (distinct from modern) music–from Stravinsky to Punk, and beyond–can be disturbing too, often hard to listen to. Get’s ya all riled up.

    I am setting up playlists of covers in my iTunes…very entertaining.

    James Taylor’s latest album is actually titled “Covers.” In my opinion he hasn’t matched his “Fire and Rain” break-out hit, and his voice is really thin. But he and his band can really get into a groove. Compare his “Hound Dog,” for example with Bib Mama Thornton’s original or with the one Elvis did. (I was cool, looking like James Dean, wearing blue suede shoes, and in Jr. high school at the time.)

    Getting into a groove is not easy. As an amateur guitarist, I have yet to approximate the groove Dylan sets in his “Meet Me in the Morning,” a simple blues song on the “Blood on the Track” album.

    Also at my Geezer Gig (2 guitarists and a bassist/harp player) of Saturday, we decided to take the plunge and work on Eric Clapton’s cover of Robert Johnson’s “Malted Milk.”

    Two other favorite cover albums: ” Timeless” of Hank Williams’ music and “Tower of Song” of Leonard Cohen’s, both of which I imagine you are familiar with.

    I wish I could attach UTube videos with this discussion, like you do, or at least some audio. Any suggestions? Even am considering my own blog, since I’m exploring a new definition of the vernacular in music with the Active Arts program of the L.A. Music Center. Great Fun!

    BTW, I picked up a hint from your tricks of the trade link I’ll be using at my niece’s wedding in January. Thanks.

  16. Richard Harris Says:

    “… comment awaiting moderation”?

  17. amy Says:

    Moderation, yes, sorry, I don’t have very good spam filters on the blog at present so it takes going through a fairly long list.

    You should *definitely* get a blog! You’d be great. I appreciate your thoughtful and informed take on music. Beyond the required piano lessons as a kid, I’ve never played music but have great respect for those who do.

    WordPress offers free blogs as does Blogger.

    I’m glad too you got use out of the tricks of the trade link (and many congratulations and best wishes to your niece and her soon-to-be husband).

    I’m having a hard time figuring out how to put in the code in my comment to show you how to make a links without making a link (and hiding the code). One thing I’ve noticed is that if you make a comment, and then hit the “e” button, that allows you to edit the comment. The third button from the left above the comment box is link and if you highlight the words where you want to make the link and then click “link” it will allow you to paste the URI.

  18. Richard Harris Says:


    Here’s an interesting LA Times article re. the covers in the current movie “Cadillac Records.” We viewed the movie to test the cover capabilities and pretty much agree with the reviewer. Well done and entertaining but not up to the original renditions. I respect the artists’ courage, however, “challenged by singing in the shadow of giants.” (The movies, itself, was a bit sappy.)

    Richard Harris

  19. Richard Harris Says:

    Actually, Beyonce’s Etta James was better than expected, and her acting improved since “Dreamgirls.” Jeffrey Wright’s Muddy Waters was a standout.


  20. amy Says:

    ah interesting you mention Beyonce/Etta. A few weeks ago I read about the movie and went and found Beyonce singing “At Last” and I’m afraid it doesn’t even come close to Etta’s version though I like Beyonce a lot.

    Beyonce’s version, to my mind, is too clean, too smooth, too easy. Etta’s voice has a richness, a depth, a rawness that is rare and what makes the song so moving. Beyonce has a great voice, a great delivery, it just can’t compare.

  21. Richard Harris Says:

    Hi Amy,
    After listening to the links, I must say you’re right on. I’ve asked for the Chess CD as an Xmas gifts, so stay tuned on this. AND I’m blown away (gobsmacked?) by your facility with the technology to make comparisons so easy and immediate. You set a good example. Gene & Ann need to see this; I’ll tweet them right away.

    On another front, I was shocked, that I wasn’t familiar with any of LA Times pop critic Ann Powers’ best of 2008 http://tinyurl.com/4yu8g4 I guess I have some listening to do.

    I sent out a tweet re. the works of Christopher Small awhile back. His is a philosophy of music that might appeal to you.

    Finally, my wife and I have been burning disks of samplings from our eclectic collection for Xmas gifts to family. Included are some duplications of songs (e.g., Peyroux’s cover of Dylan, we’ve discussed) that demonstrate the “Power of Covers.” -Happy Holidays, RH

  22. Joseph Reagle Says:

    Awesome that you can include links to the music! I’m a little embarrassed to admit I actually like t.a.t.u., and it’s not a bad cover, but it’s not as good as the Smiths: it doesn’t make me want to twirl with the outside of my limp wrist pressed to my forehead.

    Let’s see, I like Rasputina’s “You Don’t Own Me”, Aimee Mann’s “One”, Ani Difranco “Wishing & Hoping”, Bauhaus’ “Ziggy Stardust”, Cat Power’s “Wonderwall”, Emilíana Torrini’s “If You Go Away”.

  23. amy Says:

    hi Joseph! Your “wrist pressed to my forehead” line made me giggle. Well described.

    I have to thank you for suggesting Rasputina. I’d not heard of them and they’re fantastic. I just found You Don’t Own Me just now and it’s great. (I also found Wish You Were Here which is very good too).

    One “Wishing and Hoping” and Ziggy are great. I’d not heard “Wonderwall” by Cat Power but it is absolutely lovely as is “If you Go Away”. Thanks for the suggestions!

  24. amy Says:

    Hi Richard, thanks, you’re so kind :)

    I am honored that you take such an interest in this. I would encourage you again to start your own blog as well. You have ideas that deserve to be shared and blogs are great for that.

    I’m amazed at how many people across such a wide spectrum have commented on covers – and all with such good suggestions (I’ll even generously count Dean’s).

  25. Joseph Reagle Says:

    Rasputina is one of my favorite bands and awesome to see live — lucky for me they’re a Brooklyn band, but I think I saw them in Boston. They got great covers of many artists, but their originals are awesome: informed by a nerdy/historical sensibility. Best example of this is 1816: The Year Without a Summer”

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