Tuesday, November 01, 2005

cover to cover

If I was a musician, and let's be clear I'm not, I would be leery of covering other people's music. It's hard to do it right.

Most cover songs make me cringe, and for good reason. They insult the original version of the song. Sheryl Crow destroyed Sweet Child O' Mine. Brittany Spears trashed Satisfaction. Others are merely mediocre for not adding enough of a new spin, which then begs the question "what's the point?"

A good cover walks a delicate balance between casting a fresh perspective on an old song while remaining faithful to the original artist's intent. So says me.

Here's my imperfect list of the top 6 covers of all time. It's just off the top of my head and by no means comprehensive. So if you say, "Hey, how could you forget so-and-so's verson of that-old-song," it's probably exactly because it didn't pop into my head while creating this list.

Also, my friend Bill has compiled his best-cover list too, so check it out. We didn't discuss our picks before, so I don't know what he picked yet. But we're both posting our lists today.

1. Marvin Gaye. I Heard It Through The Grapevine. This was a Motown classic originally made a big hit by Gladys Knight and the Pips. Breaking an unofficial rule that a good deal of time should pass before a song is covered, Gaye took his slowed-down, soulful version to No. 1 in 1968, only one year after the original release.

2. Jimi Hendrix. All Along The Watchtower. Sure, it's a safe pick. But it carries my definition of a good cover to a new level, actually conveying the song's revolutionary message better than Bob Dylan's original. The Hendrix version is fierce and alarming.

3. Van Morrison. Gloria. Morrison turned this Donnie Iris and The Cruisers number into an fiesty anthem enjoyed to this day. As for the original, well shit, I'll admit I've never even heard it. But I remembered that it was not a Morrison original, so it makes the list.

4. The Black Crowes. Hard To Handle. This cover of the Otis Redding tune helped the Crowes, a pretty damned good band, attain national recognition. Both the cover and original are rollicking. Interestingly, the Grateful Dead have also done a version.

5. Warren Zevon. Knockin' On Heaven's Door. Yes, another Dylan cover, one that might be the most covered song in the last 40 years. But few did it like Zevon -- he did it while dying of cancer and softly whispering "let me in, let me in!" It was haunting, and it took big stones.

6. Johnny Cash. Hurt. A master of covers his entire career, the Man In Black made his last a mournful, poignant, sad Nine Inch Nails cover that is a reflection on his life and approaching death. I'm not a sappy man, but it's hard to listen to this song and watch the accompanying video without getting a little choked up.



At 7:54 PM, Blogger Joependleton said...

Cat, good call on Johnny Cash. I was gonna list the Black Crowes on my list, but really, it sounds too much like the original to make it.

As for Gloria, I believe the actual group is Them (featuring van Morrison), but I can't be sure.

Good list, though.

At 11:21 AM, Blogger Dan said...

Considering all the great covers out there, I don't mean to suggest the following is the best cover ever, but I'm a big fan of Radiohead's rendition of Carly Simon's Nobody Does It Better. They transformed a sappy tune with maudlin lyrics into a ragged rock song that turns anthemic as it nears its conclusion.

My nomination for worst cover is George Burns's version of The Beatles' Fixing a Hole from the disastrous 1978 movie version of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band that starred Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees.

At 7:18 PM, Blogger Greg Pultorak said...

I love Nirvana's cover of Bowie's "The man who Sold the World"


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