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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Cover Versions That Surpass the Originals

posted by on October 22 at 14:42 PM

Hearing LCD Soundsystem’s rendition of Harry Nilsson’s “Jump Into the Fire” on KEXP this morning prompted me to ponder the phenomenon of covers that may be better than the originals (totally subjective, of course, but it’s fun to play). As fantastic as Nilsson’s “Jump” is, I think James Murphy & Co. just may have nudged out the blueprint.

Off the top of my head, I give you a few more examples:

Aretha Franklin topping Otis Redding’s “Respect”
Spacemen 3 over the Red Krayola’s “Transparent Radiation”
Bauhaus surprisingly besting T.Rex’s “Telegram Sam”
Anything the Byrds did from the Bob Dylan songbook
Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower” over Dylan’s
Mercury Rev soaring over David Bowie’s “Memory of a Free Festival”
Skylab triumphing over Kim Fowley’s “The Trip”
Loop edging out the Pop Group’s “Thief of Fire”
Stevie Wonder beating by a nose the Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out”
And some days I think Devo’s version of “Satisfaction” is better than the Rolling Stones’ and Primal Scream’s “Slip Inside This House” is superior to the Thirteenth Floor Elevators’.

What are your picks?

Nilsson’s “Jump Into the Fire”

RSS icon Comments

1

Well, to point out a local example, I prefer The Cops' cover of "The Lowdown" to Wire's original.

Posted by Hernandez | October 22, 2008 3:14 PM
2

Smith's cover of "Baby, It's You" far surpasses The Shirelles original in my opinion.

Oh, and you mentioned "Telegram Sam" (which I agree with) but I also think the Bauhaus cover of "Third Uncle" is superior to the Brian Eno original. And that's coming from a big Eno fan...

Posted by Amnesiac79 | October 22, 2008 3:20 PM
3

Bowie's Let's Spend the Night Together.
Sonic Youth's Superstar.
Johnny Cash's Hurt.
Alberto y Los Trios Paranoias' Anarchy in the UK.

Posted by ratzkywatzky | October 22, 2008 3:29 PM
4

Alison Krauss' version of "Baby Now That I've Found You" (Foundations)

Doors' cover of "Alabama Song" (Kurt Weill)

Elvis Costello's version of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" (Animals)

Lenny Kravitz's version of "American Woman" (The Guess Who)

Ben Folds Five's version of "She Don't Use Jelly" (Flaming Lips)

PUSA's version of "Video Killed the Radio Star" (Buggles)

Erin McKeown's cover of "Rhode Island is Famous For You" (Blossom Dearie)

Dudley Manlove's version of any Neil Diamond song

Posted by shelmac | October 22, 2008 3:42 PM
5

I was so disappointed to find that Modest Mouse's "Float On" was not a cover of The Floaters.

Posted by ratzkywatzky | October 22, 2008 4:20 PM
6

Death 'Painkiller' by Judas Priest

Mighty Bosstones 'Enter Sandman' by Metallica

Dinosaur Jr 'Just Like Heaven' by The Cure

Anthrax 'Bring The Noise' by Public Enemy

Posted by bobcat | October 22, 2008 4:31 PM
7

oh yeah Slayer covering 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida' by Iron Butterfly off of the Less Than Zero soundtrack is pretty f'n sweet. I play that on rotation quite often.

Posted by bobcat | October 22, 2008 4:33 PM
8

Widespread covered the Doors "Riders on the Storm" one time. It was badass.

Posted by trent moorman | October 22, 2008 4:36 PM
9

highly debatable:

this mortal coil 'song to the siren' > tim buckley 'song to the siren'

Posted by cosby | October 22, 2008 4:42 PM
10

Where would "Wooden Ships" fit into this question? It was co-written by members of both Jefferson Airplane and Crosby, Stills & Nash, and both groups recorded excellent versions the same year (1969). Which counts as the "original" and which as the "cover"?

Discuss.

Posted by Cookie W. Monster | October 22, 2008 5:50 PM
11

Stevie Wonder's cover of "We Can Work It Out" is my all-time favorite song. The original does nothing for me. I also love:

"100,000 Fireflies"-Superchunk
"Police On My Back"-The Clash
"Wild Horses"-Flying Burrito Brothers

Posted by Cristin | October 22, 2008 6:32 PM
12

Nina Hagen's cover of "The Lord's Prayer"
Negativland's cover of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For"
Ciccone Youth's cover of "Burnin' Up" (w/ Mike Watt)
Wayne McGhie's cover of "Take A Letter, Maria"

Posted by Chris Estey | October 22, 2008 6:49 PM
13

the red hot chili peppers' version of the stooges "search & destroy" is a billion times better than the original.

yes i am drunk.

