When the cover is better...

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I wondered what your thoughts were...

I make a habit of hunting out different cover versions of tracks, pretty much at random as the fancy takes me. Sometimes it's interesting just to see how many different versions of a particular track I can find. Other times it happens quite by accident. I bought a Jordan Rudess album on a whim and was stunned by the cover versions of some prog rock classics on there! His take on ELP's Tarkus is, in my opinion as a die hard ELP fan (first band I really got into as a teen), that it is how the track should have sounded all those decades ago!

Others that spring to mind are Hendrix's version of All Along The Watch Tower, Alien Ant Farm's Smooth Criminal. There are stacks out there.

So, in your opinion, which covers do you prefer to the original performance?

I think the Talking Heads did pretty well with the Reverend Al Greene's "Take Me To The River". And I liked Leon Russell's take on 'Hard Rain Gonna Fall' . But now you have sent me off to hear Jordan Rudess!

Lots of love for Mr Rudess's stuff here - would that be his album "The Road Home" by any chance? It's excellent. He follows me on Twitter and I have absolutely no idea why. Smile

Motorhead's version of Louie Louie will always be the best version of that song, ever. Memory's hazy, but it might have been the first track to get them on Top Of The Pops, back in 1978. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bS8Fn2gaGpM (My god, they were young back then...)

One that instantly springs to mind is 'Tainted Love' by Soft Cell - now the definitive version. Probably also true of Björk's version of "It's Oh So Quiet".

Some other favourites are 'I Second That Emotion' and 'All Tomorrow's Parties' by Japan, 'All Tomorrow's Parties' (again!) by Nick Cave, 'Time' by Tori Amos, 'Song to the Siren' by This Mortal Coil, 'You Keep Me Hanging On' by Colourbox and 'Stranger Than Kindness' by Fever Ray

Some great ones there, guys!
@JamKar as a keys player I think you'll love his stuff, Mike!
@headfirstonly got it in one, Chris!

Metallica's cover of Turn the Page by Bob Seeger is easily as good as the original! http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=dOibtqWo6z4

I usually love anything Eddie Vedder covers! Love how he sings Gilmour's part live on Comfortably Numb with Roger Waters! http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=hDjRO6SjjhM

Gillian Welch and Old Crow Medicine Show version of The Weight is much better than the original IMO. http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=zXf-SuBbJa0

And finally, if you like old pop/rock, check out the soundtrack to the video game called Stubbs the Zombie released in 2005! A bunch of well known classics reimagined by modern (at the time) artists. Most of the covers are much better than the originals! http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLBB6BE9A5A1AF76C3

Forgot one ... 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' by Propellerheads

I hesitate to say "better" in this case, but there's something I remember as an early Beatles song, but of course I was too young to know it was a cover. The original was also great and by a legendary rocker/songwriter, but things changed when "Roll Over Beethoven" was covered by Electric Light Orchestra. And it's not just the intro, the breaks also quote B's Fifth Symphony.

cts's picture

Chaka Khan's cover of I Feel For You and Aretha Franklin's take on You Make Feel Like A Natural Woman.

The Beatles cover of "Twist and Shout". Marvin Gaye cover of "I Heard It Through The Grapevine"

"went to the top of the Billboard Pop Singles chart for seven weeks from December 1968 to January 1969"


Only one thing comes to mind. Madeon's version of deadmau5's Raise Your Weapon.

The entire "Stairways to Heaven" album, a bunch of tracks reimagining the interminably long self-indulgent power ballad that ended every school dance for those of us over 40.

I particularly like the versions by the Beatnix (in the style of the Beatles): https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=3WfoccRna6I

And the Rock Lobsters (in the style of the B-52s):

Slightly more traditional answer: Jonathan Coulton's cover of Sir Mix-a-Lot's Baby Got Back:

Or Devo's art rock cover of the Rolling Stone's Satisfaction, which completely removes the iconic riff:

The Replacements covering almost anything, but Black Diamond and Another Girl, Another Planet are both great versions.

Beck's cover of "Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometime" (which I believe was originally done by The Korgis) from the soundtrack of Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. Beautiful production by Jon Brion. The vocal sound is so good. Close your eyes and listen on a good set of headphones, and you'd swear that Beck was sitting right next to you -

Another Jon Brion production is Aimee Mann's cover of Harry Nilsson's "one", from the soundtrack to Magnolia -

Petra Haden does incredible vocals-only versions of all sorts of interesting stuff. Her cover of King Crimson's "Frame By Frame" is goosebump-inducingly good. https://soundcloud.com/petra-haden/frame-by-frame-a-cappella

This thread is throwing up some great songs! Keep 'em coming guys. Smile
Dave Lee Roth "Just a Gigolo" is another of my favourites...

@Dragondreams - When I was in my late teens I used to go to all the local rock nightclubs. Every Friday I'd be at the Birmingham Institute, and the last song would always be DLR's version of Just A Gigolo / I Ain't Got Nobody. Great version.
I saw DLR on the Little Ain't Enough tour. He put on a great show.

