Cover songs are a hard thing to get right, do you stick to the original out of reverence or change things around a bit? Perhaps a sign of a good cover is that you did not realise it was one. Here is a list of my ten favourite takes on established tracks, with the usual suspects and a few overlooked ones in there.
10. Tom Jones and The Cardigans – Burning Down The House
In 1999 Welsh crooner Tom Jones released Reload – where he collaborated with and covered a variety of artists. Ranging from Iggy Pop’s ‘Lust for Life’ with The Pretenders, Lenny Kravtiz’s ‘Are You Gonna Go My Way’ with Robbie Williams, INXS’ ‘Never Tear Us Apart’ with Natalie Imbruglia. For his take on Talking Head’s new wave hit, he enlisted The Cardigans and turned it into a saxed up, foot tapping, pop rocker.
9. Nazareth – This Flight Tonight
Nazareth took a soft and breezy track and filled it with amped up swagger. Originally done by Joni Mitchell on her 1971 album Blue, Scottish rockers Nazareth put their gruff and gravelly stamp on it two years later. The driving riff to their version “inspired” Heart to write ‘Barracuda’. See also: their take on ‘Love Hurts’.
8. Def Leppard – Action
Hair metal chart toppers Def Leppard’s glam rock influences are well known, with David Bowie, Queen, Slade and Sweet chief amongst them. Their cover of the latters track sticks closely to the 1975 original, giving the same fiery intensity and lightning pace a glossy, hard rock sheen. Covers do not have to reimagine songs to be good, this being a great example.
7. Iron Maiden – Cross Eyed Mary
A Jethro Tull cover released as a B side to ‘The Trooper’ in 1983. Adds some heavy metal muscle to a classic, with Iron Maiden’s sound a perfect match for the 1971 prog rock original. Iron Maiden have a rich history of covers as B sides, including ‘Communication Breakdown’ by Led Zeppelin, ‘My Generation’ by The Who and of course ‘Doctor Doctor’ by UFO.
6. Status Quo – Rockin All Over The World
Get your denims out. Status Quo’s boogie woogie, dad rock version is so famous it is easy to forget that it is a John Fogerty song, released two years prior in 1975. Whilst the former Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman’s southern rock original is no slouch, it is just not the same without the piano intro, Rick Parfitt’s stomping guitar, and Francis Rossi’s vocals. I la-la-like it.
5. The Stranglers – Walk On By
A compact and soulful slice of pop, just shy of three minutes and sung by Dionne Warwick 1964. The Stranglers took this classic and reworked it into a six minute plus golden nugget of punk, with Hugh Cornwell’s snarl, the everpresent keys of David Greenfield and the delightfully chunky bass of Jean-Jacques Burnel stealing the show.
4. Jimi Hendrix – All Along The Watchtower
No list of covers is complete without this one. Jimi Hendrix’s barnstorming take on Bob Dylan’s plaintive folk track came less than a year after the 1967 original but quickly became one of his calling cards. Hendrix built upon the simplicity and potent lyricism of Dylan’s number and created an atmospheric explosion of bluesy rock and roll.
3. Johnny Cash – Hurt
Whilst were on oft mentioned cover versions, here’s another ubiquitous one. Johnny Cash’s version of the Nine Inch Nails track is minimalistic, swelling to a powerful crescendo. It is touching and brutally effective, with the expertly done music video adding to the poignancy – Cash took the industrial and bleak original and truly made it his own. Released on American IV: The Man Comes Around in 2002, he sadly passed away in September 2003.
2. Alice Cooper – Hello Hooray
Written by Rolf Kempf and recorded by Judy Collins in 1968, Cooper reimagined it as a uplifting rock behemoth for his sixth record Billion Dollar Babies five years later. As an unabashed fan of The Coop I somehow only realised it was a cover a few years ago, his version is that iconic. Alice’s anthemic, 70s rock makeover transcends Judy’s softer, mellower version.
1. Rod Stewart – (I Know) I’m Losing You
I could have easily picked ‘Cut Across Shorty’ (Eddie Cochran), ‘Handbags and Gladrags’ (Mike d’Abo, I did not know it was a cover before this either) or his rootsy take on ‘Street Fighting Man’ (Rolling Stones). Rod Stewarts version of ‘(I Know) I’m Losing You’ bests them all, transforming a snappy motown ditty to a bluesy, rock n roll gem – complete with lashings of lively piano and a show stopping drum solo by Kenny Jones.