Cover Songs Arguably Better Than the Original

Because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

12.“Rubber Ring” by Girl in a Coma (The Smiths cover)

Girl in a Coma are heavily influenced by 1980’s English rock legends The Smiths, yet they do not sound anything like them. The female rock trio from San Antonio have a distinct sound, lead singer Nina Diaz’s powerful voice matched with the punkier instrumental work is anything but comatose.

In 2011’s Please, Please, Please: A Tribute to The Smiths compilation album was released.

Girl in a Coma covered the obscure Smiths B-side “Rubber Ring”. The song itself is about how even in the darkest depths, music can pull you through and give you hope and courage. It is one of the most underrated songs in The Smiths catalog. Girl in a Coma presented the tune with the romantic intensity the original deserved.

11. “Grammy” by Purity Ring (Soulja Boy cover)

In 2007 we were blessed with the debut of Soulja Boy. He was just a teenager from Chicago when his gargantuan single “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” came out. It was inescapable. He has since had a modest music career and still releases music, none of which has had the same success has his first big hit.

Cue to Purity Ring – an electronic pop duo from Canada. The idea of another indie artist giving the internet a “quirky” version of a rap song has become a parody of itself at this point. Purity Ring’s rendition of “Grammy” destroys that stereotype.

Singer Megan James brings a vulnerable passion in her voice when asking “What do you want from me/Because I’ve given you everything?” in the songs inescapable hook. The synth pop rhythm and ambient luminescence exhibit Purity Ring’s sheer invention.

10.”Heartbeats” by Jose Gonzalez (The Knife Cover)

Maybe I’m just a sucker for an acoustic guitar every now and then.

“Heartbeats” was the first single released from Swedish electronic duo The Knife’s sophomore album Deep Cuts. Singer/songwriter Jose Gonzalez recorded a version of the song for his debut album Veneer, and it took off.

Gonzalez’s rendition has been included in “best of” lists from publications such as Pitchfork Media, NME, and Rolling Stone. It can be heard on the soundtrack of various  television shows, films and advertisements. It is transcendent.

The reason why this is on my list, and not Iron and Wine’s famous cover of The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights” is because in that case, the original is better. When it comes to “Heartbeats” Gonzalez’s re-imagination of the track makes you feel infinite.

9. “Valerie” by  Amy Winehouse (The Zutons cover)

This is the rare occasion when listeners are more familiar with the cover version opposed to the original. Most people probably are not aware that this ditty is not a Winehouse original. In fact, “Valerie” was written by an indie rock act from Liverpool.

Amy Winehouse was special. There is no other way to describe it. Her unique voice, timeless style, and indisputable talent remain unparalleled. “Valerie” is just another demonstration of the brilliant artist that left us too early.

8.”The Killing Moon” by Nouvelle Vague (Echo & the Bunnymen cover)

Nouvelle Vague is a French cover band, their name translates to “new wave” it refers to the French New Wave cinema movement of the 1960’s. So, let’s say they have a very specific aesthetic with their music.

In Nouvelle Vague’s interpretation of Echo & the Bunnymen’s 1980’s hit “The Killing Moon,” they took an enigmatic alt anthem and rearranged it into a bossa nova styled number guaranteed to replay itself in your head.

7.”All Along the Watchtower” by The Jimi Hendrix Experience (Bob Dylan cover)

Bob Dylan released “All Along the Watchtower” in 1967, a mere six months after it’s original release, The Jimi Hendrix Experience covered it and the song soon took a life of it’s own.

The original arrangement was standard Dylan fare for the time: acoustic guitar, harmonica, and of course, some poetic lyrical content. Hendrix took the song to another level with his composition of prolonged guitar solo’s and soulful vocals that transformed the song’s entire demeanor.

“All Along the Watchtower” is the song that Dylan has performed live the most over his career, and he still uses Hendrix’s rendition as his inspiration.

5.”Sea of Love” by Cat Power (Phil Phillips cover)

The song was originally recorded in 1949 by Phil Phillips at Mercury Records. Phillips Motown-esque performance is lovely and tender. It is.

In the year 2000 Chan Marshall, under the moniker Cat Power released The Covers Record, “Sea of Love” is the concluding track. Marshall has had a turbulent life. Her struggles with substance abuse and depression have led to erratic live performances and tour cancellations.

The somber disposition in Marshall’s version of “Sea of Love” captures the melancholy she felt at the time, and those of us who have felt the same can overwhelmingly relate when listening to this.

4. “Mr. Grieves” by TV on the Radio (The Pixies cover)

When a musician rearranges a song to the point where it is unrecognizable from the original it is either praised or condemned.

TV on the Radio took fast paced “Mr. Grieves” from The Pixies classic Doolittle and made an A cappella version out of it. Reminiscent of a street corner serenade, it’s has all the oooh’s, aaah’s, handclaps and snaps of a classic doo-wop song. The spirituality and soul embodies something the original doesn’t match.

3. “Ceremony” by New Order (Joy Division cover)

“Ceremony” was one of the last tracks written and composed by Ian Curtis of Joy Division before his tragic suicide in 1980. There are only three recorded Curtis versions of this song in existence. Including a studio session that was recorded four days before his death.

The remaining members of Joy Division became New Order and re-recorded the track and released it as their first single, with guitarist Bernard Sumner taking on the vocals.

I know I am stretching the rules a bit, but, this IS a cover. It’s a song that is not only a noteworthy tribute to Curtis, but a song that defined an entire decade.

2.”I Know it’s Over” by Jeff Buckley (The Smiths cover)

An iconic band like the Smiths has to be hard to cover – diehard fans revere the originals so much, it’s challenging to push past expectations and do something different without being too over the line.

“I Know it’s Over” holds up to be of their most universally beloved songs. Covering a song that is considered untouchable by many is a difficult task, the late Jeff Buckley exceeded all expectations when he did a stripped down version of a song that was already naked in the first place. 

Buckley had one of the greatest voices of the last century. He is better known for his cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” off his 1994 album Grace – which deserves all the recognition and praise it receives.

Buckley is capable of projecting an eerily beautiful sorrow that would leave Morrissey himself speechless.

1. “Everyday” – Rogue Wave (Buddy Holly cover)

In 2005 a bunch of indie rock bands were asked to cover classic songs of the 1950’s & 1960’s to use as part of a video game soundtrack for Stubbs the Zombie. The soundtrack includes Death Cab for Cutie, The Flaming Lips, and The Wakmen. Overall, it is a fantastic compilation record.

Rogue Wave went above and beyond with their rendition of Buddy Holly’s “Everyday”. It’s hard to touch the classics, Holly’s original 1957 tune is catchy and uncomplicated. It’s an American standard.

Rogue Wave reinvented the track as modern day folk ballad that results with an overwhelmingly powerful essence.

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