10 Best Cover Songs

10. Cake – “I Will Survive” (Gloria Gaynor): This was the first cover I really fell in love with. I remember hearing it on the radio in the seventh grade and thinking, “Wait. Wait. This is NOT the way this song sounds… Is it?” It’s a good re-working of a classic — with John McCrea’s signature I-don’t-give-a-fuck vocals over the soul song, it sounds more like an angry voice mail than a ballad.

MP3: Cake – “I Will Survive”

9. Devo – “Satisfaction” (Rolling Stones) – I decided I needed to pick a cover of “Satisfaction” for this list, because it’s been covered so memorably so many times (also interesting: Britney Spears’ and Cat Power’s versions). The thing is, of course, that this song was perfect to begin with, and you really can’t improve upon something that’s already perfect. But of everyone who has tried, I’d say Devo is the most successful. It’s possible that I’m just obsessed with Devo, but this cover is hella danceable and would be really great over some montage scene from an ’80s movie.

MP3: Devo – “Satisfaction”

8. Jeff Buckley – “Hallelujah” (Leonard Cohen) – Most people think that Jeff Buckley actually wrote this song (except for a handful of people who think that Rufus Wainwright wrote it). The interesting thing about this cover is that the original version actually sounds more like a cover. Cohen is the more experimental songwriter of the two, and “Hallelujah,” which is his signature track, is more of an eerie exploration of religion and isolation than Buckley’s version. Buckley’s version, however, would be a great track to have slow, soft, romantic sex to. Cohen’s would be, too, I guess… If you have an existentialism fetish.

MP3: Jeff Buckley – “Hallelujah”

7. Soft Cell – “Tainted Love” (Gloria Jones) – This is another track of which most people are completely oblivious to the original version. Gloria Jones’ version is better, in my opinion, but the universal success that Soft Cell achieved with this cover is unprecedented, and it’s sexy and fiercely dark as hell.

MP3: Soft Cell – “Tainted Love”

6. The Clash – “I Fought The Law” (Bobby Fuller Four) – The Clash OWNS this song (well… anything The Clash has ever played they kind of own, I guess, because they’re the fucking CLASH). The energy in this song is through the roof, and when you hear it you wonder if the Bobby Fuller Four really knew what they were talking about when they wrote the song because The Clash just seem to get it so much better.

MP3: The Clash – “I Fought The Law” 

5. John Coltrane – “My Favorite Things” (The Sound of Music) – Let’s cut to the chase: The lyrics in “My Favorite Things” are DUMB. Cream-colored ponies? Whiskers on kittens? Brown paper packages tied up in string? Give me a fucking break. That stuff was lame in 1959 when the movie came out, and it’s still lame now. So Coltrane side-steps the whole lyrics thing by cutting them out completely and putting together an 8-minute masterpiece which essentially defines be-bop and hard bop for the new century. At about the 2-minute mark the thing really takes off and Trane’s freestyling octaves and smooth style begin to take your breath away.

MP3: John Coltrane – “My Favorite Things” 

4. Aretha Franklin – “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” (Otis Redding) – Redding is one of those recording artists who prolifically pumped out songs which got covered a lot and were never really credited to him (this one was also covered by Jackie Wilson, and he also wrote “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay,” covered by The Drifters). Aretha’s version of “Respect,” though, has become and anthem for feminism, and evokes an unmatched feeling of pride and power in every woman who listens to it. The song earned Franklin two Grammy Awards in 1968, and rightfully so, as her version is also number 5 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Songs of All Time.

MP3: Aretha Franklin – “Respect” 

3. Sinead O’Connor – “Nothing Compares 2 U” (Prince) – I don’t really know how Sinead did it, but she transformed what would have been just another skeezy romantic Prince number into the quintessential break-up ballad. Seriously: Just try to end a five-year relationship and not listen to this song 458 times while drowning in Haagan Daas. It’s like her heart breaks in the recording. It’s a really beautiful song, torn out of what would have been an otherwise overlookable pop basic.

MP3: Sinead O’Connor – “Nothing Compares 2 U” 

2. Janis Joplin – “Cry Baby” (Garnett Mimms & the Enchanters) – When Joplin played this at Woodstock, I imagine the world stopped turning for a moment. The initial soul-shattering note, which scrapes the hemisphere of Joplin’s extraordinary vocal range, is one of the most impossible-to-recreate moments in all of music history. This song is the blues, and Joplin tastes it, feels it, and spits it out. This is far and away her best track, and it is the archetype of what a cover should be.

MP3: Janis Joplin – “Cry Baby”

1. Patti Smith – “Gloria” (Van Morrison) – I remember the first time I heard this song. I was in the car with my best friend, and I said, “What is this?” “It’s Patti Smith’s cover of Gloria. I think it’s the best cover of all time.” I was blown away completely by its rawness; by the veracity; by the liberty it took with an unassuming classic. I made him play the track six more times and then I immediately went out and bought Patti Smith’s “Horses.” Last year, Smith released “Twelve,” a much-awaited cover album. But nothing compared to “Gloria.” It was a perfect moment in recording history, blending pure emotion with calculated musical sensibility. The first chorus is like listening to an orgasm. The last chorus is like listening to the second coming of Christ.

MP3: Patti Smith – “Gloria”

One response

6 02 2008
best cover songs… « upside down again.

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