Whoa-oo-whoa, listen to the music...no, really, LISTEN TO IT.
September 29, 2005 2:30 PM   Subscribe

Cover songs: specifically, cover songs that require you to reevaluate your opinion of the original.

The vast universe of cover songs seems to sort itself out into four basic Mendel-diagram-ish categories:

Bad covers of good songs: New Kids on the Block covering the Delfonics' "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)" (!!!)
Bad covers of bad songs: Britney Spears covering Bobby Brown's "My Prerogative"
Good covers of good songs: Jimi Hendrix covering Dylan's "All Along The Watchtower"
And, of course, good covers of "bad" songs, which is what I'm looking for.

The backstory: I recently acquired a copy of the Isley Brothers' "3+3", which, apart from being insanely funky, has several covers of songs I would've otherwise dismissed as late 60's/early 70's schlock. Specifically, their versions of "Listen To The Music" (Doobie Brothers!) and "Summer Breeze" (Seals & Crofts!) have forced me to reevaluate how inherently sucky (or not) the originals were. Other, less extreme examples that come to mind: Isaac Hayes' "Walk On By" (a personal favorite), Al Green's "Pretty Woman", the entirety of Ray Charles' "Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music," and a huge chunk of Nina Simone's work. It seems to be a reasonably common thread in soul music, though hardly exclusive to it--hell, Johnny Cash made a mint doing the American Music albums.

So, my fellow AskMefites: What covers are so transformative that they turn a bad-to-average song into a great one?
posted by Vervain to Media & Arts (118 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
While I certainly loved the original "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" by the Eurythmics, I found the Marilyn Manson cover quite interesting(and enjoyable) in that it showed me just how creepy that song really is.
posted by jaded at 2:35 PM on September 29, 2005

Chris Smither's Cover of Bob Dylan's Desolation Row.
posted by The White Hat at 2:39 PM on September 29, 2005

"Modern Sounds in Country Music" made me reevaluate Ray Charles when it came out -- I decided that he'd completely lost his mind. I still hate it, especially "I Can't Stop Loving You." This from the man who only a year or so earlier put out "Hit the Road Jack" and "Unchain My Heart" (not to mention his entire Atlantic catalogue).
posted by Faze at 2:40 PM on September 29, 2005

The Tears for Fears song, Mad World didn't impress me much, like they were just reciting the lyrics to a static 80s beat. But when Gary Jules got a hold of it, great things happened to the words.
posted by idiotfactory at 2:40 PM on September 29, 2005

Richard Thompson covering "Oops I did it again" made me re-evaluate the song.

If I had heard Cohen's version of Hallelujia first, I don't know that I would have loved the song. I heard Jeff Buckley's, and his version and the Cale/Wainright versions move me like little else... while Cohen's just makes me think of televangelists, despite the power of the lyrics.

There's a few a'cappella covers that I find interesting. Most a'cappella covers are more fun to sing than they are to listen to. But a few actually redefine the music well. Two of my favorites are on the "Best of Collegiate A'cappella Vol 1" -- a cover of the Chili Pepper's "Soul To Squeeze" and Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work." And the Flying Pickets covers of Springsteen's "Factory" is the *definitive* version for me.
posted by weston at 2:42 PM on September 29, 2005

Sugar's version of "Armenia, City in the Sky" takes a bland Who B-side and turns it into incandescent guitar lava.

The Replacements managed to make KISS' "Black Diamond" actually sound tough instead of just posed-tough.

The Flying Burrito Brothers' cover of "To Love Somebody" crushes the BeeGees' version like a fucking grape.
posted by COBRA! at 2:43 PM on September 29, 2005

Johnny Cash's cover of U2's "One." (The original's good, but Cash took it to a whole new level.)
posted by kirkaracha at 2:44 PM on September 29, 2005

Johnny Cash's cover of "Hurt" blew me away, even though I never would have paid much attention to the original.
posted by tdismukes at 2:44 PM on September 29, 2005

More Johnny Cash Goodness: Trent Reznor's Hurt.
posted by Popular Ethics at 2:47 PM on September 29, 2005

A Perfect Circle's version of Imagine definitely made me rethink the meaning of the original
posted by BlzOfGlry at 2:48 PM on September 29, 2005

posted by Popular Ethics at 2:48 PM on September 29, 2005

Listen to Coverville for all sorts of this stuff. The best thing I ever heard was a bluegrass version of Cher's "Believe" by a band called Dollar Store. Do a search on the Coverville site to listen...
posted by Robot Johnny at 2:53 PM on September 29, 2005

Clash: "I Fought The Law" though I guess it's a good cover of a good song.

