CLUAS - Irish indie music webzine
CLUAS on Facebook CLUAS on MySpace CLUAS on Twitter

Ten Great Cover Versions

The Cover Version. Its phenomenon continues to drive the music industry with air-brushed, sterile interpretations choking daytime radio. Rare indeed are the moments it succeeds in delving to a place beyond that inhabited by the original. Fortunate and inspiring are those instances when it does happen. Here's a selection of ten such moments as nominated by various visitors to CLUAS.

Gun
'Word Up'

Spiritualized
'Any Way That You Want Me'

Years before Mel B or C messed it up Scottish one hit wonder 'Gun' did a brilliant cover version of this classic by Cameo. Their version gave the song a harder edge and showed that you didn't have to have a high pitched voice to sing it. When that talentless idiot Mel covered it I recalled Gun's version which I hadn't heard in a couple of years. I wondered why that was. The simple reason is that nobody remembers one hit bands especially the ones whose hit is a cover. A pity as I wouldn't be surprised if other forgotten bands did great cover versions. And to those of you who think Nirvana's 'The man who sold the world' is a much better cover than this I advise you listen to David Bowie's original version, as well as both versions of 'Word Up'. I think you will then find that, unlike Nirvana, Gun actually improve on the original. (submitted by Emmet Ryan) First off; because I've been a poor guitar player I love both Spiritualized and the Troggs - finally I could play real songs. After splitting with Spacemen 3, Jason Pierce started Spiritualized off with this Garage Band Classic. Wonderful monotony, great pop lyrics, a slow bit and a fast bit, everything you could wish for. If not the best cover version of all time, definitely the best Troggs' cover version. Cruelly I remember discovering 'Love is all around' about three weeks before Wet Wet Wet released it on the back of 'Four Weddings'. For that brief period of time it was one of my all-time pop classics, until those Scottish b*st*rds came along and kicked it to pieces. (submitted by Jack Murphy)

Kristen Hersh
'Panic Pure'

John Coltrane
'My Favourite Things
'

To take a song as majestic as Vic Chesnutt's "Panic Pure", totally reinvent it without losing any of the original's beauty, and ultimately make a great song even better, is some achievement. No-one else on the tribute album "Gravity of the Situation - Sweet Relief II" (including REM, Garbage, Smashing Pumpkins) even came  close to matching Vic's originals. But Kristin did, and then some! Staggering. (submitted by Ollie O'Leary) John ColtraneThere is much that detestable about jazz, cover versions and musicals. Fortunately John Coltrane's take on this well known song from 'The Sound of Music' avoided the pitfalls of all three areas and instead constructed one of the most beautiful pieces of music of the 20th Century. If a jazz soloist's excursions can be described as a search for the perfect note, then Coltrane's work here is one of the century's most important explorations. He blows hot, he blows cold, he swings and it sings. F****n' bangin'. (submitted by Bulstrode)

Emmy Lou Harris
'Wrecking Ball'

The Slits
'I heard it through the Grapevine'

Does a cover version still constitute a cover version if the original singer appears on it?!? In 1995, Emmylou Harris hooked up with producer Daniel Lanois to produce a wide-ranging, daring and downright thrilling album of cover versions culled from the majestic pens of Hendrix, Dylan & Earle. The centrepiece and title track of this meeting of minds was acover of Neil Young's 'Wrecking Ball'. Emmylou's piercing vocal keening over the top of Young's delicate voice on that wonderful chorus: 'Meet me at the wrecking ball, I'll wear something pretty and white, and we'll go dancing tonight'. In truth, I could have picked any song from this album, an album which is close to my heart. I find myself humming this one all the time and the hairs still rise on my neck when I hear that ringing guitar. A great song sang by one of the great singers. And an album full of such moments. How lucky we are. (Submitted by Stephen McNulty) This masterful reworking of the 1969 Marvin Gaye classic appeared on the B-side of 'Typical Girls' by seminal all-girl punk band, The Slits. Budgie, of Siouxsie and the Banshees fame played on the A-side, but Palmolive provided the percussion for this interpretation of the old soul classic. Recorded in 1979 on Island records, lead singer Ari-Up was just 16 years old. The Slits version is an exercise in subfuse reggae, soaked in murky basslines with plenty of dub-influenced drumming from Palmolive. Ari-up's stilted vocals make her sound like an insolent, haughty child. The trio hum the opening bars of the song before a dark, dirty bass kicks in, swallows the original whole, and spits it back out. One of the best examples around of how to cover a song with real imagination while sounding like you couldn't care less. (submitted by Sinead Gleeson)

