“List on the 3s” is my semi-regular series where I come up with some sort of list on any date that has a “3” in it. And you know what? I’m running out of lists. I really thought I’d have enough to last me through 2013, but I’m sadly mistaken. If you have any suggestions for any further lists, please let me know. Thanks.
I’ve done a list of songs that shouldn’t ever be covered. And now I’m tackling the songs that should and have been covered! I’ve been a fan of cover tunes for quite a while for many reasons ranging from the novelty to the artistic talent it takes to cover a song.
I have certain criteria where it comes to a good cover song:
(a) The cover artist must respect the music and lyrics of the original. There’s room for deviation, but the artistic intent of the original must shine through. If you’re going to rap through a version of EMF’s Unbelievable with different lyrics it simply won’t cut it.
(b) The cover artist must own his/her version of the song. Yes, it needs to have the same spirit as the original. But it shouldn’t sound exactly like the original. The covering artist should make it interesting enough to interpret it indvidually while conserving the original intent of the song.
(c) It shouldn’t be a band that simply covers other people’s songs all the time. Which is why you won’t see a song by UB40 on my list.
(d) Studio recordings only. (I’ll allow very, very rare exceptions.) Barenaked Ladies doing a live version of Tori Amos’s Cornflake Girl may be entertaining, but that’s just them goofing off in concert. If you want me to take it seriously, get in the studio and record it.
(e) People have to realize it’s a cover song. That Mad World song in Donnie Darko performed by Gary Jules is very nice. But very few people realize that it’s originally a Tears for Fears tune. The original song has to have some popularity on its own.
One more thing before I start: there’s an amazing podcast called Coverville which I would recommend to anyone who enjoys cover songs. The presenter, Brian Ibbot, has been doing it for quite a while now and comes up with shows based on specific themes. Give it a listen sometime…
Top 9 Cover Songs
9. Scissor Sisters – Comfortably Numb (Pink Floyd)
This is a prime example of what one can do with a song whose genre doesn’t match what you’re used to — you snazz it up and make it work for you. I was impressed at how ballsy they were to pull this off. And they did. Incredibly well.
8. Johnny Cash – Rusty Cage (Soundgarden)
Honorable Mention: Johnny Cash – Hurt (Nine Inch Nails)
Towards the end of his life, Johnny Cash did something amazing musically to embrace and celebrate modern music. (Not that he wasn’t doing some amazing things with music before; this was just a bit new for him.) I was amazed to hear him do Rusty Cage in a style that was so incredibly Johnny Cash. Especially at his age.
I was contemplating putting Hurt in this list. However, I think more people nowadays recognize the song in Johnny Cash’s style rather than the original. But he just nails it in his own way. Kudos, Mr. Man in Black. You will always be a legend.
7. Holly McNarland – In The Air Tonight (Phil Collins)
This was a struggle to determine whether or not I should include it — mostly because almost nobody south of the Canadian border has heard of Holly McNarland. In addition, so many different artists have done their own versions of this chilling song. But this version just moves me in such a chilling yet hot way. Listen for yourself…
6. Alien Ant Farm – Smooth Criminal (Michael Jackson)
… and the video is funny as well!
5. The Cure – Purple Haze (Jimi Hendrix)
This was the first track on a Jimi Hendrix tribute album released in 1993 called Stone Free. I think it’s a prime example of how a group can take a classic and push it to the extreme in a very creative way that reflects their genre of music. Some would disagree with this one, but I think they did an amazing job.
4. Jonathan Coulton – Baby Got Back (Sir Mix-A-Lot)
You can do a YouTube search and find many live performances of this. Coulton is one of those cool artists who embraces the web community and, in turn, is embraced in return. You can go to his music page, scroll down to “Thing a Week One,” and play the track in its entirety. And then, if you wish, you can pay the dollar and download it. It’s just clever and creative and sweet.
3. Gypsy Kings – Hotel California (The Eagles)
You may have heard this in The Big Lebowski. I’m going to give it leeway for the Spanish lyrics because it’s such a lively and energetic version that can still make the Eagles proud.
2. Cake – I Will Survive (Gloria Gaynor)
I remember hearing this for the first time when I watched Coyote Ugly. I don’t remember much of Coyote Ugly aside from this song. Which shows how much this song sticks out in my mind. Or how forgettable Coyote Ugly was. Whatever. Either way, it works.
Deena Noroian Unruly Helga – One Step Closer (Linkin Park)
Perfect example: She conserves the original but owns this version of it. Just listen…
UPDATE: Wow! I received a comment from Deena herself! Says she:
Thanks for including my cover! (One Step Closer) I’m very flattered. I only wish I wasn’t constantly getting mistaken for No Doubt. Also – I’m no longer Deena Noroian and my bands official name is Unruly Helga. On my last album I did a version of Burnin’ for you by Blue Oyster Cult. One of the lamest songs ever, but I heard something much more haunting and went for it if you want to check it out… unrulyhelga.com. It’s on the Self Titled Album.
Okay. Which ones have I missed?