Who: "Summertime Blues" takes a pop song to a 'nother level.
posted by fixedgear at 2:53 PM on September 29, 2005

I really enjoy Nina Gordon's cover of Straight outta Compton but I don't think that qualifies as bad to good. I once heard a slow and haunting cover of Spears' "Hit me Baby One More Time" but I couldn't tell you who it was that did it. Travis maybe.
posted by phearlez at 2:55 PM on September 29, 2005

Macha Loved Bedhead turned Cher's Believe into this sort of painfully sad song, with the melody being played by the sounds of pressing the buttons on a phone. And in a nice touch, they left the vocoder effect in. Heh.
posted by atom128 at 2:57 PM on September 29, 2005

Dismemberment Plan - "Crush" (goodbye, jessica page!, hello creepy!)
Bedhead loved Macha - "Believe" (cher reimagined as depressive touch-tone phone mumbler)
Blankket - "Hey Ya!" (like a cementblock to the head)
posted by Marquis at 2:58 PM on September 29, 2005

Fountains of Wayne's version of "Hit Me Baby One More Time" might be the version phearlez is talking about, and it's great.

I also really liked Mazzy Star's version of the Stones' "Wild Horses", even though I don't really like anything else she did.

And I'll second Gary Jules' version of "Mad World". Man, that song kills me.

There are too many bad covers out there for me to even begin to contemplate, but I will say that while eating lunch today, I heard a cover of Joni Mitchell's "California" that made me wince. Sounded vaguely like Sheryl Crow, but I don't think it was her.
posted by Specklet at 3:01 PM on September 29, 2005

Some of my favourites:
Britney's "Toxic" covered by Local H
The Divinyls' "I Touch Myself" covered by Scala Choir
Phil Collins's "Against All Odds" covered by Arcade Fire
OMD's "If You Leave" covered by Nada Surf
GnR's "Welcome to the Jungle" covered by Iratowns
Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful" covered by Clem Snide
Ace of Base's "The Sign" covered by The Mountain Goats
Hot Chocolate's "You Sexy Thing" covered by Cud
Boney M's "Daddy Cool" covered by Placebo
The White Stripes' "7 Nation Army" covered by Nostalgia 77
posted by Robot Johnny at 3:02 PM on September 29, 2005

Nouvelle Vague is interesting, particularly "I Melt With You".
posted by trevyn at 3:06 PM on September 29, 2005

Actually, wasn't it The Postal Service who did the cover of "Against All Odds?" Think it was on the "Wicker Park" soundtrack.
posted by kuperman at 3:06 PM on September 29, 2005

Oops, you're right kuperman!
posted by Robot Johnny at 3:08 PM on September 29, 2005

Red House Painters version of Paul McCartney's "Silly Love Songs"
posted by garbo at 3:10 PM on September 29, 2005

Oh yeah, and Joan Baez's version of the Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" was so awful, it caused me to reevaluate the the Band (post-"Music from Big Pink"), and come to despise their sham Americana.

And the Human Beinz's version of the Isley Brothers' "Nobody But Me," made me realize that covers by white bands weren't by any means always worse then the African-American originals.

And all the covers of the Rolling Stones' "Blue Turns to Grey" (Cliff Richards, Buckinghams, the Crybabies) made me realize that even though the Stones played it as a throwaway, it was another great original from their most artistically rich period (from "12X5" through "Between the Buttons").

Jerry Lee Lewis's and Mel Lyman's separate versions of Stephen Foster's "Old Black Joe" made me realize that it was possible for one song to contain more real Americana in one measure, than the Band could phoney up over their entire output (including the "Basement Tapes" -- despite what the easily fooled Greil Marcus would have you believe).
posted by Faze at 3:10 PM on September 29, 2005

Although most of the industrial covers of ... well, whatever are pretty awful, the BiGod 20 cover of "Like A Prayer" by Madonna (I think it was originally a B-side to "On The Run") is totally awesome.
posted by kuperman at 3:11 PM on September 29, 2005

Also, be sure to check out Second Hand Songs -- search for any artist and see what songs they've covered or have had covered, and search for any song and see who's covered it.
posted by Robot Johnny at 3:12 PM on September 29, 2005

John Wesley Harding also does a great version of "Like a Prayer"
posted by Robot Johnny at 3:12 PM on September 29, 2005

phearlez, the haunting rendition of Baby One More Time might have been Brad Roberts, he was singing that at concerts a few years back.

As for my contribution, I always liked "The Ghost of Tom Joad" as performed by Rage Against the Machine much better than Bruce's version.
posted by Steve Simpson at 3:12 PM on September 29, 2005

Ooh! RHP! The cover of "Shock Me" makes Ace Frehley seem like a genius about 15-20 years too late.
posted by kuperman at 3:13 PM on September 29, 2005

Ron Wood singing Bob Dylan's "Seven Days". While their voices are nearly identical, Woodie electrified things nicely.
posted by punkfloyd at 3:13 PM on September 29, 2005

Who: "Summertime Blues" takes a pop song to a 'nother level.

