Covers That Are Better

10 cover versions that surpass the original

Thursday 6th July 2017

David Bowie's 'PinUps' - The 1973 album of cover versions included his recording of 'Sorrow'

Cover versions have always split opinions. When they work well, such as Soft Cell's epic take on 'Tainted Love', they become timeless works of art in their own right. When the artist and song are not such a great match, the result can leave fans of the original outraged and at odds with those that subscribe to the cover, in some cases unaware of the original track's existence. We look at ten cover versions that have arguably become regarded as the most accomplished interpretation of someone else's song.

Jimi Hendrix - 'All Along The Watchtower'
Many purists will defend the qualities of Bob Dylan's original, but it is doubtless that Jimi Hendrix effectively owned the song when he covered it on 'Electric Ladyland' in 1968, only six months after the original came out. Dylan himself claimed later that subsequent performances felt as though he was playing the song in tribute to Hendrix following the legendary guitarist's death.

The Clash - 'I Fought The Law'
A song that can trace its roots back almost sixty years, 'I Fought The Law' was originally written and recorded by Sonny Curtis in 1959 when he took the place of Buddy Holly in The Crickets. The Bobby Fuller Four had a hit with the song in 1966, and it was this version that apparently inspired Joe Strummer to record the song with The Clash in 1979. The song became the Clash's first US single, with its airplay contributing to the band's success in America.

Happy Mondays - 'Step On'
John Kongos' 1971 song 'He's Gonna Step On You Again' was retitled and its guitars sampled for The Happy Mondays' hit 'Step On'. The Madchester band took the South African songwriter's piece and turned it into one of the biggest indie anthems of the 1990s appearing on their 'Pills 'n' Thrills and Bellyaches'.

Johnny Cash - 'Hurt'
Trent Reznor, leader and principle member of Nine Inch Nails, was understandably flattered, but unsure, when Johnny Cash approached him wishing to cover Nine Inch Nails' 1994 song 'Hurt' on his album 'American IV: The Man Comes Around'. The Cash version, along with its video showing an aged Johnny Cash in deteriorating health along with his wife June Carter Cash was critically well received upon release. 'Hurt' became seen as the singer's curtain call when both husband and wife died within six months of the song's release. Trent Reznor was reportedly impressed by the Cash version and stated: "that song isn't mine anymore... reinterpreted by a music legend from a radically different era/genre and still retains sincerity and meaning – different, but every bit as pure."

The Beatles - 'Twist and Shout'
Perhaps the best-known rock 'n' roll song of the 1960s. 'Twist and Shout' was written by Phil Medley and Bert Berns and first recorded in 1961 by The Top Notes. It was produced by a little-known producer named Phil Spector. Bert Berns, unhappy with Spector's job on the earlier version, produced the Isley Brothers' 1962 version himself, scoring them a hit on the Billboard chart. The Beatles version followed in 1963, produced by George Martin and recorded for inclusion on The Beatles' first UK album 'Please Please Me'. The UK reaction to The Beatles' televised performances of the song is widely regarded as the beginnings of Beatlemania. 

Patti Smith - 'Because The Night'
Originally written and recorded by Bruce Springsteen for inclusion on 'Darkness on the Edge of Town', Springsteen effectively abandoned the song before it found itself into the neighbouring studio where Patti Smith Group were recording their 1977 album 'Easter'. Patti Smith reworked the song, becoming credited as the song's co-writer. Springsteen would perform his version of the song live but never included it on a studio album, while Patti Smith Group's version's inclusion on 'Easter' helped it become their biggest commercial success.  

Oasis - 'Cum on Feel The Noize' 
Inspired by the audience participation at a Chuck Berry concert, Noddy Holder and Jim Lea wrote 'Cum on Feel The Noize' in an effort to recreate a similar reaction with their own screaming crowds - and it worked. Slade's original was undoubtedly a big 1970's hit, but the song went on to be a US hit for Quiet Riot, and of course, became one of Oasis' most popular live tracks as well as their b-side to 'Don't Look Back In Anger'. Check out this some great musical moments from Liam Gallagher here.

David Bowie - 'Sorrow'
'Sorrow' was recorded twice in the 1960s in relatively quick succession by other artists before David Bowie's version arguably became the definitive version of the song. Recorded by the McCoys in 1965 and The Merseys in 1966, it is the 1973 inclusion on Bowie's 'PinUps', an entire album of covers, that we are concerned with here. Read about 'PinUps' influence on Terry Hall, and watch The Specials frontman's live version of 'Sorrow' here.

The Who - 'Young Man Blues'
Blues singer/pianist, Mose Alison was best known for his song 'Your Mind Is On Vacation', but it was the intergenerational discontent of his 'Young Man Blues' that struck a chord with The Who, covering the song from around 1970 when it became part of their live set, including a notable performance at the Isle Of Wight Festival that year.

The Rolling Stones - 'It's All Over Now'
The Valentinos' version of 'It's All Over Now' was followed pretty swiftly by the Rolling Stone's version in 1964. Included on their album '12 X 5', the song gave the Stones their first UK number one, and gave songwriter Bobby Womack a sizable royalty payment.

There are of course many more covers that have potential to cause friction when compared with the originals. We haven't even mentioned Ryan Adam's 'Wonderwall', The Flying Lizards' 'Money', Echo & The Bunnymen's 'People are Strange' or Mark Ronson and Amy Winehouse's 'Valerie' to name just a few.

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