I am a music snob because my mother is a music snob. I learned from her example to love classic rock, shun dance music of all kinds (from disco to trance) and, most of all, to despise remade songs. I can still remember the look on her face the first time she heard Madonna’s version of American Pie. It was the same face she made the second time she heard it…and the third and the fourth: one of unadulterated revulsion.
So I hope she never stumbles across this blog, because I have defected. Sure, a lot of the time, cover songs end up sounding more like a shameless attempt to make money off of somebody else’s creativity. Ever listened to Ronan Keating’s Fairytale of New York? Don’t. Ignore the link! And while it would probably be easier to make a list of the worst cover songs of all time (Number one: Paul Anka’s brutal violation of Smells Like Teen Spirit. Find a worse one. I dare you.), here’s a list of some great covers that I love and enjoy often.
7) Dancing with Myself by Kevin McHale of Glee (original by Billy Idol)
I know, starting with a Glee song? But this is one of the most fun, laid back tunes I know, and I cannot condemn it for being a part of one of the most addicting shows on television today. Unlike the energetic original , Artie just chills this song out, slows it down and enjoys it. I like a lot of the songs that have been done on Glee, but this one is my favorite. Not only does it do something completely different than the original, but it also makes me want to dance…with myself.
6) Only Hope by Mandy Moore (original by Switchfoot)
On an even girlier note, let’s move to Mandy Moore with a song that featured prominently in the 2002 film, A Walk to Remember. Although I have mixed feelings about this movie, I know exactly how I feel about this song. I never would have believed that Moore could sing before watching her rip into this during a school play, with the adorable Shane West looking on. That look he’s giving her at 2:55? I was giving her the same look! The original by Switchfoot is absolutely beautiful, but if it weren’t for this cover, no body would have ever heard it, and Moore does a great job with it.
5) I Want You to Want Me by Letters to Cleo (original by Cheap Trick)
This song BEGS you to sing along! There is nothing wrong with Cheap Trick’s, but this version has so much more energy, so much more attitude. It’s not just that it’s a woman singing these lyrics about shining her shoes and getting home early from work; it’s that it’s THIS woman. She makes this song completely her own, and I’d choose the cover over the original every time. I fell in love with this song when the credits for 10 Things I Hate About You started to roll, and I’ve been rocking out to it ever since.
4) The many Beatles songs from the film Across the Universe
I couldn’t pick just one!
I almost feel bad lumping these all into one entry, but it’s probably best if I don’t let Across the Universe take over this list. Where to begin? How about with the beginning of the movie, when Jim Sturgess takes a line from a relatively mediocre song (Girl) and turns it into a haunting invitation to the story? So many amazing covers in this film… Dana Fuchs succeeds in making Why Don’t We Do It in the Road sound sexy instead of perverted, Joe Anderson sings Happiness is a Warm Gun surrounded by a dozen Selma Hayek nurses, Dear Prudence is trippier than ever and I’ve Just Seen a Face will now forever be associated with bowling in my mind. Above are my two favorites from the movie…but watch the whole thing! It’s worth it.
3) The Man Who Sold the World by Nirvana (original by David Bowie)
In an interview, David Bowie once joked about how his fans often commend him on being edgy enough to perform this Nirvana tune in concert. Bowie is probably one of the world’s wackiest and most interesting songwriters, so it’s no surprise that other artists would want to cover his songs. Combine his great words with Nirvana at their peak, and you’ve got a modern-day classic on your hands. Being completely in love with all things Nirvana, I am probably predisposed to love this song, but I have yet to meet anyone who dislikes it. It’s the kind of song you fall in love with on first listen, and fall back in love with every time you hear those opening chords play.
2) Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley (original by Leonard Cohen)
One of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard, and probably one of the most covered, every version I’ve heard of Hallelujah (including this one and this one) has only made me love the song more. The first time I remember really loving this song was during Shrek, but I also adored the way it was used on The OC. This song has probably been redone over a hundred times, but no other version compares to Buckley’s, not even the original. . Watching Buckley sing it, it’s hard to believe he didn’t write it. As he goes on, it sounds as though his soul is being wrenched from his body and spilt from between his lips. It’s a heart breaking and beautiful thing to witness.
1) Hurt by Johnny Cash (original by Nine Inch Nails)
Alright, first off, here’s some footage of an amazing live performance of Hurt by Nine Inch Nails:
Just Trent Reznor and his keyboard, lit from behind, playing a brutally honest song with thousands of fans who feel the same way singing along…Could there be anything more powerful?
Hello. This is Johnny Cash.
In a completely unexpected cover, Cash sits with his guitar and at a piano to slowly coax this song out. The above video is absolutely THE best music video I’ve ever seen. It’s one thing to empathize with a 29-year-old Reznor who feels as though he’s destined to hurt everyone he knows; it is something else all together to watch Cash at 70, nearing the end of his life. sitting in an abandoned Cash museum and sobbing with guilt. This museum, a symbol of everything he’s accomplished, is just a dead, useless thing – his “empire of dirt.”
The clips of a younger Johnny and June spliced throughout make this video feel like a reel of Cash’s life flashing before his eyes, and it’s absolutely heartbreaking to watch June Carter look on, nervously wringing her hands. I guess it makes complete sense for an older man to sing a song like this – the fact that Reznor,who wrote this song, already felt this kind of pain and regret at 29 is maybe the saddest thing about this cover.
I am in love with this song, no matter who is singing it, but Cash lends it a kind of authenticity that NIN’s version lacks… which is why Johnny Cash’s Hurt it my favorite cover song of ALL TIME!
What are YOUR favorite cover songs? Shout ’em out in the comments!
[A Mia note: There are some obvious exclusions to list, but these are seven of my own personal favorites… and frankly, I don’t really like Jimmy Hendrix’s version of All Along the Watchtower.It was played in this annoying commercial that would come on a million times a day when I was a kid, and now I just can’t enjoy it, sorry. ]