Jul 18 2008

The 17 Greatest Cover Songs Ever (and the 3 Worst)


1. All Along the Watchtower — Jimi Hendrix

Originally performed by Bob Dylan

Jimi blazes through multiple guitar solos on this cut, but it’s the main solo – played in three parts with an echoplex, wah pedal, and rolling double-stops — that seals his top spot on this list. It’s arguably Jimi’s finest moment, not to mention one the greatest guitar solos of all time. Bob who?

Jimi Hendrix Bob Dylan
All Along the Watchtower

2. Bitches Ain’t S**t — Ben Folds

Originally performed by Dr. Dre

Yeah, the lyrics are about as horribly misogynistic as you can get, but NWA and their alumni have inspired some amazing cover songs (see Dynamite Hack’s cover of Boyz N tha Hood or Nina Gordon’s Straight Outta Compton). And when Ben Folds and his piano do a tongue-in-cheek take on Bitches Ain’t S**t they set a standard even Dr. Dre’s original couldn’t compare to.

Folds used to perform it live until he got tired of fans shouting dirty lyrics at him while he was out with his kids. If you only watch one YouTube video today, make sure you check out this (possibly NSFW) cover — without question the second greatest cover song of all time. And that’s some real conversation for your ass.

3. You Really Got Me — Van Halen

Originally performed by The Kinks

Taking a heavy song and making it even heavier, Van Halen’s cover of You Really Got Me became their first hit single. Not coincidentally, this was also The Kinks’ first hit single 14 years earlier, and launched both bands’ decades-long careers.

While 17-year-old Dave Davies had to slash his cheap Elpico amp’s speakers with razor blades to get that killer distorted sound, Van Halen could rely on a wall of Marshalls to power this song’s enormous (but incredibly simple) riff.

4. Hallelujah — Jeff Buckley

Originally performed by Leonard Cohen

Without question Jeff Buckley’s finest hour, which is really saying something for this trebly gifted singer, guitarist, and songwriter — a complete musical package if there ever was one. Buckley’s delicate waterfall of guitar notes and his haunting and ethereal vocal performance made this an instant classic.

Buckley actually based his version on a cover that John Cale did, so this is really a cover of a cover. The Cohen original with drums and backing choir is great too, but pales by comparison to what Buckley achieved with just his voice and guitar.

Jeff Buckley Leonard Cohen
Hallelujah

5. Twist & Shout — The Beatles

Originally performed by The Isley Brothers

Originally recorded by The Top Notes, it was The Isley Brothers who first had a major hit with this song. But the Beatles made it even huger when they decided to cover it on a whim after a 12-hour non-stop recording session. Raw throats and exhaustion led to John Lennon’s famous “shredded vocal cords” performance. Ever the consummate professionals, The Beatles nailed it in one take.

6. Easy (Like Sunday Morning) — Faith No More

Originally performed by The Commodores

Faith No More stuck closely to the Lionel Ritchie original, except for Big Sick Ugly Jim Martin’s big, sick, ugly, and beautiful distorted guitar solo, which was covered in more fuzz than the man himself. This cover shot to number 3 in the UK charts, and has even been featured in Levi’s commercials.

Faith No More The Commodores
Easy (Like Sunday Morning)

7. Live and Let Die — Guns N’ Roses

Originally performed by Wings

Paul McCartney wrote and performed this song for the James Bond film of the same name. Years later, in a bid to make up for their lethargic cover of Dylan’s Knocking on Heaven’s Door, Guns and Roses took Macca’s hit to another level, with Slash’s guitar interweaving perfectly with the song’s orchestral parts, and the late Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon performing on backup vocals.

8. The Man Who Sold The World — Nirvana

Originally performed by David Bowie

Nirvana’s acoustic cover of this classic is so amazing that most kids don’t know Bowie wrote it. When he whips it out live, a big part of the audience are actually stoked to see the old guy covering Nirvana.

Both feature the distorted single-note line over a strummed acoustic guitar, but Bowie’s version is much “spacier”, with heavily processed vocals and a slight rumba vibe.

Nirvana David Bowie
The Man Who Sold The World

9. Smooth Criminal — Alien Ant Farm

Originally performed by Michael Jackson

Alien Ant farm didn’t do a whole lot more than just take the bass line from Jacko’s song and convert it into an uber-distorted guitar riff, but it’s such a cracking good riff that that was all that they needed for a monster hit.

10. Higher Ground — The Red Hot Chili Peppers

Originally performed by Stevie Wonder

The song that launched the Chili Peppers’ career, with Flea taking the clarinet/synthesizer intro and converting it into an insane slap bass line. The thrash guitar outro is a great touch too.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers Stevie Wonder
Higher Ground

11. Landslide — Smashing Pumpkins

Originally performed by Fleetwood Mac

Just Billy Corgan and his guitar are enough to create a lush orchestra of sound, but what we like best about this cover is that it takes the tricky tuning of the original and transposes it into simple open chords anyone can play.

12. Somewhere Over The Rainbow/What A Wonderful World — Israel Kamakawiwo’ole

Originally performed by Judy Garland/Louie Armstrong

Sure, he got a lot of the lyrics wrong, but the 750-pound Hawaiian and his ukulele created such a beautiful cover that no one really cared if he mangled the words. If you’re in the right mood, this song will bring tears to your eyes. We admit to getting a little choked up when it provided the backdrop for Dr. Greene’s demise on ER.

13. Hurt — Johnny Cash

Originally performed by Nine Inch Nails

Frankly, we’ve always found both Johnny Cash and Nine Inch Nails to be dead boring. But we know Internet geeks adore Trent Reznor, so we’re including this song just to avoid the brawl that will take place in the comments if we left it out.