The Blue Cheer version of "Summertime Blues" (on "Vincibus Eruptum") not only beat the Who to the punch in thundering up this great song, it is virtually the founding document of Heavy Metal -- for better or worse.
posted by Faze at 3:13 PM on September 29, 2005

How has no-one mentioned Me First and The Gimme Gimmes? Six albums so far and each one is nothing but covers of older songs.

"I believe I can Fly" is what first turned me on to them, though, and it's freaking awesome.
posted by Imperfect at 3:14 PM on September 29, 2005

Fountains of Wayne's "Hit Me Baby..." and Mountain Goats "The Sign" seconded -- though maybe one should separate covers whose explicit purpose is to spread the word that the original is great (MG) vs. those which seem to be having a goof at the original's expense (FoW.)

Nickel Creek's bluegrass version of Pavement's "Spit on a Stranger" is first-rate, and made me really appreciate a song that had never stood out for me.
posted by escabeche at 3:16 PM on September 29, 2005

phearlez: I once heard a slow and haunting cover of Spears' "Hit me Baby One More Time" but I couldn't tell you who it was that did it. Travis maybe.

yes, it was travis and the cover exists in several formats, live and in-studio. it is far better than the original... on one live version, fran introduces it as 'hotel california' referring, i believe, the similar progression of the first four or five chords.

travis recently also covered morrissey's 'every day is like sunday' which was well received at the isle of wight music fest.
posted by RockyChrysler at 3:18 PM on September 29, 2005

Erlend Øye singing George Michael's "Last Christmas" and Beck doing an achingly sad live solo guitar version of The Flaming Lips' "Do You Realize?" come to mind.
posted by cali at 3:20 PM on September 29, 2005

I love Liza Minnelli's version of The Pet Shop Boys song "Rent". She gives the lyric a desolation I never noticed in the original.
posted by essexjan at 3:21 PM on September 29, 2005

Lush's cover of I Have the Moon is at least as good as the Magnetic Fields' original version.
The Gourds' cover of Gin and Juice is good fun.
I don't think either of those really makes me re-think the original, though. Hmm.
posted by willpie at 3:21 PM on September 29, 2005

Cat Power's cover of The Rolling Stone's "Satisfaction." Again not necessarily bad-to-good, but such a radical transformation that it made me for the first time actually think about the song.
posted by Sara Anne at 3:22 PM on September 29, 2005

The Band's sham Americana? They all (except for Levon Helm) were Canadian.
posted by Neiltupper at 3:23 PM on September 29, 2005

I think Bauhaus' versions of "Ziggy Stardust" and "Telegram Sam" blow away the originals.
I like The Clash's covers of "Police on My Back" and "I Fought the Law" though their "Armagideon Time" blows.
Johnny Cash's cover of "The Mercy Seat" is brillant. I think it stands toe to toe with the original.
Nina Simone's version of "I Put a Spell On You" is the only cover of that song that I can tolerate.
I prefer Devo's "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" to the Stones.
posted by black8 at 3:24 PM on September 29, 2005

While this CD definitely satisfies the 'bad song' requirement, I suppose it is arguable whether all of them also qualify as 'good covers', but I've nonetheless derived much joy from it.
posted by AwkwardPause at 3:25 PM on September 29, 2005

Earth, Wind and Fire's took the Beatle's Got to Get You Into my Life and put their fingerprint on it. I like their version as much or better than the original.
posted by wsg at 3:27 PM on September 29, 2005

See also previous thread for lots more ideas.
posted by donpedro at 3:28 PM on September 29, 2005

Iron and Wine's covers of "Waiting for a Superman" by The Flaming Lips and "Such Great Heights" by The Postal Service.

Colin Meloy's cover of "Every Day is Like Sunday."
posted by ludwig_van at 3:31 PM on September 29, 2005

Oh yeah, I totally forgot about NIN's cover of "Physical" (by Adam Ant, not Olivia Newton-John) and the version of "Suck" from "Broken" (or that 3" CD if you are slick) are much better than the originals.
posted by kuperman at 3:32 PM on September 29, 2005

I recently heard the Top Notes' (original) version of "Twist and Shout"--kind of awful, but obviously the Isley Brothers heard something amazing in it, and brought it to the surface--to the point where I'd never even known that there'd been a version before the Isleys' until then!...
posted by 88robots at 3:41 PM on September 29, 2005

Hurra torpedo rock!

I saw them a couple of nights at Tonic. They're touring to shlurp corporate schlong for ford motorcars and amke some $$. Their energy in destroying kitchen fittings and implements for a beat is impressive.

They did their "bonnie tyler total eclipse of the heart" thingy, but even better was a new cover of britney spears toxic.

Highly amusing.
posted by lalochezia at 3:52 PM on September 29, 2005

"Time After Time" by Cyndi Lauper covered by Miles Davis on Live Around the World.

