Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Question of the Week: What is your favorite cover song?

My Question of the Week is a pretty easy one, I think: What’s your favorite cover song? Now, I have to add a caveat, because of course I do! I do not mean the cover song you think is a far better version of the original – that’s a whole other Question of the Week! I just mean what cover song is your favorite. You can like it and the original both equally, or even still like the original better, but you just happen to love the cover version!

For me, I have a few. Of course I do! I think my absolute favorite cover song is “Sympathy” by Jane’s Addiction, which they did on their live album from 1987:

Perry’s voice is so weird, much weirder than Mick’s, and I love the drumming (Charlie Watts is NOT a favorite of mine), and Navarro’s guitar is stunning. I love the original, and I don’t like this one MORE than it, but dang, this is a cool version.

I have a few others that come close, and if you catch me on the right day, I might pick one of these. I can’t believe Scissor Sisters had the balls to turn “Comfortably Numb” into a disco tune, but dang, it bangs:

I LOVE Van Halen’s cover of “Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now),” with Jan van Halen on clarinet:

Fish did an album of cover songs in 1993 to finish his contract with Polydor (a dick move, sure, but whatever), and I like all the songs, but his cover of Pink Floyd’s “Fearless” is excellent (Floyd again?!?!?):

I like Violent Femmes’ “Children of the Revolution” more than T. Rex’s version (but let’s not get into that now!), and wow, they made a nifty video for it:

Joe Jackson’s “Got the Time” is a minor classic, but Anthrax really did a nice cover of it, too (despite Jackson thinking it was terrible):

Those are the ones that leap to mind when I think “my favorite cover songs.” What are yours?


  1. This is NOT an easy question. At all.
    Lots of songs that most people think as originals are covers. Good Lovin’ – the Rascals; Twist and Shout – the Isley Brothers; Go Now – the Moody Blues. Respect – Aretha. there are scads of them.
    Heck, I’m hard-pressed to pick my favorite cover of a Beatles song, let alone the whole universe of music.
    Then there are the definitional issues. e.g. Grapevine https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Heard_It_Through_the_Grapevine
    And do you count re-covers? I’d consider Crying by Roy Orbison and k.d. lang

    1. Greg Burgas

      I will consider whatever you think of as a cover, sir! 🙂

      The best cover of a Beatles song is obviously PM Dawn’s Norwegian Wood. I mean, come on.

      I like hitting you guys with the hard questions!!!!

    2. Peter

      My hot take of the day is that Otis Redding’s original version of Respect is still cooler than Aretha’s version. I do think her version imbues the song with a new meaning and depth, but the horn riff and the “hey hey hey!”s in the original are just so dang catchy!

      1. Wikipedia: “Go Now” is a song composed by Larry Banks and Milton Bennett and first recorded by Bessie Banks, released as a single in January 1964. The best-known version was recorded by The Moody Blues and released the same year.

        Someone made me a mixed CD of originals a decade or so ago.

          1. John King

            I would say that the reason was that is was a very early Moody Blues song and :-
            1) they had not yet established their musical identity
            2) they still had the original line-up with Denny Laine on lead vocals. Justin Heywood and John Lodge joined after Denny Laine left

            and back to the topic
            One good cover of a Moody Blues song was the Four Tops version of “A Simple Game”

          2. Le Messor

            I kind of figured the first one; didn’t give any thought to line-up changes.

            The Four Tops have covered the Moody Blues? Awesome!
            (Cue Simpsons reference.)

  2. Peter

    The canonical answer for me would be Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower” – the original Dylan recording is a fine piece of music, but the Hendrix version only amplifies the apocalyptic power of the music and lyrics. (Hendrix also did a definitive version of “Hey Joe,” to the point where I’m not sure how many people realize that song was a cover anymore…)

    There are a lot of covers I appreciate, though, and my answer can vary a lot depending on the day of the week. Creedence’s version of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” is one of the few 10-minute jams I never tire of. Alex Chilton’s version of “What’s Your Sign Girl” is a super silly song that’s just so well-played and off-the-wall that I love it. Charles Bradley’s version of Black Sabbath’s “Changes” turns a pretty lame song into a soulful masterpiece. Marshall Crenshaw’s cover of “Knowing Me, Knowing You” made me appreciate ABBA.

    One song where I flip-flop between thinking the original is superior and the famous cover might be better is “Take Me to the River.” The Al Green original is fantastic and powerful… but the Talking Heads version is just freakin’ cool in its own way, too. We should have gotten more paranoid new wave versions of soul classics!

    1. Le Messor

      “Santana’s cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Black Magic Woman” – one that most people don’t even realize is a cover”

      I actually thought that was the other way around!

