The art of what I call “cover-songing”–revamping a song that has already been recorded by another artist–is a complex task that has been a successful (and unsuccessful) endeavor for many. It allows musicians to take a song that’s typically already well-known and add their voice to it—both literally and figuratively. The ultimate goal is to make the song your own. Play with it in your hands, get the right feel and mold the former associated sentiments out of it until it’s new and, most importantly, yours.
Joe Cocker – “With a Little Help From My Friends”
Original: The Beatles
Not only is this song the epitome of nostalgia (where are my “Wonder Years” fans?), but it’s embarrassingly better than The Beatles’ original. The slightly slower tempo and projected vocals make the song a classic and, unfortunately, put my favorite English boy band to shame.
Avril Lavigne – “How You Remind Me”
For those who know my music taste as strictly rock fogeyism, allow me to prove to you that I’m a little more eclectic than that. Lavigne’s stripped-down piano version is nothing short of Canadian beauty. Surprised? Me too; I’ve never been a fan of the punk-posing singer before.
Chris Cornell – “Billie Jean”
Original: Michael Jackson
The original is known as one of the most revolutionary songs in pop music history, giving the song “untouchable” status in my book. Nevertheless, Cornell took a break from his signature heavy metal vocals and created a soulful cover of the tune, free of its former pop rhythm.
Jimi Hendrix – “All Along the Watchtower”
Original: Bob Dylan
Check this cover out if you’re looking for that perfect jam session song. Jimi Hendrix nailed this song by making it heavier and and faster. While the Minnesota man did a fine job lyrically, it was the guitar guru himself who’s deserving of the crown.
A Perfect Circle – “Imagine”
Original: John Lennon
Imagine Marilyn Manson’s cover of “Sweet Dreams are Made of This,” but not as creepy. This song is a prime example of molding an original and making it your own. The band added a tenebrous tone, replacing Lennon’s feeling of hope. It’s disturbing, and it’s a masterpiece.
Janis Joplin – “Summertime”
Original: George Gershwin
How many times has this 1935 hit been covered? An unnecessary amount of times, but Joplin’s clearly scintillates out of the bunch. Her trademark raspy voice enhances the “bluesy” touch this song thrives off of, and the two different styles of guitar keep the song dynamic and unpredictable.
Jessica Simpson – “Take My Breath Away”
Sorry all you Jessica Simpson fans, but no one should have allowed her to watch “Top Gun.” Her plain and cheesy rendition is the same as her first marriage: a failure. You got some pipes, Simpson, but re-do some of Britney Spears’ vocally-lacking songs instead (they’re more up your alley).
Strangers – “Video Games”
Original: Lana Del Rey
“Video Games” is one of those songs with major cover potential, but Strangers butchered whatever potential was there. The eerie vibe you get from Del Rey’s beautiful voice exists in Strangers’ version, but in the worst sense possible. It sounds like the band sampled random beats from Garage Band and frivolously threw them in.
Guns N’ Roses – “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”
Original: Bob Dylan
I love me some Guns N’ Roses, but not this time. Axl Rose’s voice is one of my favorites, but his whiney vocals in this meant-to-be-tamed Dylan original are unbearable.
The Script – “Lose Yourself”
Someone desperately needs to inform The Script that they cannot rap. That’s all that needs to be said here.
Ingrid Michaelson – “Somebody I Used to Know”
Original: Gotye featuring Kimbra
This cover is a result of not playing with and molding the original enough. It’s quirky, it’s alternative, but it’s the same as Gotye’s—just worse. It’s honestly not as bad as it is unnecessary.
Dolly Parton – “Stairway to Heaven”
Original: Led Zeppelin
You may be a country legend, Dolly, but your voice sounds like you’re on the brink of tears (possibly from acute pain associated with one of the surgically enhanced areas of your body). Here’s some advice for all musicians reading this: don’t cover “Stairway to Heaven.” It’s perfect the way it is.
Geena Maharaj can be reached at email@example.com.