Added bonus: Davis also covers "Human Nature" by Michael Jackson. Superior song, but I am quite fond of the original, so it does not fit your question.
posted by sigbigups at 4:00 PM on September 29, 2005

We keep mentioning Nina Simone, but her version of Suzanne dwarfs L. Cohen´s.

Also I´ve never particularly liked the Meat Puppets unless sung by Nirvana.

I really dislike David Bowie´s song "let´s dance," but M. Ward sings it so differently and so tenderly that he makes it beautiful.
posted by ORthey at 4:03 PM on September 29, 2005

I'd second Johnny Cash's cover of One. Far better than the original.

I also think Whitney Houston covering I Will Always Love You deserves a mention.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 4:04 PM on September 29, 2005

Ben Gibbard (of Postal Service and Death Cab for Cutie) does a live cover of Avril Lavigne's "Complicated", and Ted Leo did a solid version of Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone" - both honest covers from indie-rock icons making us hipsters reevaluate our knee-jerk dislike of mainstream pop...
posted by Gortuk at 4:14 PM on September 29, 2005

the tori amos album strange little girls is a bunch of covers of songs originally written and performed by men redone from a female perspective. it's hit or miss.
posted by clarahamster at 4:23 PM on September 29, 2005

Holly Cole's tense and sad version of Petula Clark's Downtown.
posted by tangerine at 4:34 PM on September 29, 2005

Emm Gryner's cover of Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar on Me." She turns it into a piano-accompanied lush ballad, and it becomes a woman really crawling out of her skin to be touched. Made me actually like the original, as well.
posted by occhiblu at 4:36 PM on September 29, 2005

"Summertime" done by Janis Joplin - good cover.

Nirvana's "Man Who Sold the World" is better than Bowie's, I think.

Anything Laibach covers (and I think everything they do is a cover) makes it creepier. ("You're in the Army Now" springs to mind.)
posted by small_ruminant at 4:41 PM on September 29, 2005

Not sure where either of these originals stand on the Good Song/Bad Song spectrum, but the covers are great:

Romeo and Juliet - The Indigo Girls
The Cross - The Power of Dreams

originals by Dire Straits and Prince
posted by djstig at 4:43 PM on September 29, 2005

Fountains of Wayne's "Baby One More Time".
Pixies' "Head On".
posted by jjg at 4:44 PM on September 29, 2005

U2's rendition of Cole Porter's "Night and Day" from Red Hot & Blue (OK, less of a cover and more their take on a standard) really brings out the menace in that song. It takes what I always thought of as a fairly harmless love song and makes it a bit dangerous.

Sugar's version of "Armenia, City in the Sky" takes a bland Who B-side and turns it into incandescent guitar lava.

I love it too, but a minor correction: "Armenia" was the leadoff track on the Who's absolutely brilliant Sell Out. I think the original is amazing as well.
posted by pjhagop at 4:52 PM on September 29, 2005

For a long time, I've looked to the ska-punk genre for my favorite covers.

Less Than Jake have a cover-cd titled Greased, of the Grease soundtrack. It's great.

Reel Big Fish have a nice cover of Duran Duran's "Hungry Like a Wolf," which in my book, completely trumps the original. The spoken intro to the song is great, too.

As for other styles, the Johnny Cash video for NIN's "Hurt" is the only music video that's ever made me cry.
posted by nicething at 5:00 PM on September 29, 2005

throw in more vote for The Fountain's cover of Britney Speras'Hit Me One More Time.

Ryan Adams' cover of Oasis' Wonderfall i thought was awesome.
posted by stavx at 5:05 PM on September 29, 2005

Johnny Cash - Mercy Seat
Scissor Sisters - Comfortably Numb

The originals are songs that I knew I should like, but bore me to tears.
posted by arha at 5:18 PM on September 29, 2005

Cap'n Jazz's "Take on Me" (orig. A-Ha)

Jim O'Rourke's "Something Big" (orig. Bacharach)

Oh, sweet jeebus, can't forget Cat Power's "I Found a Reason." VU are probably my favorite band overall, but I could never take Lou's spoken verses until hearing the cover.

Jon Brion covers a lot of wretched stuff live and does interesting stuff with it. He's never made me want to listen to the originals, though.

I had never heard "25 or 6 to 4" until I heard the Mood Cookbook's take on it. So there's that.
posted by electric_counterpoint at 5:26 PM on September 29, 2005

A few mentioned earlier: I love Richard Thompsons's version of "Oops I did it again" as well as John Wesley Harding's "Like A Prayer" which makes the song a lot more lovely and personal than Madonna dancing out in a field of crosses. Ted Leo's version of Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone" has made me love that song.

