Wars and Windmills

28 May 2007

Got You Covered

Nothing has more potential to amaze and infuriate like a cover song. No matter what is done, someone will be upset that a lesser band desecrated their beloved tune. Yet, on the heads side of the cover-song-coin there are those lauding the tune as better than the original. I have felt both. I have also felt a happy mean. It is a discriminating task to qualify why some covers are so utterly delectable, while others are far better left unearthed. Personally, I enjoy a cover that serves up something new to the table. I am a glutton that enjoys a savory and eclectic feast. But, I know what I like, and unless you are offering a seasoned steak to my salted pork, I would rather just stick with what I know I like. While this alone isn't quite enough to make a determination, it is a quality that all the songs listed below offer. This list is not definitive.

Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley originally by Leonard Cohen.

No one has made a cover more their own since people thought Dylan was covering Hendrix.

Speaking of:

All Along the Watchtower by Jimi Hendrix originally by Bob Dylan

Ocean Breathes Salty by Sun Kil Moon originally by Modest Mouse.

The guitar tone in this song is perfect...just perfect.

Wonderwall by Ryan Adams originally by Oasis

A sad song made sadder.

Hurt by Johnny Cash originally by Nine Inch Nails

Here's to Johnny...

Mad World by Gary Jules originally by Tears For Fears

I was minding my own business watching Donnie Darko...when WHAM (a la Batman) this song smacked me in my face. Be careful, it is too good.

Such Great Heights by Iron and Wine originally by Postal Service

Simplicity incarnate. Bastardized by Zach Braff

Life on Mars by Seu Jorge originally by David Bowie

Bowie in acoustic Portuguese...timeless.

Twist and Shout by The Beatles originally by Top Notes

They can do no wrong. Lennon's vocals are stellar.

Hearbeats by Jose Gonzalez originally by The Knife

Hot damn...

Covers I Loathe:
American Pie by Madonna originally by Don Mclean
Smooth Criminal by Alien Ant Farm originally by Micheal Jackson
Faith by Limp Bizkit originally by George Michael
Behind Blue Eyes by Limp Bizkit originally by The Who
Sweet Child O' Mine by Sheryl Crow originally by Guns 'N Roses
Papa Don't Preach by Kelly Osbourne originally by Madonna
My Prerogative by Brittney Spears originally by Bobby Brown
Take My Breath Away by Jessica Simpson originally by Berlin
Downtown Train by Rod Stewart originally by Tom Waits
Video Killed the Radio Star by The Presidents of the United States of America
I'm A Believer by Smash Mouth originally by Neil Diamond

Et al...


  1. A fine post. I love to read what you write.

  2. Good Idear. I think of Urge Overkill covering Neil Young "Girl You'll Be a Woman Soon" (Excellent).

    Also, Faith No More covering The Commodore's "Easy".

    My favorite is either the Buckley (whose name on here once again proves this mental synchronization we have going, Z, if you czech my recent blog entry--made at unawares to yours) or Talking Heads "Take Me to the River". They made it theirs, despite having 2, yes 2 other covers of the same song playing on the radio contemporaneously.

  3. A great subject! Hoo-rah!

    I wrote on Joe's about the Buckley cover. It's encapsulates what I love best in music, the place where rhythm, melody, and emotion all meet to produce some reverb within myself. The feeling Emily Dickinson describes is what I feel when I hear that.

    Also, "Twist and Shout" so many times better than the original they should just hand over the crown.

    Joe, I haven't heard that Urge Overkill cover in years but now it is stuck in my head.

  4. Shame: wasn't UO so very underappreciated?

    "You gotta roll! Sister Havana!
    Overthrooooow! Sister Havana!"

  5. Honestly Darren, if I were to make a list of my favorite covers (which is pretty unlikely) it would look almost exactly like yours. Nicely done.

  6. Thanks Val. We have a nice overlap in taste, with the exception of James.

  7. Chaucer beat me to the punch with Faith No More's "Easy".

    I might add "War Pigs" by the magnificent Faith No More.

    Was there a better front man than the zany Mike Patton?

    How about "Somewhere Over the Rainbow/Wonderful World" by Israel Kamakawiwo. It left me a blubbering mess the first time I heard it. Too bad that it has been whored all over the place since then.

    I have to lovingly, like your bishop, disagree with the Alien Ant Farm phooey. C'mon, the song was a good time, wicked killer drummer as well.

    Dude could pound the skins..


    I swear...

    Please don't make fun of me.

    Hey, your scooter is really cool.

