Cover tracks are an institution in music. Sometimes artists slightly change the original, adding just a touch of their original flair while other times, artists completely reinvent the song and its meaning. This tradition has spawned thousands of amazing songs. Below, we take a look at five songs that took massive creative liberty and fully transformed the complexion of the songs that they covered.
Enjoy The Kollection’s Top 5 Cover Tracks That Stand Alone.
Johnny Cash vs. 9 Inch Nails
Thank Rick Rubin for this brilliant reimagination of the Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt”. For American IV: The Man Comes Around, Rick Rubin got Cash to cover a variety of songs, drawing from shockingly different source material. This includes covers of songs originally by the Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel but what stood out most was “Hurt”. The original track was an electronic song detailing a man’s self-loathing and downward spiral. Johnny Cash, getting old and approaching his death, turned it into one of the greatest farewell songs in music history; when rendered acoustic and spoken by Cash, the song’s meaning was completely transformed. The song, and the intensely emotional video that came after it, cemented Cash’s legacy as one of music’s most legendary figures.
4. “Wild Horses”
Rolling Stones vs. Old & In The Way
This cover is Jerry Garcia and his bluegrass band’s take on a Rolling Stones classic. This version sounds completely different from the original, the instrumentation is that of traditional bluegrass: banjo, fiddle, mandolin, acoustic guitar, and some good ol’ fashion vocal harmonies. The Jerry version is beautiful, folksy, and exudes Americana despite the fact that it was originally written by a bunch of drug addled brits (who made their career of effectively emulating Americans I suppose). Jerry and his band give this song a new sound and meaning while keeping the soul of the Stones’ original alive and well.
Sonic Youth vs. The Carpenters
The members of Sonic Youth contort the originally dainty and gentle version of this song by The Carpenters into something much more gritty and sinister. The pretty instrumentation of The Carpenter’s version is replaced by heavy distortion and heavily compressed vocals that sound like they’re coming through an AM radio station, transforming the tone of the track without completely forgoing the original. Sonic Youth demonstrates a restraint with the Superstar cover that one might not expect from the group, but when this reserved cover is accompanied by the Lynchian music video, the creepiness of this song is readily apparent. This cover is somehow simultaneously unsettling and comforting.
2. “All Along the Watchtower”
Jimi Hendrix vs. Bob Dylan
You probably expected this one — it’s nearly impossible not to include Jimi on any list of the best anything, but it takes a bonafide legend to knock a Dylan cover out of the park. Jimi Hendrix turned the folky All Along the Watchtower into a completely different beast. Hendrix worked his guitar magic and fully reinvented this Dylan classic into a howling ripper. If you’ve never heard the Dylan version it really puts into perspective the creative genius of Hendrix. He teases out the natural song structure that Dylan left open ended, transforming it into a rock and roll classic without sacrificing the original integrity of the track. Paying Hendrix the ultimate compliment, Bob Dylan himself began to play it Jimi’s way. Think about that for a moment. Real recognize real as they say.
1. “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” Nirvana vs. Lead Belly
Nirvana angered some producers at MTV with their choice of setlist for their performance. Most previous MTV unplugged performances consisted of acoustic versions of the performing artist’s hits. Nirvana’s drummer, Dave Grohl, stated that “We’d seen the other Unpluggeds and didn’t like many of them, because most bands would treat them like rock shows…” Their response to this was a setlist consisting of very few of their hits, instead including deeper cuts from their discography as well as 6 covers. Yes, 6 of the 14 songs performed were covers. This included covers of the Meat Puppets, the Vaselines and even David Bowie but what shone the brightest was “Where Did You Sleep Last Night”. This was a cover of Lead Belly’s original from 1939. Over 50 years later, Kurt Cobain resurrected this song and performed it in goosebump-inducing fashion. Cobain’s strained vocals on this song are painfully raw, culminating in a primal scream of the song’s final line. Halfway through the line his voice cracks and Cobain opens his closed eyes and stares piercingly, creating an indelible image of the music legend. It is hauntingly evocative, his eyes a window into an incredibly troubled soul.