Three Great Cover Songs (And A Totally Bizarre “Tribute”) That You Probably Haven’t Heard

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You might not know it to look at me, but I have a few quirky traits.

I read magazines backwards, from the rear cover to the front.

When I’m done food shopping, I always hop on the back of the cart, and give myself a ride to the car.

“And let’s not forget: not changing clothes since 2018.”

Hey, wait a minute! Who put up that caption?

itguy.png
“Oh, Dear. How Ever Did Such A Terrible Thing Happen? I’ll Investigate Right Away.”

Very funny, Gary. And not true. I happen to have an extensive wardrobe of maroon hoodies, and “Life Is Good” tees. Just in case I ever decide to leave the house.

Sartorial choices aside: one of my weirder idiosyncrasies is how much I love to seek out cover bands, and look for their reworked versions of popular songs.

Sometimes when I’m listening to a recording, I’m calculating alternate arrangements, substituting instruments, and changing up the vocalists. All of this parallel universe production work exists solely in my head. This is probably for the best – I’m no Max Martin. Or George Martin. Or Ricky Martin. Or, while we’re at it, Pamela Sue Martin.

Be assured that there are talented musicians out there who craft stunning cover versions, perhaps as some sort of reverent tribute. Or, equally possible: just because they like the song.

The artist’s new take might be a laboriously crafted and precise copy of the original, or a vastly different interpretation, or anywhere in between. No matter how close or far away from the original, the one thing that they all have in common is that they are performed from the heart.

Here’s an example: This band formed in he early aughts at Princeton University. They have a nice sound, and as you might agree, have tackled an 80s classic with style:

Miracles of Modern Science
Everybody Wants To Rule The World

If an Americana string tribute to Tears For Fears wasn’t cool enough, have a listen to a now-defunct indie duo from the 2010s, with their unlikely arrangement of a seminal Michael Jackson recording:

The Civil Wars
Billie Jean

Pretend that you were with me today in an interminably boring meeting, at precisely 2:30 PM:

You whisper to me at that precise moment, “Hey, mt, I was wondering: do we need a new version of Tracy Chapman’s signature tune?” I whisper back, “Nay, good friend, we have one already, another is totally unnecessary.”

I sneak out a side door to get us a coffee. As I wait in line at the hotel Starbucks kiosk, a song comes over the overhead speakers, and I get to hear this version for the first time. I bring you your Macchiato Ariana Grande, or whatever, and you ask me again, at 2:35, and I say, “Whoa. Have you heard…”

Luke Combs
Fast Car

And wrapping up, as promised, here is something…bizarre.

It’s not exactly a cover, but similar, in that it draws on inspiration from a past recording. Or should I say, recordings. It’s either:

  • a nothing-burger
  • a fascinating study in style
  • remarkably terrible
  • or an abomination.

Maybe all of the above.

AI Generated
New (Nothing Is Real)

Let me know in the comments what your favorite cover songs are. Preferably by actual people.

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mt58

Your grateful host. Good on you all.

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cstolliver
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May 3, 2023 5:40 am

That “Beatles” song sounded more like OK Go to me, but whatever … I got through a minute or so. I’ll try again later.

The Luke Combs cover was very faithful, so much so that I wondered why he did it. Then, I thought, if I were a country radio listener who rarely listened to Top 40 (or, I guess today, AC/oldies), I’d probably love this song. Free of comparisons to the original, it’s likely head and shoulders above lots of stuff in that format. There’s probably a piece to be written about hearing a song you loved in one genre only to find that there were older versions in formats you never or rarely listened to.

I have lots of friends who would love, or at least enjoy, the Civil Wars cover of “Billie Jean.” If I hadn’t read your lead-in or seen the title of the video, I would not have known what they were covering, and it seemed more clever and knowing than anything else.

But I loved that Tears for Fears cover! Close enough that I actually understood the reference, but distinctive enough that I understood why they did it. Really cool. How tough would it have been to be near them and keep yourself from joining in on it? “Turn your back on Mother Nature…”

Thanks for the great wake-me-up!

CZeke
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May 16, 2024 6:18 am
Reply to  mt58

What was the nice move? It doesn’t look like anybody has a guess.

Phylum of Alexandria
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May 3, 2023 7:48 am

There’s nothing quite like a good cover song (except, you know, the original version).

Releasing a cover of a former hit to get on the charts always seemed like cheating to me, but otherwise I like hearing people’s take on older songs.

