Thursday, February 16, 2006


Who uses it: Musicians
What it means: Performing or recording a song made famous by someone else.
How you can use it: It's not karaoke, it's a cover band...

It's not as if anyone who reads this blog wouldn't already know this term, but I like it for several reasons. First, take a minute to think about the infinite flexibility of English: the word "cover," which means putting one thing on top of the other, gives us terms that mean everything from summarizing a screenplay to a military officer's hat.

I started thinking about this last night, when I was listening to Mary Lou Lord's beautiful acoustic version of "Thunder Road." I would never say it's better than Bruce Springsteen's, but it is exactly what a good cover should be: a rendition that honors the original while filtering it through the singer's own unique voice.

It would take me too long to figure out a list of best cover versions, but here are ten I particularly like. Add your own in the comments section.

Ten Great Cover Versions

1. Johnny Cash, "Hurt." Trent Reznor's original is personal; Johnny Cash's remake is universal. Amazing. Also, Johnny Cash, "One" (U2).
2. Jennifer Warnes, "Bird on a Wire" (Leonard Cohen)
3. Pearl Jam, "Crazy Mary" (Victoria Williams)
4. Social Distortion, "Ring of Fire" (Johnny Cash)
5. Kirsty McColl and The Pogues, "Miss Otis Regrets/Just One of Those Things" (Cole Porter)
6. Alison Krauss & Gillian Welch, "I'll Fly Away" (traditional)
7. Barenaked Ladies, "Lovers in a Dangerous Time" (Bruce Cockburn)
8. Too Much Joy, "Seasons in the Sun" (Terry Jacks) and "A New England" (Billy Bragg)
9. The Waterboys, "Sweet Thing" (Van Morrison)
10. Cowboy Junkies, "Sweet Jane" (Velvet Underground)

Okay, that's 12, but it's my list. Oh, and I forgot Dolly Parton's "Stairway to Heaven." I'm not kidding about that, either. So that's 13. And Lyle Lovett's "Stand By Your Man." And...


Jennifer Lechner said...

I get goosebumps every time I listen to "Hurt." Amazing!

Anonymous said...

In no way complete, or in any particular rank order:

-- Counting Crows, "The Ghost in You" (Psychadelic Furs)
-- Aaron Lewsi, "Black" (Pearl Jam)
-- Ramones, "Surfin' Bird" (The Trashmen), "Palisades Park" (Freddy Cannon, words and music by Chuck Barris!), and "Do You Want to Dance" (Bobby Freeman)
-- Mary Chapin Carpenter, "Passionate Kisses" (Lucinda Williams)
-- Smashing Pumpkins, "Landslide" (Stevie Nicks/Fleetwood Mac)
-- Pietasters, "Same Old Song" (The Temptations)
-- The Pogues w/ Cait O'Riordan, "I'm a Man You Don't Meet Every Day" (traditional? if so, then not really a cover)
-- Johnny Cash, "I See a Darkness" (Will oldham)


AnswerGirl said...

Ed, I agree with almost everything on your list, especially Counting Crows' "Ghost in You." I also want to add Elvis Costello's version of "Many Rivers to Cross" (Jimmy Cliff), and The English Beat's "Tears of a Clown" (Smokey Robinson & the Miracles). Plus, the Ramones' "Needles and Pins," which -- believe it or not -- was written by Sonny Bono.

Tom Ehrenfeld said...

Nirvana, "Man Who Sold The World" (David Bowie)
Senor Coconut, "Showroom Dummies" (Kraftwerk)
Toots and the Maytals, "Country Road" (John Denver)
Dixie Chicks, "Landslide" (Fleetwood Mac)
Gang of Four, "Sweet Jane" (Velvet Underground)
Fine Young Cannibals, "Ever Fallen in Love" (Buzzcocks)
Big Mountain, "Baby I Love Your Way" (Peter Frampton)
Hanson, "In A Little While" (U2) Really.
Elvis Costello, "Good Year for the Roses" (Jerry Chestnut) "How Much I Lied" (Gram Parsons/Pam Rifkin)
Diana Krall, "Almost Blue" (Elvis Costello)

Special mention goes to Coldplay for Talk, which is based entirely on the central riff from Kraftwerk's Computer World. And for the fact that in a recent interview with Ricky Gervais, Chris Martin said that the band recently covered "Lick My Love Pump" on stage but that few fans got it. THis makes it very hard to dislike Coldplay.

