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The intricacies of cover songs

Posted on December 15, 2022 by Sunny South News

By Cole Parkinson
Sunny South News

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes a band or artist covers a song and it’s better than the original version. Again, it’s not often, but it does happen. Sometimes they’re so different from the original that it’s like a new song completely and sometimes it’s just so bad you can only listen to it once.

On the flip side, sometimes it sounds exactly the same, which doesn’t really lend itself well to being listened to more than a few times. Music is a strange business and some bands are only known for covers while some of the biggest bands in the world throughout the years have put out fantastic versions of non-original songs. With that being said, here are a few of my favourite covers over the past several decades.

Boys of Summer — The Ataris (Don Henley)

I’m not the biggest Eagles or Don Henley fan, so while I had heard the original “Boys of Summer” quite a bit growing up, it never truly hit until I heard The Ataris put a pop-punk spin on the song. It’s faster and has more urgency than the original and I like that. I find the tad a bit slow and meticulous and the Ataris cranked everything up in their cover. I find everything has been improved upon greatly in their version and I also like the changed line of “I saw a Black Flag sticker on a Cadillac” compared to it being a “Deadhead” sticker in the original.

I Fought the Law — The Clash (The Crickets)

Here’s another one that doesn’t necessarily sound the same as the original, but I find it greatly improved in almost every way. The Clash are arguably one of the most influential punk bands of all time and calling them solely a punk band isn’t a true representation of what they offered throughout their short career. But they certainly started out as one and that led to a cover of “I Fought the Law” which was released in 1975. If there was ever a song that could easily be spun into a punk song, “I Fought the Law” has to be one of the easier picks and the Clash did it justice from start to finish. Joe Strummer was born to sing this song and it’s still probably the most famous version of the song.

Wendy — Descendents (The Beach Boys)

The Descendents have tons of Beach Boys vibes to begin with, so covering one of their songs was probably an easy decision for them back in the 80s. They covered “Wendy” for their third album Enjoy and it sounds like it could easily be their song. Descendents have a certain style that transformed the pop-punk sound and this cover is easily one of the most enjoyable songs on the record. I even actually like the live version on Liveage much better, but if you’ve ever wanted to hear what The Beach Boys would sound like if they were punk, this is as close as you’re going to get.

All Along the Watchtower — The Jimi Hendrix Experience (Bob Dylan)

You won’t ever find me arguing that Bob Dylan is one of the best songwriters of all time — that being said, I don’t really like his music unless it’s covered by someone else. I have tons of Bob Dylan songs across my vast Spotify playlist, but none of it’s actually performed by Bob Dylan and the reason is why is because every cover version is better, in my opinion. I don’t know many people who don’t prefer Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower” and it’s constantly near the top of any best covers list. Hell, even Dylan himself has stated Hendrix improved the song in many different ways — which also influenced Dylan to adapt some of the changes when he played it live. Of all the songs on this list, I think this is probably the best cover.

Blowin’ in the Wind (acoustic) — Mountain (Bob Dylan)

And speaking of Dylan covers, here’s another. Mountain may be one of the most underrated bands coming out of the 60s and I don’t know why people don’t explore past “Mississippi Queen”. Leslie West was not only a fantastic guitar player, but he also has one hell of a powerful voice and it’s put to use on this cover of “Blowin’ in the Wind”. The vocal performance alone blows Dylan’s version out of the water and I still come back to this one over and over again. This comes off of Mountain’s Masters of War record from 2007 which was an album full of Dylan covers. The world lost a great musician when West passed away in 2020, but at least Mountain’s music is still widely available to keep that memory alive.

The Man Who Sold the World — Nirvana (David Bowie)

Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged in New York is one of the most celebrated musical moments of the 90s. Nirvana was known as this loud grunge band and taking to the stage to play acoustically took quite a bit of courage. Nirvana played six covers across the 14-song performance and while all are great, the standout for me (and many people) was Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World”. Kurt Cobain used an acoustic guitar but ran it through an amp with his usual pedals which gives the whole song a very weird, but cool vibe. Despite being a cover, it’s still one of Nirvana’s most popular songs.

Landslide — The Smashing Pumpkins (Fleetwood Mac)

Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide is an all-time classic song so covering it is not an easy thing. But the Smashing Pumpkin’s version is one of those instances where things line up perfectly. Billy Corgan’s guitar playing and singing fit the song so well and while the original version is undoubtedly great, there’s just something about the cover that makes me play it more often. It’s a truly beautiful cover of a great song and even Stevie Nicks has stated she loves the cover. As a massive Pumpkinhead, I appreciate the entire catalogue of the Pumpkins and while they’ve recorded a few covers over the years, not a single one has overcome “Landslide”.

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