Saturday, June 25, 2011

20 Unexpected Cover Songs

Every band does cover songs from time to time. Probably every band that worked their way up from someone's garage and up through bigger and bigger venues probably paid their bills playing cover tunes at some point. Let's face it- most bands and professional recording artists started out just like you and me- as music fans.

Playing your version of someone else's song is a time-honored tradition. Sometimes it's just to fill out a set list, or because the guys in the band just ran out of material but still want to jam. Maybe it's because the band wanted to try out an idea without composing a whole new song in order to do it, or maybe it's just because it's fun to play songs you like to listen to. Maybe the band just wanted to do something so off the wall and different that it just might turn out cool...

So here are 20 unexpected cover songs- things you might not expect these bands to play. Some are more successful than others, and some are just off the wall crazy, enjoy...

Heavy Metal Style:

Judas Priest - The Green Manalishi With the Two-Prong Crown (Fleetwood Mac)
"Green Manalishi" was fairly heavy for a Fleetwood Mac song, but Rob Halford and company took it up a few more notches. The interesting thing about this cover song is that Judas Priest's version became so well known that most people think they wrote it...

Type O Negative - Summer Breeze (Seals and Crofts)
Brooklyn born Doom/Gothic Metal band Type O Negative was known for having a very sarcastic sense of humor. They also became known for taking songs that are about as far from their usual dark, sludgy, dirge-like style as possible, and turning them into full fledged doom-metal songs. One of the first songs to get this unique treatment was the 1972 soft rock classic, "Summer Breeze" by Seals and Crofts. Type O Negative would continue this tradition of oddball cover song choices with Neil Young's "Cinnamon Girl" and The Beatles "Day Tripper."

Anthrax - Exit (U2)
Some covers stay fairly faithful to the original - this is the case with Anthrax's cover of U2's "Exit" from the "Joshua Tree" album. The thrash metal masters paid a fitting tribute to a song that Bono originally wrote as a story about a psychotic killer on the loose. In that context, it seems less surprising that they'd pick this song to cover.

Celtic Frost - Mexican Radio (Wall of Voodoo)
On their 1987 album "Into the Pandemonium," Celtic Frost did something completely bizarre - they not only chose to cover a light-hearted new wave song, they also opened the album with it. The weird thing is that, if you read my piece about the album, you'll see there was actually a valid artistic reason for it to be there...

Children of Bodom - Oops I Did it Again (Britney Spears)
The Finnish death metal band, Children of Bodom, went a very different route. They recorded a cover of Britney Spear's hit song "Oops, I Did it Again" as a B-side to their 2005 single "In Your Face." The song was meant to be a parody and a scathing statement about the state of american pop music...

"Unplugged" Style:

KoЯn - Creep (Radiohead)
KoЯn was one of the leaders of the so-called "nu-metal" movement of the late 90s. In late 2006 they performed a 14 song acoustic set for the MTV Unplugged series, along with a few guests such as the Cure, and Amy Lee from Evanescence- showing a different side of a normally noisy band. One song was an acoustic cover of Radiohead's hit single "Creep" - a song originally written about a stalker attempting to gain the affections of an uninterested woman, but lead singer Johnathan Davis spins it into a different, more personal meaning.

Black Label Society - Bridge Over Troubled Water (Simon & Garfunkel)
Black Label Society was originally a side project for former Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Zakk Wylde, but it the project gained a life of it's own, and has become a successful heavy metal act in it's own right. On their 2010 album "Order of the Black" - several bonus tracks were recorded and released in certain countries or by certain vendors making them something of a rarity. One of these tracks is an quiet cover of Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" featuring Zakk Wylde on vocals and piano, showing a softer side of the imposing heavy metal guitar god....

The Scorpions - Dust in the Wind (Kansas)
Sometimes, all you need to do in order to sound great, is pick a great song, and just play it as is with little to no alteration. Some songs are just that good. "Dust in the Wind" from the 1978 album "Point of Know Return" by Kansas, is one of those songs. The Scorpions, one of the best known metal bands out of Germany, recorded it on their 2001 "Acoustica" record, and didn't mess with it at all- they played it straight, and they sounded great. The live video shows that they can perform it live and sound just as great as they do on the record. It's also the only time I've ever seen a "Flying V" acoustic guitar.

In 1993, Nirvana recorded a live acoustic performance for MTV's Unplugged series. The producers were skeptical since Nirvana insisted on recording the entire show in one take, and made a conscious choice to avoid playing their big hits (except for "Come as You Are"), instead opting for lesser known songs, and several cover songs. Despite the producer's misgivings, the show is usually regarded as one of Nirvana's best performances, and probably the best performance of the entire "Unplugged" series. Nirvana closed out their show with a cover of Lead Belly's version of an old blues standard. Kurt Cobain's voice actually cracks and fails near the ending- but at such a perfect spot that it actually adds to the intensity of the performance.

