Rocktober might mean a little something different to every writer here at WFNY, but for me, it’s a month of celebrating music. Nowhere is music better celebrated than at a live show, and one of the main ingredients of a truly great live show is the inclusion of a phenomenal cover song.
A few months ago I attended the Foo Fighters show at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, and as great as the Foo Fighters were, the thing that made the night the most special to me was their inclusion of this excellent cover of Pink Floyd’s “In The Flesh?”. You expect a band to play their own songs, but the cover song is like an unexpected gift from the band to the audience.
Cover songs don’t just belong in live shows, though. Sometimes they make nice supplements to an album or a great B-Side accompanying a band’s single. In general, I love cover songs. Whether live or recorded in a studio, I love nothing more than hearing an artist really listen to the core of another band’s song, and then rearrange it and apply said song in the spirit of the artist’s own vision, while still trying to stay true to the soul of the original.
Rocktober at WFNY is going to be including more roundtable discussions, essays, etc, but I intend to include some lists as well. Some will take the form of a playlist, others will be a countdown. This one is a playlist I made a few years back. A 2 disc album of my all time favorite cover songs.
Check out my list, and then let me know what I missed. What are your favorite cover songs?
“SONGS THESE GUYS DIDN’T WRITE (MY ALL-TIME FAVORITE COVER SONGS)”
Artist – Song Title (Original Artist)
01 – A Perfect Circle – “Annihilation” (Crucifix)
Simplistic and unique, Maynard’s haunting whisper resonates deeply with a firm warning about nations building up for war. If you truly want to understand what is so brilliant about this cover, check out the original sometime. What Maynard and company accomplished with this song is nothing short of astounding.
02 – Deftones – “Simple Man” (Lynryrd Skynyrd)
If you’re anything like me, you’ve always wondered what would happen if a California heavy experimental art-rock band decided to cover a quintessential southern rock song. Thankfully, we no longer have to wonder. Stephen Carpenter’s guitars stay true to the original, but everything is slowed down to give it a more eerie vibe. And then Chino’s atmospheric vocals are what truly make this song one of my favorite cover songs of all time.
03 – Rise Against – “For What It’s Worth” (Buffalo Springfield)
I absolutely love it when modern punk bands pick up their acoustic guitars and cover old folk songs. This cover comes from their AOL Sessions, and should really come as no surprise for anyone who knows anything about this band and their unabashed love for all things Neil Young.
04 – Primus – “Have A Cigar” (Pink Floyd)
Honestly, just listen to Claypool’s bass on this one. Nothing more needs to be said about this gem.
05 – Johnny Cash – “Rusty Cage” (Soundgarden)
I’ve already professed my love for punk bands covering folk songs, well, it kinda works in reverse, too, as I have a thing for country folk singers covering 90s grunge hits. This one is amazing….pure genius and given the kind of warmth only the legend himself can provide.
06 – The Jimi Hendrix Experience – “All Along The Watchtower” (Bob Dylan)
You honestly didn’t think I could make an album of the coolest cover songs of all time and not include this one, did you? Bob Dylan’s minimalistic masterpiece is taken to a completely different level by one of the absolute greatest guitarists of all time. Jimi understood the very soul of this song, and knew he had to give it his own flair and personal make-over. It’s amazing how the same song can lie on polar opposite ends of the scale but still resonate on the same level both ways.
07 – Soundgarden – “Come Together” (The Beatles)
Everyone always raves about Aerosmith’s cover of this song, but for my money, it doesn’t get any better than Soundgarden’s vision for this song. Whereas Aerosmith simply tried to update the sound of the song, Soundgarden overhauled it into this dark, creepy version with deep roots in the musical movement of the time.
08 – Social Distortion – “Ring Of Fire” (Johnny Cash)
Just listen to Mike Ness’s soulful bellowing of this classic Johnny Cash tune. It’s the ultimate in irony as Social D did EXACTLY to this song what Johnny Cash has done to many of today’s modern hits. Good stuff.
