For as long as great songs have existed, there have also been countless interpretations and tributes to them. Although cover songs have been mercilessly shoved down our throats thanks to Kidz Bop and the Punk Goes Pop series, you have nothing to fear from this piece, dear readers – for we’re bringing you the best of the best from the world of covers. Our staff has made picks from various decades – including everything from The Clash to an American Idol performance – to bring you our favorite cover songs that we believe exceed the brilliance of the originals. So give ’em all a listen and let us know your favorite covers as well.
John Frazier’s Pick: Usher – “Love In This Club” as covered by Jamie’s Elsewhere
I heard this track a few years ago – a good bit of time after the original was released. I immediately fell in love with the cover. I’m already a fan of Usher, but there’s just something about this version that I enjoy so much more. Perhaps it’s the fact that it actually works as an acoustic song without merely being a novelty. It sounds much nicer without the stereotypical electro-synths so popular from the mid to late 2000s. I still enjoy the original, but for some reason I enjoy this song about romance in clubs without the ‘clubbiness’ of the original’s instrumentation.
Joe Ballard’s Pick: Oasis – “Wonderwall” as covered by Ryan Adams
For me, a great cover song is born when the artist brings out qualities that were never quite heard before in the original. Ryan Adams took a great risk in covering one of the most popular songs of the 1990s, but by god did he succeed with flying colors. With nothing but a lightly plucked guitar, some incredibly delicate vocals and a bit of piano at the end, Adams brings out a new level of intimacy that Liam Gallagher was (in my opinion) unable to find with the original version. As Noel Gallagher famously said in an interview with Spin Magazine, “I think Ryan Adams is the only person who ever got that song right.”
Landon Defever’s Pick: The Wonder Years – “Don’t Let Me Cave In” as covered by Into It. Over It.
About this time last year, The Wonder Years were embarking on their first full US headlining tour with the likes of Polar Bear Club, Transit, The Story So Far, A Loss for Words and Into It. Over It. For an occasion this significant, the bands decided to do something special to commemorate the tour. Enter the Glamour Kills split: a six-song collection of each band covering another artist on the tour’s work, which was put up for digital download and on a limited vinyl pressing. The covers ranged from the moderately impressive to the marginally impassioned, except for Into It. Over It’s dissonant, bare-bones cover of The Wonder Years’ “Don’t Let Me Cave In,” which is some sort of a miracle. Frontman and IIOI brainchild Evan Weiss completely reconstructs the song from the inside out and makes it entirely his own. Weiss has the rare quality of being able to put his heart and soul in to every piece of music he’s created…even when it comes to somebody else’s work.
Jarrod Church’s Pick: Smokey Robinson – “Tracks of My Tears” as covered by Adam Lambert
When it comes to covers, I am a sucker. Whenever a band or artist can come up with a way to completely shatter expectations and deliver something so magnificent – that has already been done – wow! Personally, my favorite covers stem from all sorts of different places. From Cradle of Filth, to American Idol greats – from AFI to Cee Lo Green. The list goes on and on. To stick with one favorite is extremely tough, but in honor of American Idol (since it has just gotten to the good parts, at least), I will have to go with my all-time favorite over the past 12 seasons. Adam Lambert covering Smokey Robinson’s “Tracks of My Tears” was one of most magical and heavenly moments in my television/musical history. His vocal, pleasant as it is, just captures you from the very start. And the things he goes on to do over the next two or so minutes can only be summed up as brilliant. While he moved on to pursue a traditional pop career after Idol, his time on the show was inspiring and epic. He will forever be my personal favorite to come out of that series.
Alexandra Brueckner’s Pick: Cy Grant – “Feeling Good” as covered by Muse
“Feeling Good” has been covered by everyone from Nina Simone to Michael Bublé to Eels since its release in 1964, but I definitely think that Muse’s cover bests them all…including the original. The freedom-celebrating song has retained a jazzy piano feel in nearly all incarnations, but though Muse’s version starts out that way, the stakes get raised when that piano decidedly abandons the quiet jazz route and meets with crashing cymbals. The original sounded pretty restrained, considering the subject matter; the main refrain is, after all, “It’s a new dawn, a new day, a new life…and I’m feeling good.” An affirmation like that needs to be loud and proud, but Muse’s version takes it beyond that. With dynamic instrumentals and a devil-may-care vocal style, Muse turn a proclamation of freedom into an anthem of victory, and that’s what the lyrics truly call for.
Tim Dodderidge’s Pick: Michael Jackson – “Smooth Criminal” as covered by Alien Ant Farm
As much as I love Michael Jackson, I can’t help but love Alien Ant Farm’s cover of the pop legend’s hit “Smooth Criminal” even more. The California hard rock quartet boosts the song’s inner intensity with nu-metal guitar riffs and a groovy, directional foundation. Dryden Mitchell’s vocals fit the melodies well, and he shows his inner Michael when he hits some incredibly high “da da”s and “whoo”s after the second chorus. While the original is a fun, catchy dance tune, the cover is a much more in-your-face explosion of sound. At the same time, it makes me want to get up and dance just as much, and considering that Alien Ant Farm is one of many bands to come out of the post-grunge movement, this is quite impressive.
Zac Lomas’ Pick: Junior Murvin – “Police and Thieves” as covered by The Clash
The song “Police and Thieves” was originally a reggae standard performed by Junior Murvin, but its reintroduction by English punks The Clash is possibly one of the greatest and most important covers in the history of music. The Clash appropriated the song to fit the political landscape they were entrenched in and extended the song to a full six minutes, while adding their own punk twist to it. The song notoriously begins with frontman Joe Strummer alluding to The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” with the line “We’re going through a tight wind,” which is exactly what The Clash put that song through. Not only is this song better than the original, it is also much more historically important than the original with its political resonance affecting a much larger audience.
Tyler Sharp’s Pick: Kelly Clarkson – “Since U Been Gone” as covered by A Day To Remember
Found on the deluxe re-release of their sophomore full length For Those Who Have Heart, A Day To Remember’s borderline cliché cover of Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” arguably sparked the boom of cover songs that help comprise the underground music scene of today. Clocking in at slightly under the three and-a-half minute mark, the track manages to capture the band’s pop-core sound while still holding true to Clarkson’s original ethos. Whether you’re a die-hard fan or that guy who constantly denounces the band for “setting the current generic standards of the scene,” we all know you’ve belted this gem out at one time or another – you can stop trying to uphold your HXC status now.
Alek Wiltbank’s Pick: The Adventures of Pete & Pete theme song “Hey Sandy” as covered by Tera Melos
This song was originally made famous by being the opening theme song for the ’90s Nickelodeon show The Adventures of Pete & Pete. Tera Melos’ cover sticks closely to the sound of the original with a few adjustments. Besides a slight tempo boost, the most significant change is that halfway through the song it segues into a cover of The Beach Boys‘ “God Only Knows” before returning back to the original cover. The transitions are surprisingly smooth and blend two songs perfectly despite being separated by genres and decades. This two-for-one cover takes a good song and makes it better in the most unexpected way possible.