I was listening to When the levee breaks by Led Zeppelin when on a whim i decided to google the song. Turns out that it’s a cover. The original song was written by Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe Mccoy (no, I don’t know who they are either) in 1929.
Which led me to wonder – what other cover songs are so brilliant that they overshadow the original? Also the entirety of this article is my opinion and what I believe to be true.
All the songs can be found in a playlist made on Spotify. link below.
10. I’m on Fire – Soccer Mommy
Soccer Mommy was 2018’s breakout with her stellar track Your Dog on her album Clean. However her highlight of the year was the release of I’m on fire. A cover of the song by Bruce Springsteen. Yes Springsteen is amazing, but Soccer Mommy’s cover of the song just instills it with a sadness and longing that just suits the songs entire vibe
9. Twist and Shout – The Beatles
This is one of those songs where the cover sounds almost as good as the original. In the sense that the tune, the music and almost everything is similar. The original (1962 by the Isley Brothers) is itself a cover which was recorded a year earlier by the Top Notes.
Then along came this band from Liverpool called the Beatles and recorded their version in 1963. The thing that makes their version unique (apart from having a nice remastered version) is the amount of energy just oozing from the song. You can almost feel Lennon’s frantic energy flowing through the track.
It’s not my favorite Beatles’ piece (that would go to ob-la-di, ob-la-da*), but man can this song get someone all excited about stuff.
8. Circles – Of Monsters and Men
Icelandic indie folk band Of Monsters and Men is probably best known for their song little talks, which if you haven’t heard yet, go listen to it and then come back the article. Seriously, it’s a great song.
Anyway, back to why we’re actually here. OMoM (Their name is far too long to keep typing) covered Circles by Post Malone just a year after it’s release. This is interesting because people don’t normally cover songs that’s still in circulation among pop charts. Post Malone’s version sounds upbeat and peppy even though the lyrics are anything but. The OMoM version is haunting with music that just sends chills. Post’s version is good, but OMoM just managed to make a good thing even better.
7. Tainted Love – Softcell
Another one of those songs where the cover is better known than the original. The version by Gloria Jones is good in it’s own right (I mean, all the original songs in this list are good, which is why the covers even stand a chance of being as great as they are).
The cover by English synthpop duo Softcell provides the track with Electric samples that makes the song a little bit of that oomph it needed and their vocals just help round out everything. This isn’t even an argument, you can listen to both versions for yourself and then come back and agree that the soft cell version is superior.
6. Doin’ Time – Lana Del Rey
This is mostly a personal preference so i’ll just get it out of the way. I like Lana Del Rey quite a bit, even though some people find her brand of music sleepy. Also the fact that the original is by Sublime who is cult and changed the alternative music scene in their very short stint.
The cover by LDR just happens to capture the whole beach vibe well. I don’t have too much to say about this song except that I really really like it. It’s laid back, relaxed, has a killer beat and is just all round chill. Bradley nowell would be proud of this song, and its spirit of long beach, california. And I think that is high praise.
5. Valerie – Amy Winehouse/Mark Ronson
Now the original by the Zutons is great. Its fun, bright and just a generally all round good time. It’s got all the stylings of a brilliant british rock song. It’s got the guitar riffs, the singer singing his heart out and fun lyrics about alcohol.
On to the cover. Amy Winehouse is legend for her expressive vocals and her unique blend of soul, rhythm, jazz and blues. Mark Ronson is Legend for producing quite a few tracks that are legend (He has done a ton of covers by the way. One of his albums is just covers, called version. He was being clever with the naming).
Valerie by Amy Winehouse and Mark Ronson starts off with a looping bass drum and then Amy Jumps in, and then the sax drops by. It seems like a lot, but it works. The tempo is quick and the increased pace makes the song just pull you in and not let go. The only place it relents is at the end and then you’re like why not have another listen?
4. Over the rainbow – Israel Kamakawiwo’ole
The original is from 1939, written for the Wizard of Oz and sung by Judy Garland. Dorothy sings it wondering if there’s a place she won’t get to any trouble in. It’s fine. three stars.
Then there’s the Israel Kamakawiwo’ole version. There’s a ukelele in there before it was adopted and done to death by indie teens on Youtube. There’s the angelic voice that just massages your eardrums and makes you believe that there’s going to be a better day out there. It’s great. Five stars.
Full disclosure, the Israel version is actually a mashup. It has What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong as the middle section. You would think that it doesn’t work, but it does. It works beautifully.
3. Hurt – Johnny Cash
Hurt by Johnny cash isn’t an original. GASP.
Hurt was originally released in 1995 by Nine Inch Nails, and it won a grammy for best rock song the following year. It was great and then dropped out of the social conciousness for a bit. Then out of nowhere in 2002 a little known fellow called Johnny Cash decided to cover the song.
Trent Reznor from NIN and Mr. Cash are from two different eras, write music that is vastly different to one another and have completely different audiences. But the cover just manages to bring all of those together. Cash’s version retains all the sincerity and meaning of the original lyrics while also making it more…what’s the word…profound.
Even Reznor admits it. The Cash version is superior and in Trent Reznor’s words “that song isn’t mine anymore”.
2. Hallelujah – Jeff Buckley
Leonard Cohen’s original sounds more like a worship song. The backup singers, especially during the chorus but also generally throughout gives a feeling of sitting in the nave of a church and listening to the choir sing. Even the way he delivers it has a sort of sermon vibe going for it. He almost speaks the lines out in that deep calming voice of his.
Jeff Buckley on the other hand. My god. This is also a worship song, but it’s delivered from a very vulnerable point of view. It connects more because it’s more human, and fallible. With Jeff Buckley, Hallelujah becomes a love song, a psalm and a confession, all in one beautiful package.
1. Dancing in the Moonlight – Alt-J
Dancing in the moonlight (not to be confused by the equally great song by Toploader) has some of the best lyrics around. I mean it’s just really vivid poetry, look at this;
when i passed you in the doorway
and you took me with a glance
Should’ve been on that last bus home
But I asked you for a dance
It’s fantastic imagery, which I feel is lost among the original music of Thin Lizzy. They’re a good band, but it’s too much padding for such pretty words.
The cover by Alt-J strips the song down to it’s essentials. John newman is known for his crooning, where it seems like he mostly has his own thing going on with the microphone. Here his crooning works perfectly. The background music lets the sound of his voice and lyrics shine, whch, really, is the essence of this song. One restarined hit of the tambourine comes in to give some emphasis during the chorus and then the drums kick in only during the breaks and go silent when he sings again.
Just great, really.
0. Heartbeats – José Gonzales
I feel like a lot of the songs on this list have basically been artists taking great lyrics and trying to package them in a way that makes the emotion within the star. In all honesty, this list could also be titled songs with great lyrics.
Originally written by synth-pop cult duo the Knife, it was covered by José Gonzales a year later. The version that the knife performs is vastly different in tone with their sweeping bars and shifting vocals. The synthesizer is fantastic and it’s a really good track to listen to generally, but the lyrics sort of get lost in the music.
José on the other hand sings in that very José way of his and just has some simple guitar strings backing the vocals. It doesn’t feel too toned down and doesn’t feel too simple. It brings the emotion in the lyrics front and center, and that makes all the difference.
*I know a lot of beatles fans don’t like this song. I genuinely don’t know why they don’t like it. Leave me a note or something if you do.
Here’s a link to the Spotify playlist btw. Also includes some extra songs: