When it comes to music there are only a certain number of chords or melodies that can be created, so often times we hear songs that are new that have resemblances to ones of old. One good example of this is Sam Smith’s recent hit “Stay with Me” that sounded very similar to Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down”. There is often a fine line between similarity and down right theft, take Vanilla Ice’s explanation of how the bass line on “Ice Ice Baby” differed from Queen’s “Under Pressure”. As you can see this is a pretty thin way to talk yourself out of copyright infringement.
However, within music there are instances where new bands cover old songs in their own style. Often this is used as a way for the record company to try to guarantee a hit on the record that they are otherwise unsure of. Regardless of the motivation for recording a cover song it is easy to say that within the realm of this particular musical endeavor the results are either completely disastrous or all together amazing.
As a music listener of pretty widespread taste and knowledge I tend to like cover songs that are done in a style different from their original genre. However, being a child of the 80’s and early 90’s, songs from this era tend to have a soft spot in my heart when it comes to being covered by newer groups. Below is a list of 30 cover songs which I think are some of the best. Some do cover songs within the same genre’s, however, I have tried to make the list more diverse in terms of original genres. I have included both the original and the cover for comparison. Comments are welcome.
Song: Boys of Summer
Original Artist: Don Henley (1984)
This particular song reminds me of my childhood and it is one that has just stuck with me. When The Ataris covered this song in the early 2000’s it gave me a new reason to like the song.
Covering Artist: The Ataris (2003)
Song: Who Wants To Live Forever
Original Artist: Queen (1986)
While covers of Queen songs are few and far between (for good reason, nobody can duplicate Freddie Mercury) there have been a few that have snuck out that sound pretty decent. This was always one of my favorite Queen songs from the 80’s.
Covering Artist: Breaking Benjamin (2005)
Original Artist: The Cars (1984)
The Cars are probably one of the most under recognized bands from the late 70’s and early 80’s. I will be completely honest, this is bar none my favorite Cars song ever. The fact that the Deftones are covering it is just gravy.
Covering Artist: Deftones (2005)
Song: Midlife Crisis
Original Artist: Faith No More
This song was on the album that came out after the album that everybody listens to from Faith No More. That being said, a lot of people jumped ship on the band prior to the really good albums that they made.
Covering Artist: Disturbed (2008)
Original Artist: Sarah McLaughlin (1993)
As a part of the “Lillith Fair” crowd, most people only listened to Sarah McLaughlin if they were trying to get some or impress a girl. However, as an artist Sarah McLaughlin managed to write some decent tunes. This is one cover that is probably the most different from the original.
Covering Artist: Evans Blue (2006)
Original Artist: Gary Numan (1980)
Along with the Cars, Gary Numan was one of the musical geniuses from the “New Wave” movement that is seriously underrated. Fear Factory’s cover of this song remains faithful to the original while adding some edge, a plus to have the original artist guest on the cover.
Covering Artist: Fear Factory feat. Gary Numan (1999)
Song: (She’s Got) The Look
Original Artist: Roxette (1989)
I only remember Roxette being around for about three years and in total having about the same amount of singles. This cover version is a lot heavier than the pop original, but still a good listen.
Covering Artist: Candlelight Red (2011)
Song: Have a Cigar
Original Artist: Pink Floyd (1975)
Not many artist cover Floyd and for good reason, generally the songs have no room to improve because they are already great. This version by the Foo Fighters was included because it is a solid cover.
Covering Artist: Foo Fighters (2011)
Song: While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Original Artist: The Beatles (1968)
Many people have covered this song over the years, but I think this version is the best one included on an album (see the Rock & Roll Hall of fame performance from George Harrison’s solo induction for the best live version, Prince is amazing). This version showcases the Canadian Bluesman’s bands solidness as well as his prowess as a soloist (even more amazing considering he was born blind).
Covering Artist: Jeff Healey band (1990)
Song: The Times Are a Changin’
Original Artist: Bob Dylan (1964)
While the original version by Dylan remains relevant in most recent times, let’s be honest, it was in need of an update. This version was recorded for the Chimes of Freedom tribute album. I think that the Irish jig provided by Flogging Molly gives the song a more upbeat feeling that is needed.
Covering Artist: Flogging Molly (2012)
Song: Ultraviolet (Light My Way)
Original Artist: U2 (1991)
For the longest time I was not a fan of the Achtung Baby album, but in recent years it has become one of my favorite U2 albums. This particular version, in my opinion, is a little bit of an upgrade on the original.
Covering Artist: The Killers (2011)
Song: Romeo and Juliet
Original Artist: Dire Straits (1981)
Surprisingly not a lot of people are aware of this song by Dire Straits. I blame it on this song being on an album prior to Brothers in Arms. While the original is still my favorite, the Killers manage to do a good version.
Covering Artist: The Killers (2007)
Song: Hallowed Be Thy Name
Original Artist: Iron Maiden (1982)
I know that I said that I tried to keep this list to cover songs from different genres, but I can’t not include this particular version of the Iron Maiden song.
Covering Artist: Machine Head (2008)
Original Artist: Gloria Jones (1965)
Marilyn Manson has proven that he is pretty adept at crafting good cover versions of songs. In this case, some songs are just good regardless of application. To many people’s surprise this is not the first time the song was covered. In truth, many people think that Soft Cell were the original artists.