Lennon/McCartney songs alone make for an interesting dive. Here are some picks designed exclusively via humanely underpaid organic electrochemical algorithms:

Siouxsie & the Banshees: Helter Skelter
801 (Phil Manzanera et al. w/ Brian Eno on vocals): Tomorrow Never Knows
Sham 69: With a Little Help From My Friends
Pixies: Wild Honey Pie
Nancy Sinatra: Run for Your Life
Yellow Magic Orchestra: Day Tripper
The Damned: Help!
Shonen Knife: Rain
The Feelies: Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey
Nirvana: And I Love Her
The Breeders: Happiness Is a Warm Gun
Bill Withers: Let It Be
Amy Winehouse: All My Lovin
Boris: Walrus
Sonic Youth: Within You Without You
Nina Simone: Here Comes the Sun

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1gWhLxIR2Qc

lovethisconcept
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May 3, 2023 11:55 am

I absolutely agree that doing a note for note cover of a popular song is a lazy way to get a hit. “Hey, it was a hit once, why shouldn’t we cash in?” Yuck. But I love a respectful cover, one where you can still recognize the source material, but the artist takes it in a new direction. Miracles of Modern Science for the win among the three here.

Phylum of Alexandria
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May 3, 2023 1:13 pm

Yeah, to rebut my own statement a bit, I loved Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love,” Frente’s “Bizarre Love Triangle,” and, I’ll admit it, Marilyn Manson’s “Sweet Dreams Are Made of This.”

dutchg8r
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May 3, 2023 2:25 pm

I’m with ya on Manson’s Sweet Dreams. Totally made it their own, turning something that was nostalgic fluff for me into a legit dystopian nightmare soundtrack. If I was given the OG and MM’s version to choose from, I’ll take Marilyn Manson’s version every time. It’s just so interesting!

cappiethedog
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May 3, 2023 9:13 pm

Naked Eyes’ “Something There to Remind Me” fits your criteria. They made it their own. I’m not really sure as to who made the original Burt Bacharach/Hal Davis original popular.

Virgindog
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May 3, 2023 12:06 pm

This is great! It reminds me of Devo’s cover of “Satisfaction.”

LinkCrawford
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May 3, 2023 1:03 pm
Reply to  Virgindog

Now THAT is great.

cappiethedog
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May 4, 2023 2:16 am

Do you think Kim Deal or Frank Black can recognize Bing and Ruth’s interpretation of “Gigantic” as something they wrote? Can you?

Phylum of Alexandria
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May 4, 2023 9:28 am
Reply to  cappiethedog

Just listened to it now. I can hear some bits of the vocal melody in there, but if it were released under another name, I probably wouldn’t have noticed it. And if someone pointed it out to me, I’d say it was just a coincidental similarity.

Still, I like it. Sounds like something Animal Collective would have done around 2005.

JJ Live At Leeds
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May 3, 2023 8:55 am

So I have to ask, is there a reason behind reading magazines back to front? When did it start?

Riding the shopping trolley I can totally get on board with. Give me an empty aisle un the store and I’ll be gliding down it.

The Beatles ‘cover’ confused me at first. I was thinking but this is an actual song by Paul….and then the voice morphed into John and then to George. A neat gimmick but to really impress me the AI needs to create an entirely new song.

Billie Jean was my favourite of the others. Fast Car just felt superfluous, not for me.

Here’s a few of my favourite things

Johnny Cash – Hurt
William Shatner – Common People
Madness – It Must Be Love
Anika – I Go To Sleep
Al Green – How Can You Mend A Broken Heart
Soft Cell – Tainted Love
Sonic Youth – Ca Plane Pour Moi
Wilson Pickett – Hey Jude
Monsoon – Tomorrow Never Knows

Lastly, another Beatles but this time adding something really different, sung in Punjabi; Cornershop – Norwegian Wood

https://youtu.be/Cz-Ae7v73v0

Phylum of Alexandria
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May 3, 2023 9:08 am

Nice, some Sheila Chandra love.

LinkCrawford
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May 3, 2023 1:02 pm
Reply to  mt58

As a kid maybe you always were excited to see the MAD “Fold-In” first? It went from there.

dutchg8r
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May 3, 2023 1:59 pm
Reply to  mt58

Don’t worry mt, my mom is one of those back-to-front readers too. Newspaper and magazines. I never understood it. Not books though, she stayed conventional with those. But everything else was back to front.

Maybe you just prefer to ease into your leisure reading by hitting the happier pieces first, and working your way up to digesting the front page news?

LinkCrawford
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May 3, 2023 8:58 am

I enjoy a cover band. I don’t really seek out covers (usually), but I appreciate them. I definitely liked the Tears for Fears cover best here, but maybe that’s because I like that song the best of the three.