A few not mentioned: Patti Smith's reworking of Gloria makes it sound like a raunchy lesbian paen [Smith says it's not]. I like but often do not love the Beatles, but a band called Slamander Crossing did a neat version of it that made it seem more upbeat, less mopey. Here's a longer list of Beatles covers by folk artists.
posted by jessamyn at 5:37 PM on September 29, 2005

Good cover, bad song: Robyn Hitchcock/The Soft Boys' version of Kung Fu Fighting.
Completely different good version of a good song: Robyn Hitchcock's quiet acoustic version of Roxy Music's More Than This.
Can you believe that there's a cover of In The Aeroplane Over The Sea being used in The OC?
posted by scruss at 6:18 PM on September 29, 2005

Good song, two good artists, horrific cover: Bob Dylan doing Radiohead's "Creep." Nightmares for days. really drew attention to how very whiny the song is.

Joss Stone redoing The White Stripes' "Fell in Love with a Girl" was pretty damn sexy.

Agreeing on Cat Power's "Satisfaction," mmm. Overall casual and restless and dissatisfied, a really nice interpretation.

I adore the way Rufus Wainwright took Ravel's Bolero as the countermelody in "What a World." IMO that counts.
posted by honeydew at 6:36 PM on September 29, 2005

Good song, totally bizarre (but good!) version: Rolf Harris doing Stairway to Heaven (incl. wobble-board solo).
Good song, bad version: Mrs Robinson + Frank Sinatra.
posted by coriolisdave at 6:37 PM on September 29, 2005

ooh oohh....i love covers. (it is the theme for my meta mix cd)
some my top faves are:
Baba O'Riley (The Who) OR Rocking In the Free World (Neil Young)-Pearl jam
We Will Become Silhouettes (The Postal Service)-The Shins
Guns Of Brixton (The Clash)- Nouvelle Vague
So Long, Farewell (from The Sound Of Music)- The Vandals

...and the list goes on and on...
posted by ShawnString at 6:40 PM on September 29, 2005

Devo's cover of "Satisfaction" strikes me as meaning exactly the opposite of the original.
posted by nicething at 6:52 PM on September 29, 2005

The Deftones added an edge to Duran Duran's The Chauffeur that I hadn't considered before, but I love the original as well. Same with Lords of Acid's take on Lady Marmalade, although in this case I can't stand the original. A fair amount of Baz Luhrmann's work also makes me reconsider some tracks, but that to me almost crosses the line between covering and remixing.
posted by geckoinpdx at 7:04 PM on September 29, 2005

Reel Big Fish - "Gigantic" (love the original, but it's an utterly different spin)

Beatle Barkers - "We Can Work It Out" (ditto!)

Kirsty McColl - "You Just Haven't Earned It Yet Baby" (thritto!)
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:06 PM on September 29, 2005

Bob Dylan doing Radiohead's "Creep."

Fear not. Unless he's done it in the last year or so, that's not really Dylan -- just a mislabelled MP3 that's been making the rounds. I believe I read it's just some guy's Dylan impression.
posted by electric_counterpoint at 7:19 PM on September 29, 2005

I actually like Patti Smith's version of "My Generation" better than "Gloria".

Also, "Kung Fu Fighting" is NOT a bad song !
posted by rfs at 7:46 PM on September 29, 2005

The Darkness's "I believe in a thing called love" by Edson.
posted by null terminated at 7:57 PM on September 29, 2005

This Land Is Our Land / Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings - I didn't know Woody Guthrie could be funkified, but he funkifies extremely well.

Star Spangled Banner / Sufjian Stevens (live) Totally new and great take on our anthem (Can you cover a national anthem?)
posted by extrabox at 8:00 PM on September 29, 2005

Eva Cassidy's cover of Sting's Fields of Gold.
Also, her cover of What a Wonderful World.

Actually, Eva Cassidy covers are better than the originals, but that may just be me.
posted by NucleophilicAttack at 8:04 PM on September 29, 2005

Scissor Sister's cover of Comfortably Numb. I could never, and probably still could never, get into Pink Floyd.
posted by juiceCake at 8:07 PM on September 29, 2005

I asked a similar question a while back.
posted by bonaldi at 8:40 PM on September 29, 2005

I never warmed up to New Order singing Bizarre Love Triangle, but Frente's version is quite nice. Also Smashing Pumpkins' cover of Landslide made me appreciate Stevie Nicks a bit more.

Not necessarily good for everyone, but definitely unforgettable:
Revolting Cocks covering Do Ya Think I'm Sexy. Although it didn't actually change my opinion of Rod Stewart's original (or Rod Stewart in general) , I do own a CD single of the RevCo cover.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:32 PM on September 29, 2005

Another Satisfaction cover, done by Bjork and PJ Harvey in 1995, live at the Brit Music Awards. Chilling and stunning.

