Gr8at: Covers Better Than the Originals

Has there been a song that you were familiar with and then heard another artist’s take on it and been completely blown away? Including the times you actually liked the initial release? I thought I’d choose my favourites and see what you thought. Are you in agreement with many of the songs? Which ones would you add? As always your comments and suggestions are more than encouraged.

Jealous Guy – Roxy Music
If I could only choose one for this set, it would be this. It was Roxy Music’s only UK number one, a fitting reward for capturing the musical and vocal sadness that reverberates within the fondly remembered original.

Hurt – Johnny Cash
Even without seeing the haunting video and the circumstances behind it, it’s impossible to listen to this without feeling shivers tremble right down your spine. The raw darkness evident from Nine Inch Nail’s original changes to reveal a goodbye and a complicated sadness of leaving it all behind.

I Drove All Night – Roy Orbison
Cyndi Lauper may have had plenty of success in the 80s, but only her most biased of fans would argue her version is better than The Big O’s. Even with such a wide of range of hits to choose from, I believe this song showcases more than any other just how magnificent his voice was.

Superstar -Sonic Youth
It almost seems cheeky to include this, as The Carpenters original is so wonderful and Karen always had such a lovely and much-loved voice. Indeed her performance of Neil Sedaka’s Solitaire could easily have made this list. But what Sonic Youth do is just extraordinary.

Running up that Hill – Placebo
As Sonic Youth doubtless found, it’s must be tricky to improve upon a great song that was already a popular hit. But Placebo manage to bring their own identity with a Gothic darkness that has a more downbeat and reflective tone than even Kate Bush’s original.

Perfect Day – Various Artists
Most charity songs tend to be uninspired efforts, hurriedly rushed together. Unsurprising then that this one had an unconventional background, with the initial intention of being a BBC promotion. Thankfully it was officially released, became a big UK number one and showcased a wonderful assortment of singers (including the song’s original creator Lou Reed).

Last Christmas – Jimmy Eat World
With everyone from Taylor Swift, Glee, Arctic Monkeys and Manic Street Preachers having given it a go, competition is certainly fierce. The most sold single in UK music history not to have topped the chart, Jimmy Eat World’s version may not be the most well-known but it’s delightful instrumental adds something lacking in the many others.

Mr Tamborine Man – The Byrds
Bob Dylan may not have the most fondly-though of voices, but The Byrds’ effort is loved for more than it’s vocal, adding in a jangling guitar and smoother sound. Released the same year as Dylan’s original, it topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic and helped popularise folk-rock.



52 thoughts on “Gr8at: Covers Better Than the Originals

  1. This seems like blasphemy, and I may get bashed, but I like Nirvana’s version of “Man Who Sold The World” better than…(gasp) David Bowie’s. I’m sorry, and I LOVE Bowie, but it’s better. 😕

    • Jeff Buckley so owns that song that it almost feels that Cohen is performing Buckley’s version haha. Grace is such an incredible album, I even highlighted it in one of my first posts. It could easily have made it in.

    • His voice is incredible. I never knew until recently how much impact he’d had on other artists, including Chic. Such striking album covers too. I’d be curious to know just how many times I’ve heard Roxy Music’s take on Jealous Guy.

  2. I agree, Johnny Cash “nailed” the song, Hurt. It was amazing the depth he added in his voice.
    A lot of people love Whitney Houston’s “I will always love you” but call me crazy, I really liked Dolly Parton’s original more. I liked the version that a boy band song of Last Christmas, but maybe it is who you are saying?
    I agree with above comment when Hallelujah is sung with a clear voice it is better than gravvelly one if L. Cohen, despite his writing this, I think (?)

  3. I’m not generally a fan of cover versions, but I do agree with the choices of Johnny Cash, Jeff Buckly and Nirvana. I might also add Siouxsie and the Banshee’s version of ‘Strange Fruit’ and Billy Mackenzie’s cover of ‘Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth’ – perhaps not better but with a lovely feel to it.

  4. Alex, cool post. I’ve been hearing a lot of Disturbed’s cover for Simon and Garfunkel “Sounds of Silence” and raving about it. I still prefer S & G. Another unexpected cover is Johnny Cash covering Depeche Mode.

    • It’s certainly very different to Marilyn Manson’s version ha. I’ve been meaning to include Simon and Garfunkel. Thanks for reminding me. I heard the Disturbed’s version recently and liked what he did with it.

  5. Trent Reznor has stated that Johnny’s version of “Hurt” is better than his. That’s the ultimate complement there.

    Gary Jules version of “Mad World” (heard in “Donnie Darko”) goes here, too.

    • I’m not sure anyone could have performed it better. The critic Ryan Reed this take on it.
      “Trent Reznor’s dissonant original—recorded for the second NIN album, 1994’s The Downward Spiral—is often interpreted as a suicide note. In Cash’s hands, it’s a death-bed confessional.”

  6. I don’t know if it’s *better* but I really love Haley Reinhart’s I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You, maybe more so than the original sang by Elvis, and even the Julio Iglesias’ version.

    Also, since I just watched ‘Control’ recently, I LOVE the sound of Joy Division’s songs sang by Sam Riley and the band in the film than the original cover. But perhaps because I wasn’t all that familiar w/ them in the first place.

    • You have to listen more to Joy Division! One of my favourite artists. Sam does a great job. I’d have been upset if he hadn’t. I’ll check out your other suggestions 🙂

      • Well I’m not saying Sam is better, I just love listening to him sing. His old band 10000 Things have some fun songs too, but Joy Division’s music are actually more entertaining for me to listen to. Glad to hear you like his performance, I think he gave a soulful performance in the dramatic scenes, as well as nailed the live performances, esp. the epileptic dance!

  7. Some really good picks, here. I would add

    The Fugees version of Roberta Flack’s Killing Them Softly
    Aretha Franklin’s cover of Otis Redding’s Respect
    Chaka Khan’s cover of Prince’s I Feel For You
    …and I might be burned at the stake for this, but…Alien Ant Farm’s version of Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal.

    • Killing me Softly is amazing. Was such a big hit here. The album wasn’t too shabby either. It’s always made me chuckle to think that one of the most female empowerment songs was written by a guy. They are two very different songs though. Franklin’s vocal and attitude is something else.

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  9. TOTALLY agree with Bryan Ferry, Jealous Guy 🙂 nice list Alex. I’m doing one of these myself at the moment and Jealous Guy will feature in mine also!

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