Cover songs play a vital role in the music industry. Many bands have been launched on the back of a great cover – going on to perform and record original music. There have also been a number of artists who are already great in their own right who have a hit with a cover song. This list deals with the latter category. If you know of other excellent covers that are better than the original, be sure to mention it in the comments.
Original: Bob Marley
One of many covers that The Clash and Strummer did over the years, and also The Clash is also a highly covered band. It was not uncommon in the late 70s and early 80s for English and American bands to cover reggae songs and ‘bring them to the masses’ .
Original: Tears for Fears
From the Donnie Darko soundtrack, this cover of the Tears for Fears track is an infinitely better version of the song, and also a perfect piece of music for the dark themes explored in the movie.
Original: John Kongos
Classic Ryder take on great rambling dance hall shuffle from South Africa. While the lyric ‘Oh he lied, oooh he’s twistin’ my melon man’ sounded perfectly logical coming from Shaun Ryders Ecstasy fuelled mind, it wasn’t his line.
Original: Brenda Lee
Neil Tennant always had an ear for the sublime hook. And with this cover of Brenda Lee’s 1972 song, that was also covered by Elvis Presley (1972) Wilie Nelson (1982), the Petshop Boys took the song to a UK Number One.
Original: Public Enemy
An agitated mesh of distorted trip hop layered electronica, growls and most the introduction to the world of the stunning Martina Topley-Bird on lead vocals. Tricky credited Public Enemy with being a massive influence on him, but along with Massive Attack and Portishead, Tricky was massively influential in creating the Bristol Sound, or Trip Hop.
Original: The Four Lads
A strange piece this one, but every time I hear it, I can’t help but start nodding and tapping my feet. From the hugely underrated album Flood this song by the two Johns was one of their break through hits, alongside Particle Man and Birdhouse in your Soul.
Original: Trent Reznor
Reznor was famously was quoted as saying ‘that song isn’t mine anymore’ and earned Cash a Country Music Award for Single of the Year. The music video for the Cash version features footage from his life.
Broke this Sydney band on the world stage when their cover of the German trio Alphavilles 80s hit Forever Young was played on an American soap opera The OC.
Original: David Bowie
Was played endlessly by MTV following the news of Kurt Cobain’s passing. This cover of the Bowie song from the 1994 Nirvana album Unplugged in New York showed that there was a lot more to Cobain than the howling grunge sound that Nirvana among others had pioneered.
Sinead O’Connor had a world wide number one hit in 1990 with this cover of the Prince track originally performed by The Family in 1985. O’Connor’s version is the definitive version, and after the song became a number hit in the US, Australia, Germany and the UK, Prince even began to perform the song at his live shows.
Original: Leonard Cohen
Was always going to make this list, for its break through that it gave Jeff Buckley. Although Cohen’s version is actually more moving, the Buckley cover reached a newer generation that had not heard of Cohen.