Radiohead
'Nobody does it better'

This Mortal Coil
'Song to the Siren'

Although they never actually released it, Radiohead performed this Carly Simon classic for MTV in 1995 - the year that saw them progress from no-hopers to media darlings, mainly due to the success of their seemingly effortless 2nd album 'The Bends'. The song itself was declared by singer Thom Yorke as "the sexiest song ever written" and judging by his, and the band's performance you can see exactly what he means. Thin Yorke is clearly enjoying himself singing this song and at certain points in the song ("nobody does it better/but sometimes I wish someone would") one can almost detect a snigger of excitement coming from the lead singer which, for me, makes the performance so unique. If you take a couple of weeks off work and watch MTV twenty four hours a day you might just be lucky enough to see it, otherwise you'll have to take my word for it. Thanks Carly, but this song belongs to Radiohead. (submitted by Ken Coogan) Some time in 1985. I think. Was it on Fanning's Fab 50 I heard it first? Not sure. But I do remember one thing. Being immediately and utterly rattled from my 13 year old self's U2-centric view of the world. The Tim Buckley song, remoulded in such a way that it defies any attempt at hitting the keyboard of my PC. Its 4 minutes don't constitute when others might call a 'classic'. They are beyond the too-often trivial use of that word. It sounds and, more significantly, moves like no other piece of music I've ever heard. It's not just Liz Cocteau's voice. Not just the raw lyric. Not just the searing instrumentation. It's that twisted, indescribable thing I can only clumsily refer to as the whole. (submitted by Eoghan O'Neill)

Billy Bragg
'Walk Away Renee'

Frente
'Bizarre Love Triangle'

Not a cover in the strict sense, the b-side of "Levi Stubbs' Tears" (also to be found on 'Reaching to the Converted', BB's new collection of b-sides and rarities), has Johnny Marr playing the melody of the original song on acoustic guitar, with Billy talking over the top. Marr's playing is perfect - warm, wistful, honest - but it's the words that touched my seventeen year old heart when I heard it first in a way few songs had before (or have since). So much so that I told a girl I knew then to listen to this song and she'd know what it's like to be a boy. Ten years later the song doesn't describe me as well as it once did but it will always have a special place in my heart. (submitted by Cormac Parle). The only thing of note that they have done in an otherwise unremarkable career, Frente's inspired version of New Order's 1986 single gives new meaning to the word 'unplugged'. They took a sprawling epic complete with vodacoder-type vocals and trimmed it down to one gal, a guitar and a simple love song: 'every time I think of you/ I feel shot right through with a bolt of blue'. Only to be found on their otherwise fairly poor 1994 album ' Marvin: The Album'. (submitted by Caroline Hennessy)

(bullet) Next time it'll be TEN great music videos. Send us your nominations now!

Also make sure you check out the other ten lists:
(bullet) ten great film soundtracks
(bullet) ten great one-hit wonders
(bullet) ten great hidden album tracks
(bullet) ten great b-sides
(bullet) ten great debut albums
(bullet) ten great rock & pop instrumentals
(bullet) ten great naff songs of the eighties
(bullet) ten great album openers
(bullet) ten great Irish singles that time forgot

 

Subscribe to the CLUAS email newsletter:

E-mail address: number of newsletter subscribers

Check out as well the archive of newsletters we have sent out over the years.