@johnstaples - Did you hear about Old Crow Medicine Show covering Dylan's Blonde on Blonde? Also, you should check out Aretha Franklin's "The Weight."
@TomS - I saw an epic Paul Westerberg show in the early 90s right after his 12 Stories album came out. Lots of Replacements tunes, and a cover of "Turning Japanese."
I seek out Dylan covers - my current favorite is Solomon Burke's "Mighty Quinn." From about the late '80s on, Grateful Dead included a Dylan cover at just about every show. Hard to pick a favorite, but last night I watched a YouTube clip of them doing "Stuck Inside of Mobile."
I have a CD in the car of reggae versions of Dylan songs. Not better, but sure interesting.
I don't think either is better than the original, but Etta James did an awesome "Purple Rain" some years back. And the tribute version of "Purple Rain" by Bruce Springsteen (which was a free download on his site for a while) is amazing.
I like to play unusual acoustic covers when I perform, and one I've been doing lately is "Billie Jean" by Michael Jackson. Although my version is more blues and less power ballad, I got the idea from Chris Cornell:

Maybe not better, but a version worth hearing; Massimo Bucci doing 'Roundabout' at the grand piano.

I'm not sure any of the examples so far take a bad song and make it better - they're all great covers of at least good songs. Not that I can think of any either way - so a greater cover of a great song would be Kirsty McColl's version of 'New England' ...

Alanis Morissette's cover of 'My Humps' might qualify as taking a bad song and making it better. Although the charts suggest the original had no shortage of fans.

Deep Purple: Hush, Kentucky Woman, Lalena
Vanilla Fudge: You Keep Me Hanging On, Season of the Witch

Dan Baird's solo version of Hush is damn fine, imo.

Sinead's version of Nothing Compares 2 U is the definitive version.

The Tenors cover of the Canadian National Anthem. just kidding... I think the opposite..."you idiots".

Joe Cocker cover of The Beatles, "With a Little Help from My Friends", and The Boxtops, "The Letter"

Some people do like these covers better than the original version.

Check this link below
its free
sounded really good
to me.


Chip, I am green with envy. Smile

@Dragondreams normally I prefer the original songwriters version. However, I presume you are referring to a cover version with a different interpretation changing the meaning or casting a new light on a song. Lots of good examples above.
@TomS I saw the last (1991) Replacements tour and first Paul Westerberg solo tour @Chip Withrow mentioned. Both shows I saw were in the Ritz Theatre in Tampa. Covers I remember were "Another Girl, Another Planet", "Twentieth Century Boy" by T-Rex , "Hey Good Lookin" by Hank Williams, The Monkees "Daydream Believer", Wreckless Eric's "The Whole Wide World", The Tampa show was a few days after Paul's SNL appearance where Charlton Heston was host. Paul was singing "Kiss Me On The Bus", forgot the second verse and saw me singing along in the front row in front of Dave Minehan, the lead guitar player.
Paul leaned the mic down towards me right about at the line I sang "Oh baby don't be so mean" thru the P.A, then the mic got taken away quickly by other boisterous fans to sing the chorus LOL. Here is a different show, similar playlist, same vibe Smile
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Km2933TGlNA Then there's the bootleg LP by various names capturing the mashups of 'Mats songs with cover melodies.

The Bands version of Springsteen's "Atlantic City" is pretty near perfect, the song is made for Levon and Garth's accordion from outer space is amazing.

the obvious: aretha franklin's version of otis redding's R.E.S.P.E.C.T. some people have probably never even heard the original.

the ones you really need to check out: this mortal coil's version of innumerable covers over their three albums, it'll end in tears, filigree & shadow, and blood. i could listen to the rutkowski sisters sing the phone book. but there is a plethora of singers of various fame on all three, covering everything from chris bell of big star to gene clark to his name is alive, van morrison, and talking heads.
they almost always score.

the fun one: reel big fish's ska(!) version of a-ha's take on me.

the one that still gives me the chills: jeff buckley's version of leonard cohen's hallelujah. he took an incredible song to insane heights. i get goosebumps just typing about it now.

Some covers I love: Gary Jules - Mad World, Paul Anka - Smells Like Teen Spirit, Johnny Cash - Hurt. I have a recording I've not been able to find online of a live version of Hey Joe by Roy Buchanan that I love too - also the whole Dub Side of the Moon album by Easy Star All-stars., not BETTER, but a nice tribute

@tsunamidaily - I mentioned This Mortal Coil's version of 'Song to the Siren' in my list, but like you I could go through their albums and pick lots of tracks - Ivo created such a brilliant sound for This Mortal Coil, and had some fantastic vocalists at his disposal from the 4AD label to work with.

I've been trying for days to think of a cover (non-Dylan) that is clearly better than the original. I mentioned earlier that I like to find cool Dylan covers - he's just been covered so much, and so often the new versions are better produced, better sung, better played, more fully realized. For example, I love the extra verses in Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man," but the Byrds' version is iconic.
But I think I found a cover better than the original. @pipewrench67 mentioned The Band/Bruce Springsteen's "Atlantic City," which led me to think of this - the Pointer Sisters' smash hit version of Bruce Springsteen's "Fire":
Springsteen recorded this for an unreleased album, and it was a fixture of his live shows for years. I think her said he originally wrote it with Elvis in mind. I love Springsteen, and I like his versions a lot, but listening to it recently I realized how pushy/creepy it is sung from the guy's point of view. The Pointer Sisters' version turns that around so she's playing hard to get - that's still edgy and somehow not quite right to me, but their version is undeniably rocking and soulful.