Five Cover Songs That are As-Good or Better Than the Originals

Five Cover Songs That are As-Good or Better Than the Originals

Five for Friday logo

By Justin Brown

Every Friday, I’m compiling a list of five things that meet one criterion. “What is that criterion,” you ask? Well, it’s going to change every week and you’re just going to have to try and keep up.

This week…

Five Song Covers That Are As-Good or Better than the Originals

Let's be honest: originality is awesome. Film studios hurriedly remaking movies is annoying not because the supposedly sacred original has been resurrected for a quick, effortless cash-in but because consumers of media would much rather hear or see something fresh than a recycled product that didn't truly need recycling.

That being said, cover songs are not the same as most of the current glut of cinematic remakes. The original version of a song can work for plenty of people but there's always a large percentage of the audience that would like to see it channeled through a musician with whom they're more “compatible.” Songs are rarely just covered, verbatim, by talented artists; they're reshaped and re-imagined. Basically, if Hollywood was remaking movies like musicians covered songs, we would be a lot better off.

5. “Close to Me”

Nothing against Mr. Smith and his band of perpetually un-merry men, as I enjoy a great deal of their work but this song never felt it “worked” as well until I heard it sung in the appropriately whiny voice of Matt Pryor and backed by some serious percussion. Plus, the musical arrangement on the original hasn't aged extraordinarily well while the Get Up Kids rendition feels modern even though it's already a decade old.

4. “We Will Become Silhouettes”

Again I must clarify: my goal here is not to bring down the original artist and/or the song they themselves wrote, as merely conceiving of a great track is worthy of celebration (for reference: I do like the Postal Service and this jam one whole heck of a lot). In the case of “Silhouettes,” I just felt like, if we're going to have a song about a love set against the backdrop of an apocalypse, I want it to be more folksy rather than synthesized. Because when the bombs start falling, electronics are going to fail us pretty quickly — all we'll have are our acoustic guitars… and our wits.

3. “Hot in Herre”

I don’t like the original Nelly song. There. I said it. Speaking of which, has anyone seen Nelly recently? I can’t remember the last time I did. Anyway, Jenny Owen Youngs is fantastic enough on her own but the ability to reconstitute this forgettable top-40 track into something fun and surprisingly impressive only adds to her resume. Dually, anytime a flash-in-the-pan hit song is covered in a more sincere way, it (intentionally?) exposes the mindlessness and disposable nature of the original — when you hear Nelly's lyrics come out of someone else's mouth, you really start to wonder why anyone would be in favor of them, in the first place. Oh, also: Youngs's video is positively ridiculous, which really syncs up with the nature of the song itself (Nelly was wise to distract us with a video overflowing with nearly-naked women).

2. “Hey Ya”

I like Outkast, Andre 3000, and this song. However, the degree of difficulty involved for any musician to take a song as original and culturally relevant as “Hey Ya” and turn it into something completely fantastic, in its own regard? Off the charts. But when you hear these lyrics performed slowly by a heavyset white guy with a beard and acoustic guitar (who is actually not the guy from Iron & Wine), every moment carries as much emotion as the original; granted, Weddle provides less of the funky happy groove and more of a touching, somber confession of some sort but still, emotion is emotion (and for a guy to go to the complete other end of the spectrum and still pull the song off is all the more impressive). It's difficult to even quantify this as a “cover,” with all the factors stacked against completely re-inventing a song as awesome as this. But it has been done. Kudos.

1. “All Along the Watchtower”

Jimi Hendrix claimed this song before Bob Dylan even had a chance (though the fact that Dylan’s is so different speaks pretty clearly to the talent of each artist). Whatever, I think we're better off — the song is most associated with Hendrix and rightfully so. Oh, and by the way? The covers of this song by U2, Grateful Dead, Pearl Jam, Neil Young, Bear McCreary, Dave Matthews and anyone else foolish enough to tread on the hallowed ground from decades past are not even the same species as the iron steed of rock once forged by Hendrix.

Justin Brown currently resides in Virginia, where he does his best to stoke the fires of his nerdy passion for writing, filmmaking, sports, photography, art, and design. You can keep tabs on him at his blog, esteban was eaten!.