Cover songs: We've all heard them. Sometimes they're good, if unoriginal, copies of songs that were hits in their time. Sometimes they're heinous musical crimes that should be locked up in a vault and thrown to the bottom of the ocean. But every once in awhile an artist records a cover of another artist's song that is not only respectful of the original, but even presents something new musically. Here are five of my favorites.
"Sunday Bloody Sunday"
Original Artist: U2 (1983)
Cover Artist: Pillar (2004)
It might be bordering on blasphemy (against the gods of Rock) to say that any artist could play a U2 song better than U2, but Pillar comes pretty close. With a harder, more distorted guitar-heavy sound and less of a militaristic feel to the rhythm, Pillar's changes to the rock classic are subtle, but just different enough that the song is definitely their own. And the best part? The last verse, with the lyrics "And we've only just begun/ to claim the victory that Jesus won" sung with a lot more emphasis than in the original.
Original Artist: Cat Stevens (1971)
Cover Artist: Mandy Moore (2003)
Moore did a whole album of cover songs in 2003, and they were all pretty good, but this one was my favorite. She keeps the folk song/lullaby quality of Stevens's version, but elaborates on his guitar themes with a strings and drums orchestral build-up. Her powerful-yet-sweet voice is the more noticeable difference from the original, though, and its purity offers a nice contrast to the more complex accompaniment.
Original Artist: Britney Spears (2003)
Cover Artist: Yael Naim (2007)
Remember the video for the Spears version? It was like Alias! It's still the only Britney Spears song I have ever liked, say what you will about her newest album. Naim, best known for her 2008 break-out hit "New Soul," uses her ethereal vocals and minimalist instrumentation to turn the bouncy pop song into a bittersweet love ballad.
"High and Dry"
Original Artist: Radiohead (1995)
Cover Artist: Jamie Cullum (2004)
A great rock song translated flawlessly into a great jazz song. There's really nothing more to say.
Original Artist: Elton John (1970)
Cover Artist: Ewan McGregor (2001)
This is from this little movie that came out in 2001. I don't know if you've heard of it, but it's called Moulin Rouge. It's pretty awesome. The song, like the movie, is totally over-the-top, turning Elton John's simple little love anthem into a Big Musical Number, complete with back-up vocals, a full orchestra and band, dramatic crescendoes and decrescendoes and an opera singer (Alessandro Safina). The biggest, and most pleasant, surprise is McGregor's voice; who knew Obi-Wan Kenobi could sing? (And, yes, Dad, he rides a mean BMW.)
And, here are just a couple of the worst cover songs (those ones that should be locked in a vault and thrown to the bottom of the ocean- except I would feel bad for the fish that had to listen to them):
-"I Want Candy"- Aaron Carter
-"Our Lips Are Sealed"- Hilary and Haley Duff
-"I Love Rock 'N Roll"- Britney Spears
-"All Summer Long"- Kid Rock (technically not a cover, but it samples "Sweet Home Alabama." Dude, you don't mess with Skynyrd.)