Finally, a nod to every song played by John Doe's band in Georgia. Their covers of I'll Be Your Mirror, Sally Can' t Dance, Almost Blue, and so forth are perfect.

AnswerGirl said...

Also a good list, but I'd take exception to the Dixie Chicks' "Landslide." They're not bad, but to my ear, they add nothing to the song -- unlike the Smashing Pumpkins, whose version moves me a great deal.

Peggy & Scott said...

I would love to hear the Counting Crows' Furs' cover and truth be known, the Hanson U2 cover (did I just type that?)

Pixies – “Head On” (The Jesus & Mary Chain)

U2 – “Night & Day” (Cole Porter)

Foo Fighters – “Baker Street” (Gerry Rafferty)

Allison Krauss/James Taylor – “How’s the World Treating You” – (The Louvin Brothers)

Neil Finn – “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” – (The Smiths)

The Breeders – “I Can't Help It (If I'm Still in Love With You)” – (Hank Williams)

The Clash – “I Fought the Law” – (The Crickets)

AnswerGirl said...

My music collection has a serious shortage of Neil Finn, in all his incarnations... I almost bought some Crowded House on iTunes the other night. I didn't even know he'd covered that Smiths song, I will have to check it out. I like the Foo Fighters' "Baker Street," too. And how could I forget to mention X's cover of "Breathless," much less the Clash's "I Fought the Law"?

Kathleen said...

Ciccone Youth - Into the Groove(Madonna)

Tom Jones - Kiss (Prince)

and if you haven't seen David Hasselhoff's video yet for his rendition of "Hooked on a Feeling" you're really missing something special.

Anonymous said...

"I Fought the Law" was originally done by The Bobby Fuller Four. I'm pretty sure.

If we get free additions or even mulligans, I also have to list Elvis C's "Good Year for the Roses," which he once sang with George Jones on a CMT special, and "Pressure Drop" by the Specials. Toots & the Maytals did that one first, but their version isn't particularly good.

-- Ed

Tom Ehrenfeld said...

Well, if there's to be addencizing, I'll add a few centimes:

Happy to see a second for Good Year for the Roses; I would steal Passionate Kisses by MMC (though this is one song whose fame completely overshadowed the amazing original--thank God Lucinda finally got hers)

In terms of punk covers, my favorite Clash cover is in fact Police and Thieves by Junior Murvin. A phenomenal original, a sick cover. And this from a guy who saw them play it. I mention this because I think you were thinking of the Clash cover not the Specials.

As for disdain for the original Pressure Drop. I'm gonna have to use good old science here (in the Bush Administration sense here), and state that Ed, you are so very wrong I cringe for you and have nothing to do with the nasty articles that may appear in the next few days. Mercy. It's just that Toots has a special place in my heart, and that song always reminds of Harder They Come.

IF you want a great reggae cover from the Specials
I would go for Guns of Navarone, originally by the Skatalites.

AnswerGirl said...

Big ups for Tom Jones' version of "Kiss," and I also want to add Alien Ant Farm's version of "Smooth Criminal." I'm not taking a position on the Toots & the Maytals vs. The Specials... but Frente's cover of "Bizarre Love Triangle" was pretty good, though not as good as the original.

Anonymous said...

No need to get angry, Tom. I mean, just ask yourself, "WWTD?, What would Toots do?" The international prophet of Jah's love would not be offended that I enjoyed the Specials' version of "Pressure Drop" more than his own.

And dang if my sister didn't beat me to the Alien Ant Farm shout out. Oh well, I'll always have Uncle Tupelo's version of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Effigy."


Peggy & Scott said...

I can't help it .... just one more.

Ryan Adams - Wonderwall (Oasis)

AnswerGirl said...

Yes! And also, Fine Young Cannibals' "Suspicious Minds" (Elvis Presley), and James Taylor's "You've Got a Friend" (Carole King).

Peggy & Scott said...

Me again ........ while working from my home office today, listening to my iTunes (set to shuffle) I came across a really, really weird cover I had no idea I even owned.

The Cardigans – “Iron Man” (Black Sabbath)

OK; I promise, that's the last one!