14. Got The Time — Anthrax

Originally performed by Joe Jackson

Being just out of puberty at the time, we had never even heard of Joe Jackson when this Anthrax cover came out. All we knew was we loved Anthrax and this song kicked major ass. The opening bass line alone was enough to get us pogo-ing around our parents living rooms like maniacs (“2, 3, Go!…”).

15. It’s My Life — No Doubt

Originally performed by Talk Talk

Mark Hollis and Talk Talk do a great job on the original, creating probably one of the 80’s greatest songs. But the production on the No Doubt version is so much crisper, and we can’t help feeling this song was always meant to be sung by a girl. But really, both versions kick all kinds of ass.

16, Take Me to the River — Talking Heads

Originally performed by Al Green

The Talking Heads cover is a bit wackier than Al Green’s, and their rendition of this song in the concert video Stop Making Sense is one of the all time great live music performances. But neither version can really hold a candle to the one performed by Big Mouth Billy Bass.

17. Sweet Dreams — Marilyn Manson

Originally performed by The Eurythmics

The FreakMeister General has some great covers to his name, and it was a tossup between this and Soft Cell’s Tainted Love. Sweet Dreams won out just because the Goth Gangster schtick Manson sported in the Tainted Love video seemed a bit forced. Girls were hot, though.

Plus, John 5’s translation of Sweet Dreams’ main synthesizer riff to heavy guitar is a work of art.

…And the 3 Worst Cover Songs of All Time

3. I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll — Britney Spears

Originally performed by Joan Jett

Joan Jett’s version is actually a cover itself, but it took Britney Spears to destroy it completely. Thudding and distorted hip-hop bass, pointless DJ scribbling, and whining vocals create the beginning of the end for Britney. No wonder she went a bit squirrely after this.

2. Faith — Limp Bizkit

Originally performed by George Michael

Despite having a pretty decent guitar player, we always felt that Limp Bizkit represented the worst aspects of the worst musical genre (nu metal) in the worst musical era (1998-2002) in the history of mankind. Added up, what’s that make Limp Bizkit’s cover of George Michael’s Faith? Pure, unmitigated crap, that’s what. A big steaming bowl of it.

1. You Shook Me All Night Long — Celine Dion, Anastacia, Meredith Brooks

Originally performed by AC/DC

We never watch VH1, but we somehow managed to channel surf into this abomination one evening and were immediately consumed with the overwhelming urge to gouge out our eyes with a ice cream scoop and shove them into our ears.

The gratuitous over-singing! The air guitar! The Celine-freaking-Dion! Not to mention the thinly-disguised lyrics about muff-diving. It’s enough to make us beg for the sweet relief of a sinking cruise liner in the middle of the frozen atlantic. Watch it if you dare, but don’t say we didn’t warn you.

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14 Comments on this post

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  1. The Soul of Rock and Roll - Rock, Blues, Folk and More About Music » Carnival of Rock and Roll August 1, 2008 wrote:

    […] Nui Loa of fret dreams talks cover songs, and some good ones at that here: The 17 Greatest Cover Songs Ever (and the 3 Worst) […]

    July 31st, 2008 at 9:57 pm
  1. sean said:

    How about U2 doing Helter Skelter?

    July 19th, 2008 at 8:38 pm
  2. admin said:

    That’s a great cover too, loved that song as a kid when the ‘Rattle and Hum’ movie came out.

    July 20th, 2008 at 7:12 am
  3. Logan said:

    Hmm. I think you may have forgotten to put Sheryl Crow’s perversion of Sweet Child O’ Mine on the atrocities list.

    August 1st, 2008 at 8:12 pm
  4. admin said:

    @Logan, You’re totally right – don’t know how I overlooked that one :)

    August 2nd, 2008 at 6:54 pm
  5. John said:

    I was quite surprised not to see one of William Shatners nauseating efforts in the worst list.
    That Mr Tambourine Man sends shivers down my spine.
    Great list.

    August 16th, 2008 at 6:59 am
  6. admin said:

    @John, thanks, I’m glad you liked it. I’m in agreement on the Shatner stuff. I may have to create a second list to cover the stuff I missed the first time :)

    August 18th, 2008 at 8:49 am
  7. bkm said:

    Missed a couple.

    Dynamite Hack should be on there before Ben Folds.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMlPVpXtkJY

    And Cake’s I will Survive

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfvDeCDEgiA

    August 18th, 2008 at 9:27 pm
  8. admin said:

    @bkm, yeah I almost added the Dynamite Hack cover, but figured I didn’t want to have more than one NWA cover song listed. I totally agree it’s a great song though.

    August 20th, 2008 at 6:26 pm
  9. The Sanity Inspector said:

    Ben Folds Five cover of Steely Dan’s “Barrytown” is very good. And The Picketts’ folkie cover of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” is a revelation.

    The worst cover of all time is that disco version of “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”. It’s so nauseating I can’t even be bothered to look up the “artist”.

    June 16th, 2010 at 9:19 pm
  10. mike said:

    article said:
    “Plus, John 5’s translation of Sweet Dreams’ main synthesizer riff to heavy guitar is a work of art.”

    Incorrect. As originally recorded in 1995, John 5 was not even in the band yet. The riff was recorded by Daisy Berkowitz.

    June 4th, 2011 at 8:53 am
  11. Jim said:

    How can you not include Clapton’s remake of The Kinks’ “Layla.”

    June 4th, 2011 at 7:08 pm
  12. spennyj said:

    I love rock and roll was originally by the arrows. Joan jett’s version was a cover

    September 18th, 2011 at 4:50 pm
  13. Stover said:

    I’d have to include Pat Boone’s rendition of Dio’s Holy Diver as about the worst cover ever, but it wasn’t exactly a surprise either.

    February 1st, 2012 at 1:33 pm

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