I saw the Arcade Fire in Seattle last week, where they did an excellent cover of Bowie's Five Years, too.
posted by jokeefe at 9:32 PM on September 29, 2005

Anka doing "True".
posted by amberglow at 9:34 PM on September 29, 2005

Wow. Second (or third) the Cat Power "Satisfaction" and second the "I Found a Reason."
Jimmy Scott and Flea have a version of "Love Will Keep Us Together" that's awesome.
The acoustic version of The Misfits "Skulls" by the Lemonheads is surprising and ironic in a hipster way.
Someone mentioned M. Ward: have you heard his cover of Pete Townsend's "Let My Love Open the Door?"
Ben Folds Five do a Bossa Nova take on "She don't Use Jelly" that makes me giggle like a girl.
Another bossa track that's cool is Towa Tei's rendition of Joe Jackson's "Stepping Out."
I could mention more, but I'm drunk so I'll leave well enough alone.
posted by Gilbert at 9:35 PM on September 29, 2005

Amberglow, second your "True" and raise you a "Jump"
posted by Gilbert at 9:49 PM on September 29, 2005

richard berry's louie louie wasn't all that great ... but when the kingsmen got ahold of it ...
posted by pyramid termite at 10:13 PM on September 29, 2005

2 Live Crew took the anthem out of Born in the USA and made it the protest song it really is.
The Carpenter's Yesterday Once More redone by Redd Kross is perfect sappy power pop.
And the Dickies singing Paranoid make Black Sabbath sound loagy and tired.
Done now. Going to go listen to music...
posted by oneirodynia at 10:52 PM on September 29, 2005

Fiona Apple's "Across the Universe" really hit me much harder than the Beatles' version. (Much as I hate to admit it, as a big Beatles fan.)
posted by knave at 11:31 PM on September 29, 2005

Suzanna and the Magical Orchestra - Jolene

Stina Nordenstam's People are Strange album (particularly Purple Rain)

Albert Kuvezin and Yat-kha's new album, re-covers - When the levee breaks is particlarly good...

One album that I thought was a good idea but brought nothing new was Herbie Hancock's New Standard - generally just seemed to highlight the limitations of what were, generally, a good bunch of songs.
posted by monkey closet at 2:47 AM on September 30, 2005

the tori amos album strange little girls is a bunch of covers of songs originally written and performed by men redone from a female perspective. it's hit or miss.

Amos' version of 'Happiness is a warm gun' is pretty powerful, but is changed to the point it's almost not a cover. She seriously cuts the lyrics down and adds clips from George W and George H. W. Bush talking about gun control and clips of news reports about John Lennon's death. It's almost a performance piece rather than a cover. It's more powerful in relation to the songs that surround it, a cover of The Boomtown Rats' 'I Don't Like Mondays' and a cover of Slayer's 'Raining Blood'.

A lot of the covers on 'Strange Little Girls' are lost if you don't see them through the concept of the album. The songs are retold through the view of the women involved with the song somehow. The cover of Eminem's '97 Bonnie & Clyde is sung by the women locked in trunk of the car. Happiness Is A Warm Gun is song through the eyes of the escort that Mark David Chapman hired to 'just talk' the night before he killed John Lennon.

I wouldn't say that any of the originals that were covered on Strange Little Girls are bad. Amos just gave them a new perspective and opened them to a new audience. Do you really see many of the butterfly winged girls you see at her concerts also owning Slayer albums?
posted by aristan at 3:53 AM on September 30, 2005

Holly Cole's and the Ramones' covers of "I don't wanna grow up" are two sides of the coin of the Tom Waits original. The Ramones are a celebration of youth, while Cole's is a dirge.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:32 AM on September 30, 2005

The good news is no one will ever be able to cover Moby's "Everything Is Wrong" like Faze does. You really hate everything, huh pardner?
posted by yerfatma at 5:12 AM on September 30, 2005

The Sonic Youth version of the Carpenter's 'Superstar'.
posted by Ritchie at 5:30 AM on September 30, 2005

The Cocteau Twins' covers of Frosty the Snowman and Winter Wonderland. Also my favourite Christmas records.
posted by Grangousier at 5:31 AM on September 30, 2005

Great thread.

I don't like 'Leaving on a Jet Plane' at all, but Bjork and PJ Harvey's version makes me cry.

I had it once, lost it and can't seem to track it down again, but Jimmy Eat World's version of Firestarter (Prodigy) is excellent.
posted by corvine at 5:54 AM on September 30, 2005

I just realized nobody had mentioned Richard Cheese, who "swankifies" popular songs. He's supplanted the original "Baby Got Back" for me and his cover of Nirvana's "Rape Me" is worth it just for the introduction he does for it: "Here's one for the ladies...."
posted by phearlez at 6:01 AM on September 30, 2005

Cyndi Lauper "When U Were Mine" (a prince tune)
red house painters "all mixed up" (orig. by the cars)
Cowboy Junkies "sweet jane" (orig. by lou reed)
posted by softlord at 6:10 AM on September 30, 2005

For a long time, I've looked to the ska-punk genre for my favorite covers.

