"You could have it all ... my empire of dirt"
This post follows a conversation my boyfriend and I had recently about songs where the cover is better than the original. I believe we were talking about Johnny Cash’s powerful cover of “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails, recorded just prior to his death. As one YouTube viewer commented, “Trent Reznor sings the song like someone who wants to die, whereas Cash sings it like someone who knows he’s going to die.”
In case you haven’t heard Cash’s haunting version and seen the goosebump-inducing music video, take a look:
This discussion led me to consider other songs in which the cover is somehow better than the original or it adds another layer or element that brings depth to the song. These instances are the exceptions, however, since most covers that are played on the radio absolutely murder the original (Karl Wolf’s cover of Toto’s “Africa” comes to mind, as well as Divine Brown’s cover of Corey Hart’s “Sunglasses at Night, to name a few). I also once heard an electro-pop cover of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” and wanted to throw up. But sometimes, a cover just gets it right.
Here are some of the best:
— “Crazy” by Gnarles Barkley, covered by Ray Lamontagne:
I want to curl up inside of Ray Lamontagne’s voice and sleep there forever. Arguably one of the best vocal performances I’ve ever heard. I’ve always loved this song, despite the fact that it was overplayed on the radio when it was released. It was one of those songs with a funky, retro feel that made it seem like a song you’ve heard before, somewhere even though it was new. Lamontagne’s acoustic version, with his smoky vocals, add a poignancy to the surprisingly profound lyrics that you may have missed in the original.
Scottish hottie Paolo Nutini also does a bang-up job in his lovable, quirky little way:
I want to marry him. Sorry, boyfriend! (Jokes)
— “To Love Somebody” by The Bee Gees, covered by Damien Rice and Ray Lamontagne:
It doesn’t get any better than this. Damien Rice and Ray Lamontagne. When Meg showed me this, I felt like I had died and gone to heaven. My Irish love, Damien, who has one of the most passionate voices and sings with every fibre of his being, performing with Ray’s soft, soulful voice. Pure perfection.
— “Creep” by Radiohead, covered by Damien Rice (song only, no video):
Maybe it’s because I love acoustic covers or maybe it’s because I just friggin’ love Damien Rice, but this version just does it for me every time. Listen to Damien’s passionate howling in the bridge. When I first heard this cover, I had to make everyone in the room be quiet so I could fully absorb this song. It’s best experienced with your eyes closed.
— “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” by U2, covered by Damien Rice (you might have to turn up the volume because it’s quiet at first):
Yes, Damien Rice again. My Irish folksinger could sing the phone book and make it sound like heaven on earth. I am more of a retro U2 fan than a new U2 fan, because songs like this as well as “One,” “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “With or Without You” and “Pride” have so much raw emotion and speak so earnestly about grappling with spiritual issues. Damien’s beautifully transparent voice only adds another layer of humanity to the song about the constant search and mystery of life.
— “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen, covered by Rufus Wainwright:
Leonard Cohen can write a song like nobody’s business. He truly is one of the best poets of this era. However, like Bob Dylan, he is much better writing music than he is singing it. Canadian Wainwright is my favourite musician to cover this song because of his melodic, almost operatic voice and the tragic quality he brings to the song strewn with Biblical references (Samson, David, etc.)
— “Suzanne” by Leonard Cohen, covered by Judy Collins:
Another Cohen cover. While Cohen’s original is kind of monotone and the repeated pattern of the classic folk song gets a little (I hate to say it) boring, folk goddess Judy Collins transforms the gorgeous lyrics into gold with her pure, angelic voice. Even though she’s a bit older here, she’s still a songbird in every respect.
— “Harvest Moon” by Neil Young, covered by Cassandra Wilson:
This is the cover I told you to download in a previous entry. I admire Neil Young as a Canadian musician, but he has a really annoying voice, I’m sorry to say. I first heard this cover in the movie My Blueberry Nights and had to play it before I fell asleep. The sound effects and night noises in the background turn this lovely song into a lullaby.
And here are some more that I can think of at the top of my head:
— “Heartbeats” by The Knife, covered by Jose Gonzales
— “Wild is the Wind” by Nina Simone, covered by Cat Power
— “Kids” by MGMT, covered by The Kooks (not better than the original, but still cool in its own right)
— “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone, covered by Muse
— “All Along the Watchtower” by Bob Dylan, covered by Jimi Hendrix
— “Goin’ to Acapulco” by Bob Dylan, covered by Jim James from My Morning Jacket and Calexio (as seen in the movie I’m Not There — Jim James is dressed up like a clown and singing at a funeral)
Are there any I’ve missed?