It is funny how back in the day, covers were the norm. A songwriter would pen a song in the 20s, 30s, or 40s and there would be 25 versions of it recorded over the next couple years. They would become standards. Things seemed to change in the rock era. There were probably a number of reasons why, but I’m not sure what they all were. Maybe it was just artists like Buddy Holly and The Beatles showing how successful and enjoyable it was to be a self-contained band that recorded their own material.

I’m not afraid of AI music. Will it put musicians out of business? To some extent, yes it will. But I’ll bet it will create some music that I will end up loving, too. But the enjoyment of seeing a live band perform on real instruments will never go away. (And that Beatles imitation wasn’t too impressive, though the song wasn’t all that bad).

Pauly Steyreen
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May 3, 2023 10:05 am

The “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” cover was great. “Billie Jean” was not bad. Luke Combs reminded me of how much I adore Tracy Chapman’s original. (The less said about AI Beatles the better.)

Somebody at the mothership used to fairly regularly post bluegrass covers of non-bluegrass songs. This is a veritable subgenre unto itself; a lot of cool music in this vein is out there to be discovered if it’s your bag, baby. I posted the song below back there a few months back; it was one of my mixtape songs of 2022. Sam Bush putting a fresh and honest spin on Bob Dylan. Hope you enjoy!

https://youtu.be/ES8tUHUgjLQ

Last edited 1 year ago by Pauly Steyreen
lovethisconcept
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May 3, 2023 11:45 am
Reply to  Pauly Steyreen

It was rollerboogie who did that playlist. Some good stuff on there. Some…not so good. Don’t know if this link will work, but it is searchable under roller.boogie1965

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/60dbjRBm3chysCl1xZvIO2

Last edited 1 year ago by lovethisconcept
Mr. Plow
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May 5, 2023 9:09 am
Reply to  Pauly Steyreen

Hayseed Dixie makes a living off of strange covers.

https://www.youtube.com/@HayseedDixieOfficialRockgrass

Zeusaphone
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May 3, 2023 10:28 am

I can’t get past Luke Combs calling himself a “checkout girl”.

Most cover bands leave me cold. They’re just doing a style switch; It’s “Starships” as a thrash metal song or whatever.

However, if you really like covers you should head over to https://www.covermesongs.com/

JJ Live At Leeds
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May 3, 2023 12:36 pm
Reply to  Zeusaphone

That website is extensive. I could lose the next year trawling through it.

JJ Live At Leeds
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May 3, 2023 11:49 am

For the opposite of AI there’s a Dutch band called The Analogues who tour the world performing latter period Beatles albums, in track order and using the same instruments that were used to record the original albums. To take things one step further they’ve also recorded an album of original material inspired by The Beatles.

Not actually seen them but the recordings of their live shows are pretty impressive. The new material is listenable without having any of creative magic of The Beatles. Like hearing them filtered through ELO filtered through Oasis.

https://www.theanalogues.net/

lovethisconcept
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May 5, 2023 10:42 am
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Although the “Wannabeatles” win for best tribute band name.

Virgindog
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May 3, 2023 12:04 pm

The “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” cover is fantastic. That’s how you take a song and make it your own.

I’m glad to see a couple mentions of “Tomorrow Never Knows” covers here in the comments. It’s one of my favorite Beatles songs and, at the risk of tooting my own trombone, here’s a version my band did in 2002. I’m not happy with the production but the best part is the clanging noises. My wife and I went to Home Depot and banged things together. Anything that sounded good went in the shopping cart.

https://youtu.be/CWnVGnf_0IU

Phylum of Alexandria
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May 3, 2023 1:19 pm
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Nice. I like how you inserted a bit of “Within You Without You” as well. My favorite Dead Can Dance song did the same thing, though it made less sense because it’s an original song:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U2L1QyEI9Nw

Virgindog
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May 3, 2023 2:32 pm

That’s beautiful.

Phylum of Alexandria
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May 3, 2023 3:13 pm
Reply to  Virgindog

Even better when red wine and/or pagan sex rituals are factored in.

Virgindog
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May 3, 2023 5:06 pm
Reply to  mt58

My last court appearance.

lovethisconcept
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May 3, 2023 1:20 pm
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Very nice. I bang things together in Home Depot, too, but there is no musical reason. I just like to make noise.

lovethisconcept
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May 3, 2023 1:19 pm

Then there is the extremely weird phenomenon that is Dread Zeppelin. They do only Led Zeppelin covers…in a reggae (loosely) style…as sung by an Elvis impersonator. Levels upon levels of bizarre right there.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZHWy6W00oM

Virgindog
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May 3, 2023 1:28 pm

Yes! They were a lot of fun.

dutchg8r
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May 3, 2023 2:16 pm

Seeing the Billie Jean version you posted mt reminded me of Chris Cornell’s stellar haunting version – https://youtu.be/R0uWF-37DAM

Ive said it before, and nothing in the nearly 40 years since has beaten it, but Red Hot Chili Peppers version of Higher Ground is still my favorite all time cover. They nailed it – made the song completely their own without losing the joy of Stevie’s original, and actually made it better IMO.