Those are great, but nobody's mentioned reggae, which started out basically doing nothing but cover versions—there's a pretty comprehensive list here. Marlene Webber's "Stand By Your Man," for instance, kicks serious ass.

Here's an interesting list of ten covers, and here's a list of 50 (Youssou N'dour did "Chimes of Freedom"? That I've got to hear!).
posted by languagehat at 6:33 AM on September 30, 2005

Sting and Lyle Lovett have both done versions of "Mack the Knife" that are radically different than Bobby Darin's 1950s hit version. They're actually more faithful to the original from the The Three Penny Opera; Darin left out the arson and rape stuff.

The Beautiful South have a whole album of covers, including "You're the One That I Want," "(Don't Fear) The Reaper," and "Blitzkrieg Bop."

Bob Mould does a great cover of Richard & Linda Thompson's "Shoot Out the Lights" on Poison Years.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:04 AM on September 30, 2005

Response by poster: This thread is going to keep me busy for days. You guys rock!

For the record, "Mad World" is probably the closest example to bad original/great cover mentioned here (yay "Donnie Darko"!). Although I'm kind of shocked I forgot the champion of the genre, "MacArthur Park".

And Faze, while I appreciate your contrariness in musical threads, there's no way I'm gonna buy that the Richard Harris version is better than the Donna Summer cover. That's ten long minutes I'll never, ever get back.
posted by Vervain at 7:04 AM on September 30, 2005

Type O Negative's cover of Seals and Crofts "Summer Dreams"
posted by wheat at 7:32 AM on September 30, 2005

I've been looking everywhere (online and off) for this, but Elvis Costello did a rather beautiful cover of Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful," for the Fox television series House that made me re-evaluate the original as well.
posted by icontemplate at 7:56 AM on September 30, 2005

I don't like Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" at all but Faith No More's version is sublime. Mike Patton > Ozzy Osbourne, so my conclusion is good song, bad delivery.

And though it doesn't really fit the question (since both the original and the cover are great), Nevermore's cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence" is the loudest song with "silence" in the title I've ever heard. Bang your head.
posted by mike9322 at 8:27 AM on September 30, 2005

While Purple Haze is great already, I really saw it differently after the Cure's excellent version.
I don't particularly like Every Breath You Take, but the punk version (from Before you were punk vol. 2) is suitably menacing.
Ciccone Youth's Into the Groovey is way better than the original.
posted by Aknaton at 8:41 AM on September 30, 2005

Holly Cole's album "Temptation" is such a fabulous collection of Tom Waits covers. Shawn Colvin's Cover Girl album has always delighted me (but I like some of the originals of those songs as well).

Rufus Wainwright covered "Across the Universe" beautifully...gives me goosebumps.
posted by jeanmari at 9:43 AM on September 30, 2005

For me, Joe Cocker's cover of "With a Little Help from my Friends" is way better than the original to the point where I'd rather not list to the Beatles' version.

To recapitulate the earlier point WRT a cappella, the Tufts Beelzebubs do some pretty phenomenal things on their recordings. It's not pure a capella because there is tons of post processing, but their cover of Machine Head or Mr. Roboto make me wonder why I've been bothering with instruments all these years.
posted by plinth at 9:44 AM on September 30, 2005

Phil Collins song "Separate Lives" is just that, a Phil Collins song.

But listen to it, then listen to Stephen Bishop sing it - he wrote it, too, I was surprised to find out. The first time I heard it I was completely blown away. It's a bitingly bitter song, so emotional, so haunting.

iTunes is your friend, but you won't get the full impact by listening to just a 30 second snipet.
posted by cptnrandy at 9:45 AM on September 30, 2005

Heather Nova's cover of Springsteen's 'I'm On Fire'. Cat Power's version of Velvet Underground's 'I Found a Reason'.
posted by methylsalicylate at 10:36 AM on September 30, 2005

Agreed on:
Richard Thompsons "Oops I did it again" and John Wesley Harding "Like A Prayer"

Also great:
Aztec Camera's cover of "Jump" way back in 1993.
posted by evilelf at 11:18 AM on September 30, 2005

Some Velvet Morning - Primal Scream & Kate Moss, particularly for the line "Some velvet morning when I'm straight".
Hounds of Love - The Futureheads.
Emma - Sisters of Mercy and Jolene - Sisters of Mercy, both only available as bootlegs I think.
I Feel Love - Curve.
posted by Auz at 11:34 AM on September 30, 2005

Tricky's cover of Public Enemy's Black Steel; and Hole's magnificent skewering of Joni Mitchell's Both Sides Now, which is the last song on Pretty on the Inside. For every kid who had to grow up in a hippie commune.
posted by jokeefe at 1:02 PM on September 30, 2005