09 – Eagles Of Death Metal – “Stuck In The Metal” (Stealers Wheel)
Doesn’t exactly deviate that far from the original (which is actually titled “Stuck In The Middle With You”), I applaud this one more for the choice of song itself than for the execution of the cover.
10 – Tool – “No Quarter” (Led Zeppelin)
Awesome rendition of one of my all time favorite Zep songs. Danny Carey’s drumming on this cut is unreal. Interestingly enough, if I had any complaint for this one, it would be with Maynard’s vocals. It’s not too often I criticize anything Maynard sings, but on this one, the vocal effects just don’t completely do it for me.
11 – Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Fire” (Jimi Hendrix)
A bunch of Jimi Hendrix Experience wannabes (I mean that in a good way) covering the band themselves. Poetic justice.
12 – Thursday – “Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)?” (The Buzzcocks)
I have always loved loved loved this song. A true classic. It also happens to be one of the most covered songs in punk rock circles. Thursday’s version is one of the newer covers I have ever heard and there’s just something beautiful about the melody in this version.
13 – Nine Inch Nails – “Physical (You’re So)” (Adam & The Ants)
Dirty and visceral, this cover song has always spoken to me for some reason. I just love the way Trent Reznor pushes this song out through his own lens and way of looking at the world. It’s one of those songs that you would have no reason to suspect the covering artists didn’t actually write themselves.
14 – Dropkick Murphys – “The Guns Of Brixton” (The Clash)
Get used to seeing the Dropkick Murphys on this list. In my opinion, they are among the absolute best bands at covering songs. Not only did I include 3 of their songs on this list, 2 of which are Clash covers, but I left off probably at least 6 or 7 others that I considered for inclusion including Amazing Grace, Fortunate Son, Flannagan’s Ball, The Fields Of Athenry, etc. As for this one, “The Guns Of Brixton”, well, it’s a little cliché to cover this song, but the Dropkicks keep it more raw than most artists do when they cover it.
15 – Senses Fail – “Institutionalized” (Suicidal Tendencies)
Man, I remember spending HOURS in high school in my room with this song on repeat, cranked up in my headphones. Teenage angst and frustration at it’s finest. I still love this song to this day, and to hear a modern band try to take on Mike Muir’s tricky vocal stylings and to succeed quite well at it is just really cool in my book.
16 – Ben Folds Five – “She Don’t Use Jelly” (The Flaming Lips)
This one always is sure to put a smile on my face, whether it be the original or this classic cover.
17 – Nirvana – “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” (Unknown Origins)
Before you start trying to tell me that the origins aren’t unknown and that Lead Belly wrote this one, it’s not true. It’s a common misnomer to label this as a Lead Belly song. In fact, Lead Belly’s version was just a great cover in its own right. This is an OLD traditional folk song dating back to like the 1860s or something like that and passed down from generation to generation orally. This is honestly my favorite vocal from Kurt out of all of Nirvana’s recordings.
18 – John Frusciante – “Today Your Love, Tomorrow The World” (The Ramones)
Unreal version of 1 of my top 5 favorite Ramones songs. Frusciante takes the song in a completely different direction and pulls it off with fluid ease.
19 – Rise Against – “Fix Me” (Black Flag)
This one is from the “Nervous Breakdown” EP, which is one of my all time favorite music releases. Probably in my Top 10. The cover is pretty well executed, and since I included a very different, acoustic cover from Rise Against, I wanted to show the other side of their ability to cover an artist.
01 – Smashing Pumpkins – “Landslide” (Fleetwood Mac)
This is what cover songs are all about. Quirky and original, Billy creates a stunning and beautiful rendition of a fairly awful song (no offense to Fleetwood Mac fans).
02 – Deftones – “No Ordinary Love” (Sade)
Again, another bizarre take by one of the most unique bands alive. I absolutely love this cover, much like Simple Man. Chino Moreno’s vocals are over the top (in a good way) as he takes on smooth R&B vocal stylings. I never know how to describe the Deftones to people, and songs like this doesn’t make it any easier.
03 – Pet Shop Boys – “Always On My Mind” (Brenda Lee)
Ok, so most people know this as really an Elvis cover, not a Brenda Lee cover. Regardless, this deliciously 80s cover of the Elvis classic falls somewhere between brilliant and hilarious. Sometimes it’s hard to decide which.
