When Covers Rule

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Normally, cover versions of songs just make me want to hear the original.  But there are certainly covers that have overshadowed the original versions of songs.  Some of these are obvious: Bob Dylan himself admitted that Jimi Hendrix had essentially made “All Along The Watchtower” his own property with the electric guitarist’s scorching cover. 

Today we’re looking at covers that might actually make you forget the original.   Some contenders:

Janis Joplin: “Me and Bobby McGhee” (originally written by her one-time boyfriend, Kris Kristofferson)

Johnny Cash: “Hurt” (this is actually a feather in Trent Reznor’s cap – underneath all the eerie electronic production in his original Nine Inch Nails version lies a bleak and tortured song that needs nothing more than Cash’s bleak and tortured voice and simple acoustic accompaniment)

Eric Clapton: “I Shot the Sheriff” (not saying it’s better than the Wailers’ original – because it’s definitely not – but it is way better known)

The Clash: “Police and Thieves” (another reggae original, by the far less known Junior Murvin; nothing wrong with it, but the Clash made it an international hit)

David Bowie: “Pablo Picasso” (you’d think that Jonathan Richman’s deadpan, eccentric songs would be sui generis, and for the most part they are; but Bowie somehow makes this his own.  Don’t wait to hear it on the radio though…)

Nirvana: “The Man Who Sold The World” (turnabout is fair play – an early Bowie song that is now way better known in this version)

Flying Lizards: “Money” (goofy, electronic version of the Beatles tune that was never as much fun as it should have/could have been)

The list goes on, and the fun lies in what you choose to add.  Or to skip over.  But for me, the list of truly original, great covers is governed by a notable proviso: the covering artist must be a singer or band usually associated with original songs.  So, much as I love the Jolly Boys’ Jamaican-mento-flavored version of Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab,” I can’t include it because all they really do are covers.  Ditto for Frank Sinatra and other singers who always sang other people’s songs.  I’ve hemmed and hawed about the Flamingos’ untouchable version of “I Only Have Eyes For You,” but they rarely wrote their own songs, so no – not on this list, anyway. 

What would you put on a list of great covers?  Leave a comment.