  8. g-ster:

    Good call on Somewhere Over the Rainbow/Wonderful World by Israel Kamakawiwo. I was going to add it to the list, but i already had one bastardized song on there so i opted out.

    His soft voice somehow doesn't really fit his body, but the man can play that ukulele.

    However, concerning the complete debasing of a Micheal Jackson classic...actually never mind, you can't account for taste.

    AHHH...I can't help it! It sucked...terribly. and you know it. For starters, it offered nothing original that would distinguish it over MJ's version at all.

    Increase of Love.

  9. Alright, I have been bested. I cede that Smooth Criminal isn’t an exceptional cover. A snappy cover it is. One of the great covers it is not.
    I think there are more bad covers than good ones. Such as:

    Dancin’ in the Streets- Van Halen
    Any of Cyndi Lauper’s songs (she is too sweet to cover).
    Punk covers generally annoy me.
    Any time that skank from Hole covers her dead husband’s songs.
    Pretty much all Christmas music redone over and over by everyone.
    Amy Grant- I wish she would just shut up. I don’t think she does any covers, I just hate her music. Yea, even Baby, Baby.

    How about when artists try to rework their own classics to a modern sound. I’m thinking of The Police’s Don’t Stand so Close to Me (1986 version) or Cyndi Lauper’s horrific reggae versions of her classic 80's tunes. What were they thinking?

  10. G:

    thanks for bringing the argument back into focus. The argument isn't if it was a good song, but whether it was a good cover, which it wasn't.

    And what a great list. Good to see you enjoy Cindy too...well pre-reggae Cindy.

    I tend to feel that some bands shouldn't be covered. Or, rather, that if they are, it should be rare and spectacular. Nirvana is one of those bands...wife or not, leave him be. The Beatles and Led Zeppelin are others. Now, I have heard good covers of each of these bands. Elliot Smith does some great Beatles covers. Buckley covered Kashmir. Tori Amos does a unique rendition of Smells Like Teen Spirit. I was at a concert for Iron and Wine/Calexico when they covered Wild Horses. So I know it can be done, and it has been spectacular.

    But when the original artist is a pantheon in music, it is going to be difficult to add anything new, make the song your own, or whatever . But it can happen, and it is oft exhilarating when it does.

    Perhaps the quality of artist that covers a song needs to be as high as the quality of artist that played it originally. I really don't know. But, for the most part I think some songs and bands are best left alone, unless you're ready to bring their A game.

    So the the Alien Ant Farms out there: step up your musicality before attempting to tackle something mightier than you. I envision it like unto Nacho Libre trying to bring down Andre the Giant

  11. Hound..I see your point, but I tend to shy from the idea of "canon bands" when it comes to matters of music. I mean, the Beatles and Zeppelin have put out a plethora of songs that I love and admire (Zeppelin especially, more than any other band, has the per capita lead for songs i love), but it is hard (at least for me) to make qualitative judgments about who can/can't cover someone else without writing an 80 page thesis that answers, among other questions, the question of "what is beauty?"

    I am too lazy to ever attempt such a thing.

    I think my personal litmus for a coversong is the basic: does it hit me on a visceral level? Does is elicit some response from me?

    For example, I am no Rod Stewart supporter, but I really don't mind his cover of "Downtown Train," and I think it has its singular virtues as well. I like this post, and I understand that you will probably disagree with me. I am sure you have sound premises as to why the Beatles are "better" than other bands, and I won't challenge those. Cool post, basically.

    Some other covers that have come to mind:
    Devo "Workin' in a Coal Mine",
    Mike Flowers Pops "Wonderwall",
    The entire Bowie album "Pin-Ups",
    Nick Cave "By the Time I Get to Phoenix",
    Roxy Music "Eight Miles High"...I am sure more will surface laters

  12. Joe I had thought of that. I guess noticed that the cover of "canon bands" that i love have been by equally great artists. While covers i don't enjoy usually aren't. I am trying to avoid absolutes, because only a Sith deals in absolutes, and there are always (an absolute...this is hard) going exceptions. But again, a good point that this is based purely on the unanswerable question of aesthetics. But, I figure that if someone chose to cover the Beatles (who are my equivalent to your Zeppelin) they are welcome to it. For me, they would have already had to prove themselves as an artist, or their chosen cover would. If not, they have no quarter here.

    So this post was an weak attempt to try and delineate what constitutes a "good cover", i realized as well while writing it that it would prove impossible. So i opted for the here are covers I like. Which boils down to the same emotional responses you mentioned.

  13. Canon Bands... that is good. Right you are Z. The level of the band being equal to the group covered is paramount.

    I am thinking of Zeppelin's "Misty Mountain Hop" by Four Non-Blondes.

