Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better: 10 Best Cover Songs Ever

Once in a blue moon (as the kids today say), an artist takes another’s song and really makes it his/her/their own.  What really makes a cover great?  First of all, the original cannot be some obscure song that nobody can compare the cover to.  There’s no guts in taking a “traditional” and twisting it to your liking, knowing full well you’re only one of 0.0001% of the population that has heard the song.  Second, the cover has to present something massively new to the song.  Playing something note-for-note or just adding some new sound effect is nothing noteworthy.  The really good ones take a great song, rip it to shreds, throw other shreds into the pile, and paste together something that itself is also great.

Honorable Mentions: House of the Rising Sun – The Animals, Ring of Fire – Social Distortion, Higher Ground – Red Hot Chili Peppers, Quinn the Eskimo (Mighty Quinn) – Manfred Mann, Nothing Compares 2 You – Sinead O’Connor, Mad World – Gary Jules, No Quarter – Tool,

10. Faith – Limp Bizkit

Don’t laugh.  Don’t laugh because you loved it.  If only for a moment, you thought it was great.  And truth be told, it was!  Mind you, this was back before we all (including the rest of the band) realized what a massive choad Fred Durst was.  This was back before every new rock band had a terrible, terrible rapper serving up white-hot angry rhymes (emphasis on the white).  This was back before every band had to have an ironic cover of an 80s pop tune (at least it was supposed to be ironic).  For the moment, however short it was, this was extremely clever.  And whether you care to admit it or not, it still rocks the crap out of that 19-year-old still trapped inside of you.

9. I Heard It Through the Grapevine – Creedence Clearwater Revival

What?  Better than the Marvin Gaye cover?  I’m going to say yes, but for one reason and one reason only.  Gaye’s song is a classic for sure.  It’s so good that you don’t want it to end.  Well, CCR’s version practically doesn’t end, therefore it gets the nod.

8. Hey Joe – Patti Smith

While it’s true that Hendrix did not pen the song, he brought it to the masses and in doing so made it a very, very MAN song.  Come on, a song about wasting your girl because you caught her cheating?  Not exactly something one would expect any woman to connect with.  Then along comes Patti Smith and sings it with such beautiful and haunting timidity that you could almost hear it coming from the quivering lips of the song’s targeted woman as she awaits the wrath of her murderous cuckold.  Simply stunning.

7. With A Little Help From My Friends – Joe Cocker

Paul McCartney had a vision: A concept album written and performed by a fictitious band and its equally fictitious opening act.  What came of it was an intro song introducing the show, the opening song by the opening act (Billy Shears), a reprise of the intro song, and ten songs that had nothing to do with the concept.  The original version of this song was Billy Shears’s only tune, done with ho-hum playfulness that only Ringo Starr could pull off.

A year later, noted howler and faux-Parkinson’s sufferer Joe Cocker screamed this ode to friendship like he was walking through a hallway full of mousetraps.  And thanks to the Wonder Years, we’ll never be able to think of the original first.  The cover is so memorable that the Beatles-inspired musical film “Across the Universe” splits the original version with Cocker’s version, the only song in the film that isn’t 100% pure Beatles.

6. Little Wing – Stevie Ray Vaughan

With his original recording, Hendrix gave the blues-rock world a beautiful seed.  Other greats took that seed and cultivated it into something greater and more profound than Hendrix had envisioned himself.  I just as well could have gone with the soul-aching, rafter-raising Derek and the Dominos version, but I’m giving the edge to SRV’s epic instrumental cover which plays as an ode not only to the original, but to guitar itself.

5. Respect – Aretha Franklin

I hear the chorus of detractors now: “Why in the flying hell is this not #1??!!”  First of all, I recognize how important this song is.  It’s the biggest song from perhaps the greatest female artist of the 20th Century.  That said, I didn’t put it on top because when you think about it, and I mean really think about it, doesn’t the song make just a tinsy bit more sense when it’s sung by a man?  Not saying that makes Otis Redding’s version better, but come on.  A man works hard on the job all day to bring home the bacon to his wife.  At that meeting point when he gets home, who’s in a better position to demand respect?  That’s all.  You may complain now.

4. All Along the Watchtower – Jimi Hendrix

Close your eyes and picture the 60s.  Picture the people, the protests, the clothes, the images on the televisions.  How long did it take before this song was playing in the background of your vision?  My guess is not long.  It’s arguably the greatest studio accomplishment of Hendrix’s career.  It’s so good that Bob Dylan ultimately eschewed his strummy original version and opted to play Hendrix’s version live after Hendrix died.

3. I Fought the Law – The Clash

This song was originally written and recorded by the Crickets post-Buddy Holly.  It became somewhat of a riff-raff’s blues, but the angst behind the lyrics wasn’t fully unleashed until the Clash gloriously paired them with their gloriously distorted power-chords.  It’s a cover from another era and another part of the world, but yet somehow it just seemed to fit so perfectly with the hardships of 1970s England, especially when spit by the great Joe Strummer.

2. Twist and Shout – The Beatles

“Please Please Me” kick-started their career in England.  “I Want to Hold Your Hand” did the trick in America.  But when you think about early Beatles, is there any song that stands out more than this Isley Brothers classic?  And doesn’t everybody still fantasize about dancing on a float in a parade while lip-synching this song, ala Ferris Bueller?  Fun fact: John Lennon’s scream-sing style, arguably what made the song a classic, was one of those unplanned and brilliant accidents.  The whole of the Beatles’ first album was recorded in a single day (save for the two singles previously recorded).  At the end of the day, John couldn’t sing worth a lick.  He screamed his way through “Twist and Shout,” the last song they recorded, because that was all he could do at that point!

1. Proud Mary –Tina Turner

When you think of the qualities of an impressive cover song, which quality is this version of CCR’s classic lacking?  Not a thing.  I’m a big CCR fan, but I will readily admit that they were only stewards to this song’s throne until Ms. Turner was ready to claim her rightful place as its true owner.  And own it she did.  Nobody made an already good song blossom into a classic-for-the-ages like Tina did with this song. (Note: I realize that the actual artist for this version is “Ike & Tina Turner,” but you know, f*** that guy.)


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