But this? Its not bad, not bad at all for tackling a song as complex as ‘Instant Karma’. Major props for finding a way to do it in 4/4 time and sound funky.

https://youtu.be/haaEqXMJn4M

blu_cheez
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May 3, 2023 4:43 pm

Too many great covers out there, let’s do some great covers from the 80s:
(the “*” indicates a song I had no idea for many years was a cover)

o Joan Jett – I Love Rock n Roll *
o Naked Eyes – Always Something There To Remind Me *
o I Feel For You – Chaka Khan *
o Soft Cell – Tainted Love
o Betty Davis Eyes – Kim Carnes *
o Gloria – Laura Brannigan
o Cum On Feel The Noize – Quiet Riot *
o Hazy Shade Of Winter – The Bangles
o Venus – Bananarama *
o Alone – Heart *
o I Want Candy – Bow Wow Wow *
o Shipbuilding – Elvis Costello *
o Sweet Jane – Cowboy Junkies
o Queen Of Hearts – Juice Newton *
o Superman – R.E.M. *

cappiethedog
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May 3, 2023 9:21 pm
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“Shipbuilding” confused me. I didn’t realize Clive Langer wrote the music.

The more you know.

Zeusaphone
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May 3, 2023 4:48 pm

In my youth I spent entirely too many weekends dressed like a medieval bard playing familiar oldies on a lute or other medieval instrument at SCA events. It’s a tricky balance to make the song familiar enough for people to recognize but also different enough to keep their interest.

cappiethedog
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May 3, 2023 9:07 pm

Miracles of Modern Science nails “Everybody Rules the World”. I’ve heard a minimum of five different takes on the Tears for Fears song. This one is the best.

I use the term Americana, too. It helps me distinguish mainstream country from alt. Americana sounds nicer than alt-country.

Why do I like the fiddle?

How does somebody like me, way out here on reggae island, have an infinity for country music.

Firstly, seeing Maria McKee on SNL performing “I Need Love” and “Shelter”.

This is, perhaps, the twentieth-plus time I brought her name up. McKee’s career trajectory changed on a dime when she didn’t give Dolly Parton exclusive rights to record “He’s Working Late”. Being from Los Angeles, I imagine, must’ve been a roadblock for people in country and western-friendly areas to accept an urban girl in a gingham dress. Lone Justice could have been Dolly Parton’s opening act. That association would have normalized the band’s geographical dislocation. It’s a real shame. McKee is a gem. If people like me don’t bring her up, she’ll be forgotten.

Secondly, Lisa Germano kicking butt on The Lonesome Jubilee.

My two favorite performances from the late, great AV Undercover series are both Americana-ed versions of new wave and indie rock classics, respectively.

The Punch Brothers’ cover of The Cars’ “Just What I Needed”.
Trampled by Turtles’ cover of Arcade Fire’s “Rebellion(Lies)”.

Luke Combs’ “Fast Car” works, too. But I’m obsessed with Xiu Xiu’s ultra-tortured take. It sounds as if Jamie Stewart is going to jump off a tall building before finishing the song. Xiu Xiu also covered ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man” and Queen(featuring David Bowie)’s “Under Pressure” with Michael Gira of Swans.

Eric-J
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May 4, 2023 2:24 pm

I have to put in a plug here for Coverville, a weekly podcast that’s been going for longer than you’ve probably been aware of podcasts. (Currently on episode 1441. That’s sequentially numbered, episode One Thousand, Four Hundred and Forty One. I started listening around episode 50, I think.)

Brian Ibbot does a roundup of covers that have tickled his fancy, usually of one or two specific artist, sometimes covering an entire album. Every Thanksgiving he does a two-hour Beatles episode, and ends the year with a top 40 (I think) voted on by the listeners.

https://www.coverville.com/

Mr. Plow
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May 5, 2023 9:13 am

Just a few links:

Tuck & Patti from 1988

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZC8J5oX1pg

Marcus Miller – Bass Genius

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dnjTXzRcPxE

Johnathan Coulter covering Sir-Mix-A-Lot

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ltjbnyvq_SI

Last edited 1 year ago by Mr. Plow
Mr. Plow
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May 5, 2023 9:16 am
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Last edited 1 year ago by Mr. Plow
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