Posted by douchebag watson | October 22, 2008 7:53 PM
14

Artic Monkeys cover of Amy Winehouse's "You Know I'm No Good"

I agree though, this Nilsson song is AWESOME. I was stunned by it when I first heard it, in high school in the mid-80s. The setting: Driving through the gulches at night on the Big Island of Hawaii. My mom lived there at the time and played in on a mix tape in the car. It's quite a dramatic visual image to accompany the song.

Posted by Dod | October 22, 2008 10:28 PM
15

Jeff Buckley's version of Hallelujah raises the song to places Leonard Cohen (in all his brilliance) could never take it.

Posted by Ben | October 23, 2008 8:31 AM
16

The Epoxies version of "Clones (We're All)", originally done by Alice Cooper, is a personal favorite.

Also:
Spoon's version of "Tear Me Down" from Hedwig isn't better than the original, per se, but it is definitely an awesome cover.

Posted by Billy Nilly | October 23, 2008 9:19 AM
17

Treepeople's cover of the Smith's "Big Mouth Strikes Again."

Posted by Jeff | October 23, 2008 10:51 AM
18

I second Dinosaur Jr and Treepeople, disagree on Byrds/Dylan, would like to add "Please let me get what I want" Halo Bender best The Smiths. I may be alone in that opinion.

Posted by Bob | October 23, 2008 11:23 AM
19

Johnny Cash's version of Nick Cave's The Mercy Seat is the definitive version. In fact, a lot of those Cash covers on Rick Rubin's American label outdo the originals -- I agree on Hurt, for instance.

Also agree on the Byrds -- should add that "Turn, Turn, Turn" is also a cover and far exceeds Pete Seger's original. (If only the Wonder Years and every other Boomer nostalgia effort hadn't pounded it into the ground...)

I prefer Devo's Satisfaction because I believe Mothersbaugh when he's complaining that he can't get laid. I never bought it coming from Mick, who sounded like he was probably gettin' some satisfaction while the recording was being made.

Posted by flamingbanjo | October 23, 2008 12:19 PM
20

Afghan Whigs "Band of Gold" and by the slimmest of margins Faith No More "Easy"

Posted by gastrdelsol | October 23, 2008 12:23 PM
21

I forgot this one (just to piss off the metal heads):

The Cardigans' "Iron Man" over Black Sabbath's.

Let the flaming commence...

Posted by segal | October 23, 2008 12:25 PM
22

Fudge Tunnel doing 'sunshine of your love'
Scatterbrain - 'earache my eye'

Posted by bobcat | October 23, 2008 2:39 PM
23

Glass Candy's cover of Kraftwerk's "Computer Love" gets my vote

Posted by Jeff Kirby | October 23, 2008 3:39 PM
24

Heresy, Jeff.

Posted by segal | October 23, 2008 3:56 PM
25

*SO* wrong about the Red Krayola.

Posted by levide | October 23, 2008 4:07 PM
26

Oh, I almost forgot! The Man Who Sold the World.

Posted by flamingbanjo | October 23, 2008 5:59 PM
27

The Lucksmith's "Falling Off Of My Feet Again" is better than the original by The Siddeleys.

Posted by Fnarf | October 23, 2008 5:59 PM
28

levide: I waver on that one. Both versions are great, but I think Spacemen 3 really open up the song and blow up its innate beauty, which seems overly cramped and murky in the Red Krayola original.

Posted by segal | October 23, 2008 6:00 PM
29

I can agree in regards to the openness of the Spacemen version, and its hazy drift is plenty appealing. I think where the Red Krayola's wins though in in the vocals. Thompson's got a stifled force in his delivery, as if he doesn't believe a word he's saying, that gives the song some needed tension the blissed-out Spacemen version lacks. Just IMO, of course.

Posted by levide | October 24, 2008 11:57 AM
30

@21. No, I can totally see (hear) that. I prefer Sabbath, but I love both.
However.
Petra Haden's I Can See For Miles.

Posted by ratzkywatzky | October 24, 2008 1:02 PM
31

John Yoko's cover of Papa was a Rodeo blows the original out of the water for me.

Posted by j.lee | October 24, 2008 3:28 PM
32

i second kirby, even with the heresy.

Posted by donte | October 25, 2008 1:55 PM

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