People sometimes think you have to pluck something out of thin air to be creative, but that’s not true.
For example, you don’t have to write your own songs to have cultural relevance and to be real. Some of the greatest moments in music have been when someone has taken a song and re-interpreted it, remixing it into something that even the original songwriter never intended.
Taking what’s currently available and making something new is at the heart of digital culture, and is just as legitimate an artform as writing original words and melodies.
So, as a bit of a departure from work-related posts, I wanted to put together a list of my personal favourite cover songs. I got some great suggestions from friends on Facebook and Twitter, so where relevant I’ll mention people who helped me out. Here we go…
15. Chris Cornell – “Billie Jean”
I don’t know anyone else who has done a great cover of a Micheal Jackson song, but this one is fantastic.
14. Michael Andrews and Gary Jules – “Mad world”
The original is a great song too, but this is much more interesting, especially when used as the touching soundtrack to a cartoon of a kiwi suicide (really!) as below.
13. Nina Gordon – “Straight outta Compton”
A few different bands have taken Gangsta rap lyrics and added melody: Dynamite hack did a funny version of Boyz n the hood (props to Anne for the suggestion), and Milow is doing well with his version of Ayo Technology. But this one by the singer from Veruca Salt is the best in my opinion: she takes the harsh lyrics to a place that makes you feel stupid for listening to them, makes them seem powerless compared to her beautiful melody.
12. Mark Ronson – “God put a smile on your face”
All his Versions are interesting, and his take on Toxic is great (thanks Bish for pointing it out). But I just love how he took a fairly boring indie song by Chris Martin and made it sound so full of life with his trademark horns. Love this video too as it’s just a high-school project but it is full of innocent charm.
11. Jose Gonzalez – “Heatbeats”
As heard in the brilliant Bravia bouncing balls advert. Originally by The Knife, this ad would not have been as good if Jose had not reinterpreted this song.
10. Travis – “Hit me baby one more time”
Suggested by my friend Stu: You wouldn’t believe this to be possible until you’ve heard it. They taught us that good songs are everywhere, and sometimes they’re right in front of you but you just didn’t know it.
9. Joe Cocker – “With a little help from my friends”
Just a fantastic vocal performance from Sheffield’s own Joe Cocker. He put so much of himself into his performance at Woodstock, that I’m sure McCartney and Lennon were embarrassed that they wrote this as a silly throw-away tune for Ringo.
8. Jeff Buckley – “Hallelujah”
Leonard Cohen wrote a beautiful lyric but his version isn’t a patch on Jeff Buckley’s – I mean not even close.
7. Johnny Cash – “Hurt”
@willsh suggested a Johnny Cash cover of a Nick Cave song The Mercy Seat, and a few others (Timo, Petteri) suggested his cover of Hurt. Close call, but his version of Hurt is just that much more brilliant to my ears. Rick Rubin is a genius too, reducing this to its essentials and leaving room for Cash’s voice.
6. Michael Jackson – “Who’s loving you?”
The original Smokey Robinson version is now mostly forgotten since young Michael blew it out of the water. How an 11 year old could re-interpret a song like this, and put so much more soul than the original adult composer – well, some things are just beyond rational explanation.
5. Cat Power – “Sea of love”
One of my favourite songs from one of my favourite movies – Juno. Originally released in 1959, don’t bother listening to the version by Robert Plant as The Honeydrippers, just listen to this one. Trust me.
4. Sinead O’Conner – “Nothing compares 2 U”
Not many Prince covers have come close to the originals except this. She pared a pop song back to its emotional essence, and also created one of the most genuine music videos you’ll ever see.
3. Jimi Henrix – “All along the watchtower”
Perhaps the best example of taking a songwriter’s song and performing it in a way that blows the original out of the water. Just the definitive version of the song, with an energy Dylan never would have imagined when he wrote it. Dylan even said he preferred the Hendrix version apparently. This was the most frequently suggested by my friends: Katy, my bro, Mike
Special mention to Dave Mathew’s Band for a pretty good version too, which I heard for the first time today (props to Noora).
2. Beck – “Everybody’s gotta learn sometimes”
When Beck came along in the 90s, I had no idea he would be capable of something like this. The original is a very good tune, but it is a bit wet; Beck gave it a remarkably haunting vocal and brought it gravitas. Anyone who has seen Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind should know why I chose this.
1. Otis Redding – “Try a little tenderness”
Otis took a rather dull old Bing Crosby song, probably listened to what Aretha did with it, and then took it to a whole ‘nother level. So much more soul, so much energy. Just a remarkable cover song, and perhaps the best example of the art of re-interpretation.