Everybody loves a good cover version, sometimes they can even improve on the original, and each one has a story to tell. Here is a selection of my favourites.
Talking Heads – Take Me to the River
Originally recorded by Al Green in 1974 and covered by New York post-punk, art band Talking Heads for their 1978 album More Songs About Buildings and Food. This version replaces R&B and gospel of the original with something altogether more metropolitan, slow burning, and quirky.
Nirvana – The Man Who Sold the World
This acoustic version of David Bowie’s 1970 song featured on Nirvana’s 1994 MTV Unplugged in New York album. Taken from Bowie’s ‘heavy metal’ album of the same name, this song explores the themes of identity and disassociation.
Jimi Hendrix – All Along the Watch Tower
Written and recorded by Bob Dylan for his 1967 album John Wesley Harding, this song has been covered by many including U2 but never bettered than this. Hendrix’s version adds an appropriate brooding, apocalyptic feel to the song.
The Stranglers – Walk on By
Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David and originally recorded by Dionne Warwick in 1964. This vitriolic version by punk band The Stranglers was recorded in 1978 and featured on their Black and White album.
Soft Cell – Tainted Love
An eighties classic pretty much since the eighties began. This version by synth-pop band Soft Cell was recorded in 1981 and became a number one hit in 17 countries. The original 1965 version was recorded by Northern Soul artist Gloria Jones, but Soft Cell improved on it, adding desperation and synth beats to die for.
Nouvelle Vague – Dance with Me
Nouvelle Vague (French for ‘new wave’) are a French group who specialise in bossa nova style covers of ’80s new wave songs. This version transforms ’80s goth-rock group Lords of the New Church’s dark, tortured love song into something altogether sublime and seductive and featured on their 2006 album Bande à Part.
Kate Bush – Rocket Man
There’s very little that Kate Bush can’t do or get away with in my book. A very unique talent from the beginning of her career, this 1991 cover of Elton John’s 1972 song of loneliness in space / cocaine addiction (echoing Bowie’s Space Oddity) seemed more like a career break for Bush. And yet this improves on the original as her voice lends the song a poignant vulnerability that the original lacked.
Bryan Ferry – A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall
Another song by Bob Dylan where the cover improves on the original. Originally recorded by Dylan in 1962 for The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan album, This cover by Bryan Ferry swaps the acoustic guitar for lounge-lizard glam and featured on Ferry’s 1973 covers album These Foolish Things.
Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah
Probably the version of this song most people are familiar with until they realise it’s a cover version. Buckley’s version was recorded in 1994 and featured on his only completed album before his death, Grace. Leonard Cohen’s original version from his 1984 album Various Positions is gospel heavy, whereas Buckley’s version takes Cohen’s majestic lyrics and sets them to a haunting, seductive soundtrack and makes it a standout song in its own right.
Johnny Cash – Hurt
In 1994 Johnny Cash was approached by music producer Rick Rubin to record an album called American Recordings, this stripped-back album put Cash’s distinctive voice at the forefront of the songs. Over the next few years they would work together on further American albums.
The later albums in this series featured almost cover versions exclusively; some standout tracks included Solitary Man by Neil Diamond, One by U2, The Mercy Seat by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, and Personal Jesus by Depeche Mode. But the most impressive track amongst all these albums was Hurt from 2002’s American IV: The Man Comes Around.
Originally recorded by Nine Inch Nails in 1994 for their Downward Spiral album, Cash’s version adds a haunting melancholy that only age can bring. The original is often seen as a suicide note written by songwriter Trent Reznor in response to his depression but in hands of Johnny Cash it becomes a deathbed confessional — Cash was to pass away a year later.
In response to daily prompt: Original