    2. Ecron Muss

      The year Fleetwood Mac were inducted in the rock & roll hall of fame, Peter Green (who wrote BMW) didn’t play with Fleetwood Mac, but did jam with Santana.

      Spectral is the best way I can put it. Carlos blazes, but Peter is something else, particularly through the Gypsy Queen (Gábor Szabó) section. His subtlety and humility speak volumes.

  3. Eric van Schaik

    Voivod has a great version of Astronomy Domine, a Pink Floyd song. They also covered Pink Floyds The Nile Song.
    Siouxsie and the Banshees made an album with covers, and Kraftwerks Hall of Mirrors is the best track. There version of the Billy Holliday song Strange Fruit is also a great one.

  4. Darthratzinger

    So, so many great cover versions, hm? Leaving out obscure metal/hardcore bands covering other obscure metal/hardcore bands I would say:
    – I´ll second Anthrax “Got The Time”-Cover. It stands out on the album which is otherwise all 5-6 minute technical mid-tempo songs.
    – Bruce Springsteen – War. Great cover (by i´ve got no clue) on my all-time favorite live album.
    – Social Distortion – Under My Thumb. I hate the Stones but I love this cover.
    – Judas Priest – Diamonds And Rust. Once again I don´t know the original but this version is so so good.
    – Slayer and Ice-T – Disorder (Discharge-Cover, actually three songs mashed into one). Man, I listened to the Judgement Night soundtrack so many times. At some point I saw the actual movie, and yes, it´s really bad.
    – Nine Inch Nails – Dead Souls (Joy Division-Cover). Yup, also the The Crow soundtrack rules and at least that movie is entertaining. And speaking of Nine Inch Nails.
    – Johnny Cash – Hurt (NIN-Cover). Goosebumps.
    – The Cardigans – Iron Man (Black Sabbath-Cover). An unexpected combination and Nina is just an absolute dream, then and now. Check out the live version from Birmingham in 2018 on YouTube. By the way, were the Cardigans ever successful in the States?
    – And finally: the entire soundtrack to the movie The Commitments which is all Soul Covers by the fictitious band of the same name. I don´t know how successful the movie was outside of Germany but in the nineties every second household here had the soundtrack and some of the musicians including the singer did a couple tours ( which basically was just a higher profile cover band). The movie is really funny though.

    1. Le Messor

      Bruce Springsteen – War. Great cover (by i´ve got no clue)
      I don’t know it, but I’m gonna go ahead and assume it’s the Edwin Starr song.

      Speaking of metal covers, you’ve reminded me of Alchemist’s Eve Of The War somehow. (Original: Jeff Wayne)

      1. Darthratzinger

        Thanks. Just checked it out on YouTube and You´re correct. That is a very good song by a guy I´ve never heard of. Weird disconnect between the overdone smile and the subject matter of the song.

        1. Le Messor

          He’s a one-hit wonder; it’s a great hit,but his only one that I know of. (I’ve never seen the clip, though. I should look it up soonish.)
          Frankie Goes To Hollywood also do a good cover of it.

  5. John King

    lots of great cover versions out there
    Elvis Presley did good versions of “Hound Dog” and “Blue Suede Shoes”
    Elvis Costello did a good version of “Don’t Let me be misunderstood”
    George Michael & May J Blige did a good duet of Stevie Wonder’s “As”

    and there are great covers of songs for which I’ve never heard the original
    “I see Red” by Clannad
    “Man Smart, Woman Smarter” by Robert Palmer
    “Richard Cory” by Wings (live version from Wings over America)

    the Johnny Cash version of “Hurt” has already been mentioned

    And then there is the They Might Be Giants version of “Istanbul (not Constantinople)”

    1. Le Messor

      “Man Smart, Woman Smarter” by Robert Palmer
      Weirdly enough, the version I know best is (I think?) the Harry Belafonte original, but the only one I actually own is by Dream Warriors.

      I’ve heard Cash’s Hurt, and it’s good, but the only version I own is by Gregorian.

  6. Terrible-D

    Baby Huey covering Curtis Mayfield’s Hard Times. Moves the soul.
    Bonus, Rza sampled this version for the song Buck 50, on Ghostface Killah’s second album.

    1. Le Messor

      Judy Collins cover of a Leonard Cohen song
      Which, of course, brings us to John Cale’s Hallelujah.

      Oh, and pretty much every Joe Cocker song is a cover, some of them very good. (I don’t only like metal covers!)

  7. Jeff Nettleton

    I’ll second Elvis Costello and add a cover of a different Elvis: The Fine Young Cannibals’ cover of “Suspicious Minds.” They make it their own, but still manage to capture the feel of the Elvis original.

    Sticking with Elvis, his cover of Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes.” Love Carl’s version; but….Elvis!

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