In the annals of music, there will always the be homage to the giants that came before, who created the sound, and inspired the ones yet to come. That usually lends to things like the ubiquitous cover track — a performer’s version of a previous performer’s work.
As we all know, the vast majority of said covers are … well, crap. People don’t spend the time to consider the message or the music that went into the piece, and are quite happy to churn out a version that doesn’t sound much different than the original, or sounds so substantially worse that you really have to imagine what on earth they were thinking.
But there are the gems — the music that was reinvisioned (sort of like when Tim Burton reinvisioned Planet of the Apes, but with more positive results) and create — in effect — a new piece of music that can stand alone from the original.
Now there are a number of really good covers out there, and I’m not going to compile a list of all of them (this is the internet folks, it’s already been done many times over). These are just my Top 10.
Hard to Handle – The Black Crowes.
Otis Redding probably has the record for most-covered songs. I count this one because The Black Crowes really make this their own song, and it was a wild hit on its own. It still remains a hard-driving song, the sort of thing you blare out your car windows in the heat of summer.
I Heard It Through The Grapevine – Creedence Clearwater Revival
CCR had a complete knack for taking well-known songs and taking them into near-opus form. Not only with Grapevine, but also Suzie Q and I Put A Spell On You.
Walk This Way – Run DMC and Aerosmith
It could be claimed this isn’t a cover because Aerosmith is actually playing in the song itself. But a cover it is, and a defining cover because it was the first to blend rap (hip-hop) and rock ‘n roll, and do it very successfully. (Hey, it revitalised Aerosmith’s career…)
Run Run Away – Great Big Sea
Most non-Canucks have never heard this version. It was what brought Great Big Sea to my attention. Slade’s original version was much more hard-driving rock, with synth bagpipes for laughs. Great Big Sea ran with the celtic aspect, and made it into a song you’d swear had always been played in east coast kitchens.
Respect – Aretha Franklin.
Remember the original? I don’t either. Another Otis Redding original. But no-one can out-do Aretha Franklin for presence in performance. That, and she spun the song from being male-focused to female-focused. That’s a great twist on an original!
Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door – Guns N’ Roses (also consider Live and Let Die, but not Sympathy for the Devil)
I got nothing against Guns ‘n Roses, especially when they can what was previously a fairly laid-back Bob Dylan piece of gold (made famous later by Eric Clapton, another amazing version of this song), and then chew it up, spit all over it, use it to snort a few lines of coke, and still have it sound great. I also like G’n’R’s run on Live and Let Die for the same reason.
Higher Ground – Red Hot Chili Peppers
Stevie Wonder wrote a complex song that is hard to play … so Red Hot Chili Peppers turned it into a wicked base-line and leapt all over it with a lot more crunch. They even gave a nod to Stevie towards the end of the song.
Light My Fire – Shirley Bassey
The Doors, big-band style. Shirley Bassey has a voice like no other, and she gives this her all. It’s especially fun in the remixes that were released in the early 2000s.
Hurt – Johnny Cash
This is a song I don’t actually own. Because it actually hurts to listen to it. You can’t watch the video without crying, unless you’re dead. This isn’t a cover — it’s a lament. You feel every inch of Johnny Cash’s life, and every drop of his pain.
With A Little Help (From My Friends) – Joe Cocker
For years, I kid you not, I thought this was a song Joe Cocker wrote. It wasn’t until one day, listening to The Beatles original, that I had the realisation that Joe Cocker had covered it. This is my prototype for a cover song — take the original, and make it your own. To this day, I don’t think anyone does it better than Joe did in 1969.
Okay, so those are my picks. What do you folks think?