What defines a great cover song? DaRK PaRTY believes there are two crucial elements:
With that limited criteria as our guide, DaRK PaRTY presents the 10 Greatest Cover Songs of All Time.
All Along the Watchtower (Jimi Hendrix)
Bob Dylan originally sang this one as a folk rocker, but Hendrix rescues it with some scathing electrical guitar work. It’s amazing that Dylan released the song in 1967 and by 1968 most people already considered it a Hendrix song. In fact, Dylan even liked the Hendrix version better and played it “heavier” in concert for years in tribute to Hendrix. This is a perfect example of an artist completely re-interpreting a song to make it better, yet still echoing the original.
I Fought the Law (The Clash)
Does anyone even remember that this song was originally done by the Crickets in 1965? Probably not because before the Clash’s version, the song was made popular by the Bobby Fuller Four (Bobby Fuller was found dead in his car the same day the song hit the Top 40). But for all purposes, the Clash have so thoroughly taken command of this song that it’s become one of about five tunes that people immediately connect with the band. It’s an outstanding cover because the Clash’s punk version is a better fit for the tune musically than the original rockabilly style or the Bobby Fuller Four version.
One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer (George Thorogood)
This was an old blues number by John Lee Hooker that George Thorogood and his Destroyers made into one of their signature songs (along with “Bad to the Bone). Thorogood takes Hooker’s insightful, introspective song and creates a party number out of it by ripping it pieces with his masterful slide guitar antics.
Red Red Wine (UB40)
How’s this for stretching the limits on a song? UB40 takes puffy pop standard by Neil Diamond and makes it into a rollicking reggae tune that became one of the defining songs of the 1980 retro-reggae scene. However, UB40 didn’t even know Neil Diamond wrote and recorded it until after “Red Red Wine” was a hit. The band thought the song belonged to another reggae band – Tony Tribe, which recorded it in 1969.
Respect (Aretha Franklin)
Otis Redding said all that needed to be said about Aretha’s version of his original. “I think the bitch stole my song.” That she did. Aretha added the “Sock it to me” line to the song (which is a sexual reference) and added a rocking bridge line to the tune.
Walk This Way (Run DMC)
This may be one of the most significant covers in history. By converting Aerosmith’s popular rock anthem into a rap song, Run DMC brought hip hop to the mainstream and rescued Aerosmith from the dustbin. Run-DMC stumbled upon the album, but had never heard of Aerosmith (in fact, they thought the name of the band was Toys in the Attic, the album with “Walk This Way” on it). Aerosmith was pretty much over and the song helped revive its career after the disastrous release of the band’s worst album “Done with Mirrors.”
Suspicious Minds (Fine Young Cannibals)
How is it possible to swipe a song from the King? Ask the Fine Young Cannibals who turned Elvis Presley’s last number one song before his death into one of the most popular songs of the alt-rock movement of the 1980s. This is a bouncy, guitar heavy tune that would have made the King proud.
Take Me to the River (Talking Heads)
I’ll never forgive the Talking Heads for taking the Modern Lover’s bass player, but they kind of make up for it with this fantastic cover of an Al Green tune. This is the song that put art rock band Talking Heads on the musical map. This slowed down, bass-heavy rendition of the original became the coda of urban cool and helped usher in the new wave movement in 1978.
You Really Got Me (Van Halen)
This song was the first hit for the Kinks and the first hit for Van Halen. Ray Davies of the Kinks said he liked the Van Halen version better and that the Kinks version was a prop airplane and the Van Halen version was a fighter jet. This song really encapsulates early Van Halen showing off Eddie Van Halen’s guitar mastery and lead singer David Lee Roth’s trademark squeals.
Ring of Fire (Social Distortion)
It’s difficult to unseat Johnny Cash from his own song – never mind pick him up and throw him to the ground. But that’s exactly what Social Distortion does to “Ring of Fire.” They punk it up and own it. The song, however, was really written by June Carter, who wrote it while driving around one night worried about Cash’s wild partying.
Think we blew it? Want to throw a cover song into the mix? Then use the comments section below to tell us what we missed and to add to the list.
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