16 Covers That Are Almost Better Than the Original
There’s no accounting for taste. Reprising old classics and revered gems is a forever controversial enterprise. It’s bold to claim art might be better articulated by someone other than its original architect. With that premise assumed, we’ve assembled a few deep cuts and killer tracks for your consideration. From the dispassionate cool riffs of punk to Johnny Cash adding extra soul to everything but the kitchen sink, these iconic covers give their source material a run for the money.
Written by Neil Young and released in 1979, the complex, story-laden tune chronicles a massacre of a Native American tribe by European settlers. Young’s critically acclaimed original is hauntingly beautiful. Cash, backed by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, covered the track on his posthumous 2003 release Unearthed. Cash’s trademark vocals in all their dark, melancholy spirit, draw a brilliantly evocative sense of longing that feels even more intimate and intense. Buy it on iTunes.
Composed by Marvin Hamlisch with lyrics by Carole Bay Sager, the smash ‘70s ballad was originally recorded by Carly Simon as the theme for the James Bond flick The Spy Who Loved Me. In Radiohead’s take, Thom Yorke’s vocals are brimming with unexpected cool and a luxe, diversified range of sound that makes even a major worldwide hit feel fresh. Download it on Stereogum.
Written by Hoyt Anton and featured on Three Dog Night’s 1971 album, Harmony, the King’s 1972 take on “Never Been to Spain” crescendos effortlessly from mellow, subtle nonchalance into trademark Vegas-level-vibes. It’s a solid, good time chock full of soul. Buy it on iTunes.
English rock group The Animals’ number-one hit “House of the Rising Sun,” is a traditional folk song of uncertain authorship, proving art, is ultimately, in the execution. While countless renditions of the ballad exist, including takes by Bob Dylan in 1961 and Nina Simone in 1962, The Animals’ howlingly, distinctive arrangement is an unequivocal classic. Buy it on iTunes.
Originally penned by Sonny Curtis of the Crickets, the 1966 version of “I Fought the Law” popularised by the Bobby Fuller Four, is a classic. The Clash debuted their cut of on the American edition of their self-titled debut album. The lyrics marry perfectly to the punk scene, making for a spin arguably more iconic that its predecessor. Buy it on iTunes.
Jack White’s take on Dolly Parton’s sprawling lyrics of spurned love gone awry is raucous and layered. A little bit less country, a little more rock-n-roll it works on every level, adding power and lively antics to the already impassioned composition. Buy it on iTunes.
One of the most infamously beloved Bob Dylan covers of all time, Hendrix’s rock n’ roll riff on the lyrically verbose icon’s “All Along the Watchtower” is oft referenced as “better” than the source material. It’s all subjective. There’s no doubting Hendrix’s deftly skilled execution is superb. Buy it on iTunes.
Tom Waits raucous, husky rendition of The Ramone’s follow up to “Judy Is a Punk” for the tribute album We’re A Happy Family was produced by Rob Zombie at the behest of Johnny Ramone himself. The version is an all-out tour-de-force of raw, celebratory cool that feels at home on any summer playlist. Buy it on iTunes.
Covering Hendrix is arguably treading on sacred ground. Ethereal French songstress Charlotte Gainsbourg teamed with Beck on this chill revival track. She treads softly and peppers in some major sex appeal with lush layers of piano and slick bass. The result is gorgeous. Buy it on iTunes.
Written by Johnny Christopher, Mark James, and Wayne Carson, the 1972 country ballad was first recorded by Gwen McCrae and Brenda Lee. Willie’s wildly popular version is full of soulful angst and the singer’s signature honey-soaked vocals. Painfully nostalgic and achingly bluesy, its lonesome, reflective calm is enough to pull at your heartstrings. Buy it on iTunes.
Cash’s notorious Nine Inch Nails cover brought Trent Reznor to tears. Not much more of a case needs to be made for the stunning interpretation. It tops the list of many a critically revered must-listens in terms of historical bests. Buy it on iTunes.
Written and recorded by Bob Dylan in 1988, Nick Cave’s cover of the more obscure track closes his 1996 Murder Ballads record. With vocal turns from Shane MacGowan, among others, it has a raw, sing-a-long feel that feels eerily full of hope. Buy it on iTunes.
Originally written by Lou Reed and performed by The Velvet Underground, The Kills’ dynamic duo of Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince conjure up a hauntingly cool rendition of the 1969 classic tune. Mosshart’s languid, sex-pot vocals coupled with Hince’s symphonic guitar sound is full of sultry moodiness and modern edge. Buy it on iTunes.
Joy Division’s taking on The Velvet Underground’s “Sister Ray,” manages to add an extra dose of restrained danger to the White Light White Heat track. While the bold frenetic energy of the original is fantastic, Ian Curtis’ lethargic post-punk vocals build just enough to make the avant-garde style all the more provocative. Buy it on iTunes.
The original version of Spoon’s “Don’t You Evah” belongs to The Natural History, without the off-kilter spelling. Spoon covered the track on their sixth studio album Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga and included the track (and a handful of remixes) on their 2008 eight-song EP of the same name. Buy it on iTunes.
Lead singer Nathan Willet’s gospel croon brings mellifluous depth and texture to The Band’s song "You Don’t Come Through.” The southern California band’s version is a stirring, more robust completion of the raw track, executed with soulful precision and unconstrained emotion. Buy it on iTunes.
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