Cover versions didn’t used to suck the way they do today. Today, the cover version seems to be the territory of the teen pop singer trying to be taken seriously by the already far too lenient album-buying public and the popular press (yes, Hilary Duff and Britney Spears, I’m talking about you).
In the old days, cover versions of songs were commonplace among the music fraternity, and artists from Otis Redding to The Rolling Stones to The Doors regularly engaged in the practise of re-recording hits from other artists.
Sadly, a down side to increasingly stringent and increasingly enforced copyright laws in the digital age means the practise has largely come to a halt, but still some acts record a cover or two.
This is a list of the very best and most enduring cover versions of songs throughout this and the last century.
10. UB40 – Red Red Wine (originally by Neil Diamond)
UB40 recorded their version of this Neil Diamond song in 1983, and it scored them a no.1 in the UK charts. Interestingly, they had never heard the original version, but another cover version by Jamaican Rocksteady singer Tony Tribe.
9. The Who – Summertime Blues (originally by Eddie Cochran)
The Who began performing Summertime Blues live in 1967, and it was a staple of their live shows up until 1976. Since John Entwhistle’s death in 2002, it has never again been performed live by the band. Interestingly, their studio version of the song went unreleased for 31 years, until it appeared on 1998’s Odds and Sods.
8. Cream – Crossroads (originally by Robert Johnson)
Eric Clapton has long been a fan of Robert Johnson, so it was only logical that the late ‘60’s supergroup Cream should record their own version of Johnson’s Cross Road Blues. Featuring arguably the best guitar playing and drumming on this list, it is well worth a listen by those unfamiliar with blues rock.
7. Johnny Cash – Hurt (originally by Nine Inch Nails)
Industrial act Nine Inch Nails seems to be as far from Johnny Cash as Children of Bodom are from Trini Lopez, but yet these two legends of their respective genres found common ground enough to treat us to Cash’s throaty ballad filled with regret. Coupled with a moving music video, Cash’s version finds an emotional resonance arguably missing from the angst-ridden Nine Inch Nails original.
6. David Bowie – China Girl (originally by Iggy Pop)
Originally appearing on Iggy Pop’s The Idiot in 1977, this anti-racism song is best known as a staple of Bowie’s live shows in the ‘80’s. Bowie co-wrote the song with Pop, and wavered all royalties to it in an attempt to help Pop overcome his heroine-induced bankruptcy.
5. Guns ‘n Roses – Knockin’ on Heaven’s door (originally by Bob Dylan)
This recording really shows the breadth of musical change that can be brought about by a cover version: while Dylan’s original is gentle and plaintive, Guns ‘n Roses’ version is an in-your-face cock-rock classic. Featuring heavy drums, thundering bass, a gospel choir and jazz piano; it is as far from the original as it could possibly be.
4. Joe Cocker – With a Little Help from My Friends (originally by The Beatles)
Arguably better-known than the original, Cocker’s version changed the song’s time signature from 4/4 to 6/8, slowed down the tempo, added guitar licks by the legendary Jimmy Page and added a lengthy introduction. The song also has the honor of being used as wake-up music on Space Shuttle Mission STS-61.
3. Aretha Franklin – Respect (originally by Otis Redding)
How many of you knew that this was a cover? Widely different from Redding’s original, Franklin’s version quickly became a feminist anthem, and exemplifies the strong girl trope in the media. Redding was once quoted describing Respect as “the song that little girl done stole from me”.
2. The Beatles – Twist and Shout (originally by The Top Notes)
This song has the strange distinction of being a cover (The Beatles) of a cover (The Isley Brothers) of an original (The Top Notes). This iconic song was left till the end of a marathon 10 hour recording session (wherein 11 songs were recorded), because George Martin knew the strain the song put on John Lennon’s voice. Featured prominently in the film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the song re-entered the charts in 1986 after the film gave it a new lease on life.
1. Jimi Hendrix – All Along the Watchtower (originally by Bob Dylan)
Hendrix’s version was recorded 6 months after Dylan’s original, with Hendrix adding more and more tracks till bassist Noel Redding left the session in a huff. Hendrix’s perseverance paid off, however, and the song has been featured in more than 10 feature films and has become an anthem for the Vietnam War. Hendrix’s version has inspired other artists, among them the Dave Matthews Band, U2, Paul Weller, Pearl Jam and Neil Young, to create their own versions of the classic song, and has earned the top spot on many lists of the greatest cover versions of all time.
This article was written by Stuart Kerr from Liberty Games, pub jukebox suppliers and retailers of other great games room equipment.