04 – A Perfect Circle – “Imagine” (John Lennon)
One of the most over-covered songs of all time by people who have no business trying to sing this song. But with that being said, few people can match the exceptional vocal chops of one Maynard James Keenan, and once again this song is no exception. Maynard even manages to add a hint of extra sadness that is hidden somewhere in the subtlety of the original.
05 – Gary Jules – “Mad World” (Tears For Fears)
Most people know this song from the film Donnie Darko, but I really remember it more from those epic trailers for the video game Gears of War. Something about this chilling song being played over images of insane battle scenes just stuck with me. Anyway, it really is a beautiful song.
06 – Guns ‘N’ Roses – “It’s Alright” (Black Sabbath)
Axl Rose at his artistic finest, sitting at a piano and belting out a just beautiful melody. The original was actually sung by Sabbath drummer Bill Ward on the album. I’m not a big fan of the Sabbath version, but I think the GNR cover is stellar.
07 – Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Higher Ground” (Stevie Wonder)
A criminally overlooked song. So many people forget the Red Hot Chili Peppers made music before “Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magik”. This one comes from my 2nd favorite RHCP album, “Mother’s Milk” and does Stevie proud.
08 – H.I.M. – “Wicked Game” (Chris Isaak)
A rather bizarre take on the Chris Isaak hit. It shows innovation and ingenuity, and never got the recognition I thought it deserved.
09 – The Dan Band – “Genie In A Bottle/No Scrubs/I’m A Slave 4 U” (Christina Aguilera/TLC/Britney Spears)
This one pretty much speaks for itself. It’s a fine line between cover and parody in the world of The Dan Band.
10 – Chris Cornell – “Billie Jean” (Michael Jackson)
My all time favorite vocalist covering my all time favorite pop song. Like this one wasn’t going to make the cut.
11 – KISS – “Do You Remember Rock N Roll Radio?” (The Ramones)
I fell in love with this cover the instant I heard it. Maintains the original vibe, but is done with the usual KISS flair. Normally I’m not a huge KISS fan, but I give them credit for this cover.
12 – The Clash – “I Fought The Law” (The Crickets)
The self-proclaimed “only band that matters” delivered the goods with this one. I don’t know anything about the original song, but this list felt like it needed a Clash song on it.
13 – Rancid – “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker” (The Ramones)
I’m sure I’m now going into the stretch of this CD that few, if any, of you will appreciate, but this one made the list because it’s one of my absolute favorite bands covering the godfathers of punk.
14 – MxPx – “The KKK Took My Baby Away” (The Ramones)
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m a sucker for people covering The Ramones. This one is no exception. After having to hear Marilyn Manson butcher this song, one of my favorites, I just had to put this redeeming version from a solid veteran punk band.
15 – Dropkick Murphys – “The Kids Are Alright” (The Who)
16 – AFI – “Head Like A Hole” (Nine Inch Nails)
AFI gets a nod of respect from me for figuring out a legit way to pull this one off. I’ve tried and tried over and over again to figure out an arrangement for this song on my guitar that works. I never got close. So I totally respect AFI for pulling this one off.
17 – Toadies – “Where Is My Mind?” (The Pixies)
The Toadies have made no secret of their affection for The Pixies and Frank Black in particular, so again, it shouldn’t be that surprising to see this awesome cover show up on their first live album.
18 – Jeff Buckley – “Hallelujah” (Leonard Cohen)
Like you could make any kind of cover song compilation and not include this one. Simple, yet larger than life.
19 – Johnny Cash – “Hurt” (Nine Inch Nails)
The song that sparked the re-introduction of Johnny Cash to mainstream pop culture just has to be included. I still much prefer the Rusty Cage rendition to this one, but I couldn’t omit this one from the list.
20 – Dropkick Murphys – “White Riot” (The Clash)
I can honestly think of no other way to end this thing. It’s not your typical closing track, but when I think about the Zenith of punk rock cover songs, it’s without a doubt this energy driven shredding of the classic Clash song.