The Afghan Whigs covers of
  • My World Is Empty Without You/I Hear A Symphony
  • Cocksucker Blues
  • Hyperballad
  • Creep
Ben Folds, Bitches Ain't Shit
posted by crabintheocean at 5:33 PM on September 30, 2005

More: I really liked the JXL remix of Elvis' "a little less conversation", though it may have been overplayed

Similarly, the Alien Ant Farm version of Micheaul Jackson's Smooth Criminal was pretty cool

For something off the radar, I recommend the White Stripes cover of Dolly Parton's Jolene.
posted by Popular Ethics at 8:03 PM on September 30, 2005

My favorite "improvement" of a song is the Bangles doing "Going Down to Liverpool" by Katrina and the Waves. The KatW version is merely wistful; the Bangles version is haunting.*

A good->good is Tori Amos singing "Smells Like Teen Spirit". Tingles.

For me, a soso->good is Aimee Mann's "The Scientist". But then I'm presdisposed in my opinion of the respective artists. Her version of "One" is indifferent.

Letters to Cleo does a terrifically heartfelt "I Want You to Want Me" that probably satisfies your b->g criteria unless you're a freak about 70s stadium rock.

The Band's sham Americana? They all (except for Levon Helm) were Canadian.

That's why it's sham.

* I would love an Iron & Wine cover of "Walking on Sunshine".
posted by dhartung at 1:37 AM on October 1, 2005

Flaming Lips have done a (pronouns intact) cover of Kylie Minogue's "Can't Get You Out of My Head" that's all slowed down and mournful and has been haunting me for a couple of weeks.

Cassandra Wilson took Glen Campbell's "Wichita Lineman" and switched up the perspective. It's really quite delicious. Duran Duran took Jim Morrison's poseur theatricality out of "Crystal Ship" and made it listenable. Joe Cocker made U2's "One" sound like what it is - a song from a distressed lover. Bono just doesn't have the earnest thing down the way Cocker does.

Dolly Parton turned "Stairway to Heaven" into what it's always been meant to be - a folk song.

And for all time, Sinead O'Connor will own "Nothing Compares 2 U" no matter what Prince diehards say. That song is simply hers, no arguments brooked.
posted by Dreama at 5:48 AM on October 1, 2005

Oh wait! I forgot that Pru does a copy of "Smooth Operator" that kicks major a**. And I hated the original.
posted by jeanmari at 8:25 AM on October 1, 2005

It's probably a bit late to post to this thread but I've been thinking about this a lot and was wanting to explain why I think Cat Power's cover of "Satisfaction" was so good and such a departure.

About twelve hours after posting my one-line answer I was still mulling and I remembered a radio bit that Sarah Vowell did on Frank Sinatra's "My Way." To paraphrase, SV declared her preference for Sid Vicious's cover of the song because Sid Vicious tapped into it's inherent brattiness, while FS tried to make doing it his way sound elevated and noble.

To my mind Cat Power does the exact opposite with "Satisfaction." In Mic Jagger's voice, and with the strong emphasis on the chorus, "I can't get no satisfaction," the song is the cry of the unrepentant man-child: vain, petulant, spoiled. In Cat Power's version not only is the song slowed down and the driving beat stripped away, the chorus is also entirely ignored and the desperation in the verses comes through. Add to this the cool, haunting voice of Chan Marshall and the song ceases to sound like a temper tantrum and starts to sound like a plea for help. It engages you emotionally, rather than filling you with a desire to send the singer for a time-out.
posted by Sara Anne at 11:54 AM on October 1, 2005

Moon River covered by Vincent Gallo and PJ Harvey
Fast Car covered by Xiu Xiu (so good)
posted by MarkAnd at 6:22 AM on October 6, 2005

Some cover songs to ponder, good or bad: Lords of the New Church - " Like a Virgin" Lords of the New Church- " Hey Tonight" The Bangles- " Hazy Shade of Winter" Wall of Voodoo- "Do it Again"(the Beach Boys) the Isley Brothers- "Summer Breeze" the Subdudes- "Tired of Being Alone" Tom Waits- "Somewhere" ( from West Side Story) Husker Du- "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" theme Phoebe Snow-"Baby Workout" When I think of more , I'll post'em.
posted by pbearbeach at 6:44 AM on October 18, 2005

Ani DiFranco covering Springsteen's "Used Cars" blows me away every single time.
posted by S.C. at 8:25 PM on October 20, 2005

oingo boingo covering "You Really Got Me" brought that song to life.
posted by pointilist at 11:02 PM on October 21, 2005

Heather Nova's cover of Springsteen's 'I'm On Fire'.

I'd disagree. I hear her rendition as a bit too knowing, almost leering, whereas Springteen almost gives the whole experience a reverent feel, and certainly a good chunk of awe.
posted by weston at 10:35 AM on February 6, 2006

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