Sometimes the originals just don’t cut it, and sometimes someone just simply makes it better. After some consideration, we’ve come up with what we believe are the top 5 covers better than the originals. Some might cause a little upset, but it wouldn’t be much fun if we didn’t. Unfortunately, Me First and The Gimme Gimmes didn’t make the list. That’s only because if we were to include one, we’d have to include them all.
I’m sure we’re all familiar with A-Ha’s, “Take On Me!” It has only one of the most memorable music videos ever. However, the song is kind of drab. In 1998, Reel Big Fish breathed new life into “Take On Me” for the BASEketball Soundtrack. They turned the airy original into an upbeat ska-punk song. Despite the song’s difficult vocal harmony—an area Cap’n Jazz had a problem with on their cover—Reel Big Fish’s, Scott Klopfenstein, nails the high notes, as well as delivers an addictive sweep on his trumpet just before the final verse. They took a song that’s really only fun to talk about, and they made it fun to listen to. (Aaron)
Listening to Reznor’s original is not like listening to Johnny Cash’s cover of "Hurt." When you listen to the original, you’re likely to find or insist that you share some of the same sentiments that Reznor does. However, when you listen, and especially watch the video, to Cash’s cover—you go numb. Cash took the song and put a new perspective on it—one from the point of view of someone who had lived 71 years, been reaching his end, and had his fair share of troubles and regrets. Cash said he must have sang the song 100 times to truly make it his own before recording it, and it paid off. The time he spent working on his rendition made for arguably one of the most beautiful and heart wrenching performances ever recorded. (Aaron)
The original version of this song was dark and atmospherically drenched with keyboards when Gary Numan and The Tubeway Army released it back in 1979. In 2007 it was revived by The Foo Fighters and released as a bonus track on one of the Monkey Wrench CD singles. As with everything touched by Grohl it is an instant classic, the Foo’s maintain the feel of the original but they bring in a harder edge with the addition of guitars, originally the Tubeway Army only had a bass player and took pride in the fact there were no guitars used. Having seen this performed live by both artists I would give the edge to the Foo Fighters version on stage as well. (Scott W)
Maybe it’s cheating to list a whole record here, but the individual songs on Punk Side Story really don’t stand on their own that well—it’s meant to be part of a larger piece. First, the fact that this record even exists is somewhat amazing. I mean, it really doesn’t sound like a good idea on paper: taking West Side Story and punking it up. It should be either hokey or terrible, relegated to the used bins and “remember when” anecdotes. But Schlong weren’t your average punk band: they crafted some serious songs, mixing genuine songwriting chops unseen on this side of Nomeansno. They didn’t spend a day drinking in the studio and goofing around (cough cough, Less Than Jake:Greased), they approached the concept as a genuine record and, in the process, maintained Bernstein’s original tone (albeit much louder and faster). The record is ridiculous, but remains respectful of the original.
The most surprising element, and a testament to the musicians involved, is that it covers all the punk subgenres, from mid-tempo East Bay punk to hardcore to ska backbeats and twangy cowpunk—all well done. The vocals are a bit goofy, but they remain affable instead of pretentious, and the screamy, off-key shouting in songs like “Tonight,” somehow gets me with the raw amateurism posited against the ingrained and familiar professional versions that play in the back of my head while I listen.
Besides, West Side Story is really just a musical cover of Romeo and Juliet, so it’s more suited for another re-telling, right? (Loren)
Far be it from me to criticise the Thin White Duke, but Bowie's recording of "The Man Who Sold The World" is a weird, hazy affair, like some psychedelic acid party. The time signature shift between the intro riff and the opening lines of the verse has always irritated me when compared to the simple but effective pause Nirvana insert in their seminal "Unplugged" cover. Kurt Cobain's lilting yowl strips the song back to its intriguing lyric and allows the slightly overdriven guitar to take centre stage alongside the acoustic backing, wisely cutting Bowie's odd mix of percussion and synths. The guitar solo outro, replacing Bowie's sung lead, is absolutely beautiful alongside the simple string accompaniment, rounding off a reinterpretation that outshines the oddball original. (Matt)