Friday, April 2, 2010

Best ever Pop/Rock Cover Versions

Like most other pure music fans, I generally dislike cover songs, even when performed by talented acts capable of bringing their own interpretation to songs. But I particularly get annoyed when classic pop/rock songs are almost murdered by:

a) DJs & dance acts who use unnecessary drum machines & sequencer beats,
b) Inept singers who simply do not possess the vocal range
c) Cover versions killing the heart and soul of the original by overuse of technology
d) Hip Hop/Urban acts who ruin classic songs with their over "samplig" of classic songs

Having said that, I do have a special list of original pop songs which I love, but believe the cover versions/interpretations are in fact better than the original versions:

Here's my list, in no particular order & not exhaustive by any means. Therefore, I look forward to comments & additions to the list:

Original by: Bob Marley, Covered by Eric Clapton: I Shot the Sheriff:

Some of the best & most well known songs by the legendary Eric Clapton are cover songs. In my opinion, his version of Bob Marley's "I shot the Sheriff" is a great production in its own right.

Original by: JJ Cale, Covered by Eric Clapton: 1) Cocaine, 2) After Midnight (Cover version featured in Cross Roads, not the earlier version)

Eric Clapton is also a life long admirer & friend of the reclusive legend JJ Cale. Not only Clapton has covered two of JJ Cale's songs, he & cale released an album together in 2006 in which they re recorded Cale's song "Dont Cry Sister".

But Clapton's most famous cover of Cale's songs is "Cocaine. Clapton adds spice(1) to the song with a great lead guitar which is missing from the almost perfect original. As well as this, he has twice covered "After Midnight" & used to performed this song in his live sets. Clapton's pure guitar/bass/drums version recorded in late 80s is my favourite version. It was specially recorded for his 4 disc set "Cross Roads" is a brilliant song which sadly only appears in the mentioned 4 disc set.

Original by: John Lennon, Covered by Roxy Music: Jealous Guy

John lennon's Jealous Guy is almost as good as "imagine" However, Bryan Ferry's soulful voice, & Roxy Music's masterful production make Roxy Music's version a much more romantic song than the original.

Original by: Bob Dylan, Covered by Jimi Hendrix: All along the Watchtower

Like Eric Clapton, two of Jimi Hendrix's greatest & most loved songs are actually covers!
What a pairing! Bob Dylan's version is a folk song whilst Jimi Hendrix adds his unique guitar riffs to his version, something which only Hendix could do! A great song worthy of being better than its legendary original.

Original by: The Leaves, Covered by Jimi Hendrix: Hey Joe

it is almost impossible to imagine anyone but Jimi Hedrix perform "Hey Joe". But the very rare out of print version by the Leaves is the original version released as a single unsuccessfully before Hendrix recorded his materful version with the help of Mitch Mitchell & Noel Redding, as the first ever single by "Jimi Hendrix Experience".

Original by: (traditional Spiritual Song) earliest recording by The Weavers, Covered by Nina Simone: Sinner Man

If you wish to fully appreciate Nina Simone's work on this cover, watch the final scene of the 1999 movie "Thomas Crown Affair" starring Pierce Brosnan! It will give you goose bumps!

Original by: Bob & Earl, Covered by the Rolling Stones: Harlem Shuffle

In mid 1980s, Mick jagger & Keith Richards decided the Rolling Stones needed to lift its "dinasaur" image. They decided to cover Harlem Shuffle but made it more funky whilst preserving its soulful originality. The result is simply great song & a much better version than the original.

Original by: Bruce Cockburn, Covered by Barenaked Ladies: Lovers in a Dangerous Time

Bruce Cockburn is a much loved & publicity shy Canadaian folk singer who briefly shot to international fame in the mid 80s with his environmentally driven worldwide hit "If a Tree Falls in the Forest". One of his other well know songs in canada is Covered by another better known Canadian band, "Barenaked Ladies".

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with this song and/or the acts mentioned, all I can say is get your hands on Barenaked Ladies version (in their Greatest hits). the brisk yet acoustic production simply immerses in the rather controvertial lyrics & will become an all time favourite!

Original by Jackie DeShannon, Covered by Smokie: Needles & Pins

Needles & Pins is a song which most people think was originally recorded by the 60s band "The Searchers". But Searchers & subsequently many other acts including Tom Petty in fact covered this original song by Jackie DeShannon. however, the English band "Smokie"'s version simply leaves all other covers for dead. Chris Norman's voice is a perfect fit to the melody & the lyrics.

Original by Neil Diamond, Covered by UB40: Red Red Wine

To the continuous annoyance of Neil Diamond who to this day goes as far as changing this song half way through his live performances to a raggae song, the fact remains that UB40 shot to worldwide fame with this great cover interpretation of the song & simply made it their own as a result.

Original by Jimi Hendrix, Covered by Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble: Little Wing

This cover is not so much a superior version because Jimi Henrix's original is simply brilliant. The great blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaghan, the heir apparent to Jimi Hendrix, shortly before his tragic death recorded this instrumental almost 7 minute interpretation of Jimi Hendrix's original two & half minute song & ended up with a masterpiece of his own worthy of its own accolade as a separate song.

However, having two guitar masters doing two completely heavenly version of this song makes Stievie Ray Vaghan's version an imperative mention in my list.

Original by the Beatles, Covered by Joe Cocker: With a Little Help from my Friends

This is yet another song which the cover is markedly different to the original.Joe Cocker's version with female backing vocals & his soulful voice made his version a superior outcome & a classic in its own.

Leonard Cohen,in my view is a great modern poet and treasured musician. But he's not much of a singer! Therefore many of his songs have been covered by more able singers. The following two are the peak of teh crop & my favourites:

Original by Leonard Cohen, Covered by Jennifer Warnes: First We Take Manhattan

Original by Leonard Cohen, Covered by Jeff Buckley: Hallelujah

Original by Tim Hardin, Covered by Rod Stewart: Reason to Believe

I am not by any means Rod Stewart's biggest fan! But whilst Tim Hardin's original version of this song is very good, Rod Stewart's husky voice simply makes his versionone of his best songs of his career.

Whilst I have many other examples I could have added, I am leaving this to others with their comments.