Covering Artist: Marilyn Manson (2001)
Song: Dead Souls
Original Artist: Joy Division (1980)
There are few times when a cover song actually gets me into the original artist, however, with this song Nine Inch Nails managed to up the production value of the original while still maintaining the original feeling that Joy Division conveyed. This song is forever tied to The Crow for many of my generation.
Covering Artist: Nine Inch Nails (1994)
Song: In the Air Tonight
Original Artist: Phil Collins (1981)
Few songs have the amount of urban legend attached to it as In the Air Tonight. Phil Collins wasn’t the first frontman from Genesis to prove himself as a solo artist, but this song lives in the mind of many 80’s kids. Nonpoint recorded a revamped version that is heavier and that serves as an anthemic song in some cases.
Covering Artist: Nonpoint (2004)
Song: Space Oddity
Original Artist: David Bowie (1969)
What can be said about Bowie that hasn’t already been said? Given the history of Powerman 5000’s music you would think that they would turn out a mediocre cover, but I think they did a pretty good job considering this is one of THE definitive songs from Bowie.
Covering Artist: Powerman 5000 (2011)
Original Artist: Leonard Cohen (1984)
Man.. Talk about a song that has been covered by pretty much everyone. Hallelujah is one of the biggest songs to be recorded repeatedly. While other versions are really good (Rufus Wainwright) I find that the Jeff Buckley conveys the most emotion to the song.
Covering Artist: Jeff Buckley (1994)
Song: Burning Inside
Original Artist: Ministry (1989)
Most people haven’t ever listened to a Ministry album, but those of us who have can appreciate the mad genius of “Uncle Al.” Having met Static-X once early in their career, their music has always been kind of special to me. Their version stays true to the original but adds the special elements that made Static-X a standout in the “Nu metal” pack.
Covering Artist: Static-X feat. Burton C. Bell (2000)
Song: Careless Whisper
Original Artist: George Michael (1984)
I have always loved this song and I’ll be honest, the first time I heard this cover I said “What the Fuck? Really?” out loud. However, over the years the cover has grown on me and I can say that Seether has done a good job revamping the song to service a new generation.
Covering Artist: Seether (2009)
Song: Jack the Ripper
Original Artist: Morrissey (1993)
Unlike a lot of my contemporaries I did not get into the Smiths or Morrissey in my teens so I came to the party late on this one. While I found the original to be one of my favorites, the cover I feel is a large improvement on the feel of the song.
Covering Artist: AFI (2006)
Original Artist: Nine Inch Nails (1995)
Very few artists take a song and truly make it their own. When Johnny Cash recorded this song he was in a renaissance of his career and turned this NIN song into a song that you feel was made for him.
Covering Artist: Johnny Cash (2003)
Original Artist: Alice in Chains (1992)
Probably the most memorable song on an album full of memorable songs. Would? is always a song that can prop you up because it is just that good. Opeth services the song quite well while paying tribute to one of the great bands of the early 90’s.
Covering Artist: Opeth (2008)
Song: Eleanor Rigby
Original Artist: The Beatles (1966)
Beatles songs are some of the most covered tunes in musicdom (three covers show up on this list). However, sometimes good songs need a darker vibe put to them to match the lyrical content. In this case Godhead did just that.
Covering Artist: Godhead (2001)
Song: Across the Universe
Original Artist: The Beatles (1969)
George Harrison is my favorite Beatle. However, there are one or two Lennon/McCartney compositions that I actually do enjoy. Again, Seether does a pretty decent job of introducing the song to a new generation.
Covering Artist: Seether (2008)
Song: In Your Eyes
Original Artist: Peter Gabriel (1986)
People in the 80’s got sick of this song after it showed up in the movie Say Anything, but honestly it is hard to keep a good song down. An updated version with some rock grooves helps to bring this forward for the turn of the century.
Covering Artist: SR-71 (2004)
Song: Come on Eileen
Original Artist: Dexy’s Midnight Runners (1982)
Probably one of the most catchy but oft forgotten song from the early MTv era, this song is a staple on some pop and rock stations. Save Ferris did an excellent job of making a pop hit a pop/ska hit a decade and a half later.
Covering Artist: Save Ferris (1997)
Song: Hazy Shade of Winter
Original Artist: Simon & Garfunkel (1966)
While most people would gravitate toward the Bangles cover version from the 80’s, I prefer the more rock version provided here.
Covering Artist: Bodyjar (1999)
Song: Holy Diver
Original Artist: Dio (1983)
Dio.. What can you say? Every person who interacted with him can only say that he was the most talented and giving musicians and people on the planet. While the original is seen now as cheesy 80’s rock, HoJo and company managed to make a rocking song rock harder.
Covering Artist: Killswitch Engage (2007)
Song: Rainbow in the Dark
Original Artist: Dio (1983)
I had to include this song on the list. While the lyrics are nonsensical to the casual listener and the original music with synths was cheesier than Provolone, this version just kicks serious ass. Who better to service Dio’s vocals than the Great Big Mouth?
Covering Artist: Corey Taylor (2014)