There’s no doubt that you’ll see names like Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash and Prince mentioned in any “best cover songs” list that you stumble upon on the web. We certainly can’t fault the success of Cash’s Nine Inch Nails remake, “Hurt”, but while many recount some of history’s greatest sonic reinterpretations, there’ve been countless cover songs that’ve flown under the radar and equally deserving of mention. We take a look at some of the finest cover songs to grace our ears in recent times that too often get left off the list – and where some put fresh spins on the source material, we dare say that some of the below even outshine the originals.
A Perfect Circle – “Imagine” by John Lennon
While the late Beatles legend’s classic depicts a utopian future, the Maynard-led rock supergroup turns the classic on its head and, instead, depicts the dystopian present. Characteristically aggressive and riddled with pain, the optimism of Lennon’s song is replaced with visions of tragedy and scourges of the modern world, with blaring guitars and Maynard’s soaring vocals achieving an entirely different outlook without changing a word of the original.
Bluejuice – “Video Games” by Lana Del Rey
Lana Del Rey continues to polarise listeners with her spaced-out timbre and controversial content, but Aussie alternative outfit, Bluejuice, please all with their upbeat cover of the songstress’ breakthrough track. Shifting from solemn and solitary to jubilant grooves, Jake and Stav’s smile-inducing harmonies atop swing-inspired instrumentation turns a song about dependence into a celebratory confession of love. Skip to 1:30 to get to the good stuff.
Raintime – “Beat It” by Michael Jackson
Any attempt to do justice to a beloved MJ track can be met with unbridled scorn (can we just pretend Fall Out Boy’s cover never happened?), but Italian metal group, Raintime, seemed to beat all haters into submission with their raw take on the Thriller hit. Drop-tuned and full of attitude, the guitar-driven reinterpretation puts a whole new spin on Jackson’s lyrics through faithful vocal melodies and aggressive screams to show ‘em who’s bad.
HIM – “Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak
Having perfected the art of combining metal-tinged adrenaline with lyrics of hopeless love, who can do better in reworking Isaak’s hushed declaration of betrayal than Finnish “Love Metal” maestros, HIM? Amplifying the singer-songwriter’s iconic guitar melody and bringing impassioned cries to his soft falsettos, Ville Valo and his team of jaded metal heads commendably bring the adult contemporary track into the realm of rock.
Beachwood Sparks – “By Your Side” by Sade
Few can outdo Sade’s soulful and sensual voice, but unlike the maturity found in the eponymous group’s R&B stylings, Beachwood Sparks’ alt-country spin on the romantic number brings a somewhat adolescent passion that made it perfect for feature in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Coupling vulnerable vocals with psych-doused acoustic rhythms, Sade’s lyrics of love come to life in a new context with the fragility and warmth of the LA-based band’s reinterpretation.
311 – “Love Song” by The Cure
Not all of 311’s catalogue is looked back upon without some degree of embarrassment, but there’s not a single thing to be ashamed of when grooving to this stellar cover. Replacing Robert Smith’s melancholy and sense of longing with a smooth, sensual reggae inflections, the band’s unique approach to the endlessly covered song shifts away from images of desperate bedroom love letter writing sessions to inspire the thought of intimacy on a beach between loved ones.
Rage Against The Machine – “Maggie’s Farm” by Bob Dylan
Dylan’s tale of an embittered slave working on a plantation may not be his biggest hit, but Rage Against The Machine’s overhaul of the folk track make it one of his most memorable narratives. True to their name, Zack de la Rocha’s signature rage-fuelled rap, combined with a simplistic but bone-crushing drop-tuned guitar melody, transforms the story into a symbol of protest and aggression.
Social Distortion – “Ring Of Fire” by Johnny Cash
While Cash covered the song originally written by his then-girlfriend-and-soon-to-be-wife, June Carter Cash, the Californian punk legends truly set the song on fire with their distortion-driven tribute. Mike Ness’ cigarette-soaked rasp takes centre stage, and with overdriven guitar riffs replacing the original’s Mexican-inspired trumpet melodies, Social Distortion’s punk stylings bring a modern Wild West delivery to the fiery love song.
The Clash – “I Fought The Law” by The Crickets
It’s easy to understand why Sonny Curtis’ original composition was overshadowed by The Clash’s roaring punk remake. From the moment Toppy Headon’s thunderous drums roll in, the siren-like guitar melodies that lead into Joe Strummer’s signature drawl and Mick Jones’ hooky backing vocals made the cover an instant classic, elevating the outlaw narrative that Curtis had penned in 1959.
Marilyn Manson – “I Put A Spell On You” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
The blues ballad had creepy undertones to begin with, but as was demonstrated on the band’s covers of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)” and “Tainted Love”, Marilyn Manson can make any song infinitely creepier. While criminally underappreciated in comparison to the aforementioned tracks, Manson’s haunting vocals pay adequate tribute to Hawkins’ trademark howling, while the spine-tingling guitar hook puts a spell on all who listen.
Ben Folds – “Bitches Ain’t Shit” by Dr. Dre
When it comes to Ben Folds’ piano pop cover of Dr. Dre’s diss track, it’s hard to find any hip-hop cover that even comes close. Despite the overtly misogynistic lyrics (that are, in fact, targeted at Dre’s former NWA compadre, Ezy-E), there’s something infectiously charming about the way Folds softly chimes “Bitches can’t hang with the streets”; a delivery of which only a middle class white man “rockin’ the suburbs” can achieve.
Deftones – “No Ordinary Love” by Sade
Remaining faithful to the source material, Deftones’ execution of Sade’s soul tune hits the nail on the head amongst a number of covers that miss the mark. Channelling the singer’s urgency and pain for a star-crossed lover, vocalist Chino Moreno turns on his characteristically haunting delay-laden vocals, while stripped back instrumentation showcases the infectious bassline performed by the late Chi Cheng.
Alexisonfire – “The Dead Heart” by Midnight Oil
Mimicking Peter Garrett’s dance moves may guarantee endless hilarity, but trying to take on one of the Midnight Oil frontman’s rights-conscious anthems requires a whole other level of bravery. Naturally, Canadian post-hardcore outfit, Alexisonfire, dropped jaws for their faithful ode to the legendary Aussie band as part of their tour down under. Scathing in its screamed descriptions of the crimes of the “white man” and packing a crowd-elevating chorus, we dare say this cover truly amplifies the song’s original message.
Richard Cheese – “People = Shit” by Slipknot
Due to the sheer number of members and instruments involved in Slipknot’s team, it’s no surprise that no one has come close to executing a cover worthy of mentioning by the masked metallers – except for Richard Cheese. A master of turning even the gravest of songs into journeys of hilarity, the jazz outfit’s remake of the monstrous Iowa track may be the group’s finest tribute, likened to waltzing down the street with a smile while flipping off anyone that walks by.
Disturbed – “The Sound Of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel
While we’ve become accustomed to The Lemonheads’ rendition of “Mrs. Robinson”, nu-metallers Disturbed dropped a bombshell with this glorious gem on their latest album. Having established themselves as worthy adversaries in covering classics, the band’s take on the duo’s iconic folk number is – for lack of a better word – epic. A slow-burner filled with soaring vocals and symphonic strings of cinematic proportions, the haunting yet uplifting song will leave you in silence once it reaches its climax – before you play it again, and again, and again.