The other day while I was tooling around in my car the song “Landslide” came on the radio; however, it wasn’t the original Fleetwood Mac version, but the Dixie Chicks 2002 cover version. As I was listening to it I realized that I might actually like the cover version more than the original (heresy, I know). The way that the Dixie Chicks’ voices harmonized and melded together simply appeals to me slightly more than the more solo effort of Stevie Nicks. I still like the original, but given the choice I would probably listen to the Chicks’ version. Nicks wrote a beautiful song and does an amazing job with it, but I can’t help what I like.
This got me thinking about cover songs in general and other instances where I prefer the newer version of the song to the original. I’m generally a person who doesn’t like change, so I generally tend to favor the first version of a song that I hear; if I hear a song and don’t realize it is a cover I am far more likely to fancy the new version over the original. It works the other way as well – if I hear the original first, I tend to stick with that version over any subsequent versions that come along. What can I say – I’m a creature of habit and I’m mostly loyal to the first iteration that I am exposed to. This happens with movies as well.
However, I do occasionally buck my own trend and like a cover version even after I have already heard and liked the original. Sometimes a cover brings a new or interesting interpretation to a song; by adding their own flair to the song, the cover artist actually takes ownership of the song and makes it their own. They may change up the tempo or alter the arrangement. Sometimes all is takes is a woman singing a song that was traditionally sung by a man (or vice versa) to change your perspective on the lyrics or make you think of a song differently. You may just prefer the voice of the singer doing the cover version. It isn’t an exact science – I like what I like. With that in mind, here are some of my favorite cover songs:
- Jem – “Maybe I’m Amazed”
Whoa – am I actually saying that I prefer a cover of a Paul McCartney song? Yes I am. The Wings version of this song is actually one of my favorite songs of theirs, but I’ve either heard it too much or can identify more with this song sung by a woman. Sir Paul wrote a beautiful song for his wife Linda, but it takes someone else singing his words to really speak to me. It doesn’t hurt that this song was prominently featured in The O.C., one of my guilty pleasure shows.
- Gary Jules – “Mad World”
I will be the first to admit that I didn’t understand the movie “Donnie Darko” at all. I legitimately have no idea what was happening. I know it’s a cult classic, but this is one of those times where I don’t know if the movie was just smarter than I am or people just like weird stuff. However, the one thing I did take away from the film was its excellent cover of the Tears for Fears song “Mad World.” This slowed down version is much more poignant and tragic, which I guess is more my style.
- Dynamite Hack – “Boyz in the Hood”
I think it is the sheer lunacy of a bunch of white boys doing an alt rock cover of a song by the rapper Easy-E that appeals to me because I can’t hear this song without smiling. The original is the more authentic, of course, and gives an insight into a way of life. The latter is just ridiculous. Sometimes I just want my music to be fun.
- Sonic Youth – “Superstar”
The original The Carpenters version of this song is much more upbeat and not quite so ominous; it’s probably no coincidence that I discovered this Sonic Youth version in the trailer for a horror movie, High Tension. Sonic Youth made this song downright creepy; I’m guessing the lesson here is that I prefer the more unsettling and melancholy versions of pop songs. Perhaps this is something I should talk about with my therapist.
- Metallica – “Whiskey in the Jar”
You want to piss off a lot of people on St. Patrick’s Day? Tell them how much you love “this Metallica song” when someone plays “Whiskey in the Jar.” That never fails to get people all riled up. The traditional Irish song was made famous first by the Irish folk band The Dubliners, but I much prefer the hard rock edge that Metallica puts on it. They take this song to a whole other level.
- Tiffany – “I Think We’re Alone Now”
Thanks to the radio always being on in my house growing up, I was well aware (unlike most of my friends) that this song was originally performed by Tommy James & The Shondells. But knowing my musical history didn’t make me any less a child of the 80s so I much prefer the updated version that “mall queen” Tiffany released in 1987.
- 10,000 Maniacs – “Because the Night”
This is obviously a great song because The Boss himself, Mr. Bruce Springsteen, helped write it. But I have never been much of a Patti Smith fan so her original version of the song didn’t do much for me. I remember being very bored when she was the opening act for R.E.M. when I saw them in concert; I didn’t dig her at all. I am, however, a fan of Natalie Merchant’s voice, so it is no surprise that it is no contest that I prefer the 10,000 Maniacs version to the original.
- Eric Clapton – “I Shot the Sheriff”
I happen to subscribe to the “Clapton is God” way of thinking about things, so as much as I enjoy Bob Marley and like his original version of this song, I would much rather listen to ol’ Slowhand do his thing with this tune. Apologies to Marley and the Wailers, but that’s just how things are.
- Nirvana – “Lake of Fire”
With all due respect to The Meat Puppets, once Kurt Cobain gets ahold of your song, it’s pretty much over. No one is going to remember that it was your song, which is exactly what happened when Nirvana performed the song during their legendary MTV Unplugged appearance. Even though The Meat Puppets came first and Cobain was paying them tribute with his version, most people think of this as a Nirvana song.
- Johnny Cash – “Hurt”
I liked this song just fine when it was originally done by Nine Inch Nails, but in the hands of the “man in black” the song really takes on a life of its own. Covered toward the end of Cash’s life, his version carries the weight of a man looking back at this life and the mistakes he’s made. It’s tragic and beautiful all at the same time.
Definitely NOT making my list:
- Whitney Houston – “I Will Always Love You”
I get why people love this song and there is no disputing that Houston has a gorgeous voice and made this song a global phenomenon. But this is and always will be Dolly Parton’s song to me. Because Dolly Parton is awesome.
I’m sure that I missed a bunch – what are your favorite cover songs of all time? Sound off in the comments below.