I wanted to do something different, so today I wanna talk about cover songs. Cover songs come in all shapes and flavors, often crossing, blurring, and outright stepping over lines of genre and style. Like any other type of song, they also run the gamut from excellent to atrocious. We’re going to do the former this time around, and save the latter for another time. I’ve actually been really lucky to hear so many good covers, but I want to talk here about the best of the best, the ones that really stand out. To make this list, they had to be at least on par or better than the originals. I’m also limiting to one per band, as some artists do enough covers that they could make a list to themselves. So without further ado, let’s get to it!
- Careless Whisper- Seether (original: George Michael)
This song makes the list because it did something unexpected: it worked. How they made this song, as well-known as it already was, into a respectable rock ballad was something I never quite expected. It’s crunchier, but still somehow has a lot of the feel of the original. The pleading tone of the song is every bit as impassioned with guitars backing it as with a saxophone. What can I say, I really like this one.
- Planet Caravan- Pantera (original: Black Sabbath)
As a metal fan, I truly enjoy and certainly appreciate Black Sabbath. But this song I have a hard time with. I can’t hear it. Ozzy’s vocals are so quiet and distorted I can’t really make any of it out. Even listening to a high quality version, the instrumental part is much clearer, but I still can’t understand any of the lyrics (odd complaint for a metalhead, I know). Pantera’s version isn’t sped up, or made any harder, louder, or crunchier, but I can hear the words. They also aren’t distorted so severely either, and almost seems to work better for a song that’s as dreamy and calm as it is.
- Stripped- Rammstein (original: Depeche Mode)
This is a pretty dark and moody song to begin with, and with a few tweaks and their signature sound, Rammstein really make this one their own. Omitting the second half of the chorus line is an interesting choice as well, increasing the menacing feel and making the line more open to interpretation. Both versions are very good, but very much in their own ways.
- Rock On- Def Leppard (original: David Essex)
I can admit a bit of bias on this one: the first time I heard this cover was in concert. And it was freaking awesome. But more than that, it’s a really great cover from an album of really great covers. That bass intro is just so funky, but they do throw in a few bits of guitar too that the original doesn’t. I really like how for the big finale of the song they all plug in and it really starts rocking. Rather than go out on that same riff, this version goes out with a bang in true Def Leppard style, and you won’t find me complain about that.
- Stormbringer- Van Canto (original: Deep Purple)
I went back and forth on this entry a couple of times. Mostly because Van Canto have so many good covers to choose from. But I went with this Deep Purple song for its sheer energy. There’s such a fire in this version. In the original, the vocals are almost muted in comparison. I know David Coverdale more for Whitesnake than Deep Purple, and he sounds so dull here compared to something like Still of the Night or Here I Go Again. In comparison, the Van Canto version has a lot of passion behind it, and a lot more vitality.
- Phantom of the Opera- Jonathan Young ft. Malinda Kathleen Reese (original: Andrew Lloyd Webber)
I actually listened to several versions of this song for this entry, from the 1986 musical, to the 2004 movie, to the cover done by Nightwish. I listened to these four back-to-back, and Jonathan and Malinda’s take on the song was the only one to give me chills from start to finish. I love the contrast between their voices, in others I found the male voice was either too high or didn’t convey the darkness that a character like the Phantom should have. This contrast especially gives the end of the song a bigger impact, with Malinda’s final scream making every hair on my head stand on end. I also like the metal take on the music, but that it’s done in a way that doesn’t overpower the vocals. I found Nightwish’s version was too instrument-heavy and that they took over the end of the song and the vocals petered out, and the synth-organ from the musical to be really dated. I’m not even a fan of Phantom of the Opera, but this cover is incredible.
- Camouflage- Sabaton (original: Stan Ridgway)
This is the newest song on this list, only debuting this summer. It’s also not even necessarily my favorite cover they’ve done (I’m partial to their takes on Twilight of the Thunder God and For Whom the Bell Tolls) but I’ve chosen it as the best one. When I reviewed this album I said how much life and energy Sabaton infuses into this song, and that still stands. But what I found, after also listening to both the shorter and the full-length versions of the original, is that in leaving out certain verses and performing it in a very straightforward way, that the big twist at the end is more of a surprise. In listening to the verses that Sabaton omitted, you get suspicious about it before it happens, and it loses some of the impact. Sabaton also leaves you at that moment, still processing it, while the original gives an extra verse that is fine but not necessarily needed. This was another one I went back and forth on, but I stand by my choice.
- The Sound of Silence- Disturbed (original: Simon and Garfunkel)
What can I say about this song? I’m sure a lot of people were surprised that Disturbed would cover a Simon and Garfunkel song. Even I raised an eyebrow, if only to wonder how it would sound. I can sum up this cover in one word: powerful. Simon and Garfunkel’s original has a certain lightness to it, a certain bounciness, which I don’t think is a bad thing (I grew up on the stuff, after all, and my folks still listen to them). It makes sense for the time and compliments Art Garfunkel’s pure voice. But Disturbed brings an epic feel to the song, David Draiman alternating between soft and gentle and potent rawness. The song comes to life in an entirely new way and you feel the words right down into your soul. This is another song I’ve been lucky enough to see live, and it was an incredible experience.
- Hurt- Johnny Cash (original: Nine Inch Nails)
This had to be number one. This is a cover that blows the original so far out of the water that it’s currently somewhere in orbit. The way the music builds through the song behind the vocals, to drop and leave you at the end once again with only Johnny Cash’s deep, world-weary voice is immensely emotional. In the original, the vocals are half whispered and often hard to hear with a jarring, staticky blast of noise at the end that does nothing but make you cringe. Johnny Cash brings such a gravitas and solemnity to the song, elevating it to something truly special. There’s a reason you usually hear the cover version of this song in popular culture rather than the original: the Man in Black just plain did it better.
So that’s my list of cover songs. I’m sure there’s a lot of others I missed and I’m sure there are entries here that perhaps only I agree with, but I hoped you enjoyed it! If I missed your favorite cover, let me know down below!