    They weren't worthy.

    In thier defense, I wish I could have had a female singer with pipes like hers in my band.

    Still, they were merely padowan musicians and should not have attempted the aforementioned musical blasphemy.

  14. A fine list, we are mostly aligned on this one.

    Nine Inch Nails' Head Like a Hole (covering Devo) hasn't been mentioned yet - he didn't really alter the original too much, but I enjoyed it.
    I actually liked the Alien Ant Farm cover too, regardless of whether it's considered a timeless version.

    Some degree of quality is intrinsically inherited when a band of differing ability covers a song.

    Most covers seem to distinguish the qualities of the original in the very act of revisitation: poorly done covers often demonstrate how the pacing and timbre of the original was a superior choice, and well done covers illustrate the power of the melody and provide a unique perspective on the sound.

    Ultimately, it's quite satisfying to find masterful or meaningful variations on memorable music, keeping what resonates and dropping the rest.

  15. Azymn:

    A well thought out response.

    And I agree the quality of the song is inherited, a great point. However, it shouldn't be the driving force behinds a band. Alien Ant Farm for example, was a one hit wonder with a song that wasn't even their own. That is, for me and my house, not a quality band. They stepped into too big of shoes. Hence my previous statement that a good band needs to be the ones to cover good bands. Which goes back to the question of Good.................

  16. completely unrelated comment: Darren, I walked the trail with a girl that knows you and your wife. Her name is Kirsten and she grew up in Littleton and then went to watch your wife teach or something. Anyway, I keep forgetting to tell you. And she says hi. And I say hi. So hi from me and Kirsten. Carry on.

    Oh. And Kirsten was staff like me. Not one of the at-risk youth. Although.......aren't we ALL at-risk youth, when we're honest with ourselves?????

  17. Anonymous4:28 PM


    It is Matt. You’re Brother. I forgot my username and password, hence my anonymity.

    Might I add to this lofty discussion?

    While it is difficult to add to or take away from your list...

    The Wailin’ Jenny's do a wonderful cover of Old Man by Neil Young.

    Also, I thoroughly enjoy Youth Group's cover of Forever Young by Rod Stewart.

    That is all.

    Nice scooter.

  18. You are one of the few good bloggers. Your content is interesting and lengthy enough to be worth reading. Also, thanks for the free mp3s.

  19. Nice one, as per usual. Purdy songs.
    You know, your own rendition of "Such Greats Heights" is nothing to wink at.

  20. Many thanks gentlemen...honestly. I didn't even know you two read my blog.

    Mike: Glad to oblige. Via James you have given me a fair amount as well.

    Stubb...you were in my poetry class with Samuelson perchance? I wonder how else would you have heard my cover of Sam Beam's cover of Such Great Heights. I must know you, poetry class or no.

    Emily: I know Kristen. Her older brother and I were friends. thanks for passing the message along. She observed Lindsey for student teaching. Disney was right, it is a small small world

    Matthias: thanks for commenting. I will check out the songs you said. I know also how you like Neutral Milk Hotel's King of Carrot Flowers by Matt Pond.

  21. Ibid,
    Yes, I was in that class. We didn't speak much. You were too busy fooling around with James' wife. While the cat's away, and so forth. (Don't worry, I won't say a thing.)

  22. ah yes...then i know who you are.

    thanks for not telling James.

  23. You magnificent bastards! Just wait till Valerie gets home. Oh man, she and I are going to have a very serious non-threatening talk where I will kindly ask for an apology from her if she feels it's appropriate, slowly apologizing for overstepping my bounds and incurring any wrath.

    Because I'm a very domineering husband. just in case, let's not mention this to her in case I wuss out over the confrontation.

  24. Sure thing, cuckold.

  25. Anonymous8:37 PM


    Working for "The Man" on a late Wednesday night, I found myself dancing around my cubicle to Jimi Hendricks and air guitaring my way like no ones business. I thank you....and my colleagues thank you.


  26. Ah, Gary Jules. *sigh*

  27. What about Sparkle Motion covering that horrible Snow Patrol song?

    You guys kicked me out because I played the drums "too loud." Never, never have I felt more close to Michael J. Fox.

  28. ibid

    you made habs dance! that makes the wife happy.

  29. Bad cover - Without you, Whitney Crumiest-city-in-texas

    Originally and excellently by Badfinger.

  30. OOOOOO...yes! Damn crack head.

  31. I'm a believer was the Monkees not Neil Diamond

  32. um.........perhaps a bit of research would have been a good idea before tossing up some random erroneous comment.

    Here, let me help. I'm a Believer.