Johnny Cash - Hurt (Nine Inch Nails)
Towards the end of his life, Johnny Cash recorded a series of albums consisting mainly of covers- one of them was "Hurt" by Nine Inch Nails.  The song, and the accompanying video, have come to be regarded as Johnny Cash's epitaph.

Nine Inch Nails front-man Trent Reznor's feelings on the song are summed up in a quote from the September 2004 issue of Alternative Press- "I pop the video in, and wow... Tears welling, silence, goose-bumps... Wow. [I felt like] I just lost my girlfriend, because that song isn't mine anymore... It really made me think about how powerful music is as a medium and art form. I wrote some words and music in my bedroom as a way of staying sane, about a bleak and desperate place I was in, totally isolated and alone. [Somehow] that winds up reinterpreted by a music legend from a radically different era/genre and still retains sincerity and meaning — different, but every bit as pure."

Alternative/Grunge/Punk Style:

Sid Vicious - My Way (Frank Sinatra)
After the breakup of the Sex Pistols, Punk Rock icon Sid Vicious continued to perform as a solo act until his untimely overdose/suicide in 1979. Like Kurt Cobain about 15 years later- Sid made his mark on the scene early, and after a few short years in the music business, passed on, but left a lasting legacy. His trademark combination of attitude, sardonic wit, and refusal to compromise all come together in his 1978 cover of Frank Sinatra's classic anthem "My Way."

Courtney Love's band, Hole, gained a lot of attention after her husband, Kurt Cobain's suicide- how talented Hole was from a technical perspective is a matter of debate- but their album "Live Through This" stands up well enough on it's honesty, attitude, and simple grunge/punk hooks. In 1995, the UK version of the single for the song "Doll Parts" contained a gunge-style cover of Duran Duran's 80s pop hit "Hungry Like the Wolf" as a B-side. During her live shows, Love would introduce the song as "The best song ever written that you all pretend not to know."

Seether - Careless Whisper (George Michael)
Alternative rock band Seether (I've been told by the genre police that Seether is technically post-grunge and/or alternative metal), also dusted off an old 80s pop classic, and recorded a cover of George Michael's 1984 hit "Careless Whisper" in 2009. In his review of the song for Billboard, Bram Teitelman said, "the song is a mostly faithful take on the original, with guitars subbing for the saxophone intro before greeting a Staind-meets-Nickelback grunge dynamic. Younger rock fans who don't know George Michael from Boy George will love the song"

Foo Fighters - Darling Nikki (Prince and the Revolution)
Sometimes, a cover song can be at the center of a controversy- or at least, a little bit of semi-friendly rivalry. In 2003, the Foo Fighters released their cover of Prince's "Darling Nikki"as a B side to their single "Have it All." The cover song actually received a large amount of airplay, and picked up a lot of attention- including Prince's... Allegedly Prince was not too thrilled about the idea, and was quite vocal about it. As a result- finding a legal copy of the single in the US is almost impossible, and it is often regarded as a collectors item.

Prince - Best of You (Foo Fighters) 
Prince would have his revenge. When he performed the halftime show for Superbowl XLI in 2007, he played several cover songs- including his version of the Foo Fighter's hit "Best of You."  That revenge would prove empty- Foo Fighter's frontman Dave Grohl considered it an honor to have one of their songs covered by a performer of Prince's caliber. Coincidentally, it was probably the best Super Bowl halftime performance in recent history (certainly better than the Black Eyed Peas did!).

A Perfect Circle's 2004 album "Emotive" contained many cover songs expressing anti-war political sentiments alongside their own work. Honestly, all of their cover songs are great (especially their take on Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On", but one stands out above the rest - John Lennon's "Imagine." A Perfect Circle's interpretation of the song is very haunting - and makes you wonder what the hell have we done to that peaceful world Lennon  hoped and dreamed we would live to see....

Soft Rock/Pop Style:

The Cardigans - Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (Black Sabbath)
What happens two Swedish guys into heavy metal (Peter Svensson and Magnus Sveningsson) form a pop band fronted by an attractive young woman with a pleasant music-box like voice (Nina Persson), and a talent for writing intelligent songs disguised as light pop music? You get a very unlikely cover of a famous Black Sabbath song -  "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" featured on their 1994 debut album "Emmerdale". It's not the only odd cover choice they've made- in later albums they would tap the Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne catalogs again with "Iron Man," "Changes," and "Mister Crowley" too!

Alanis Morissette - My Humps (Black Eyed Peas)
It's easy to forget that when Alanis Morissette first hit it big, it was with an attitude laden single "You Oughta Know" a scathing commentary about how Dave "Uncle Joey" Coulier dumped her. Since then, she's gained a reputation as a serious artist. Those teeth that she bared at poor Uncle Joey were still there when she made this parody cover of the Black Eyed Peas' "My Humps" along with a video that mercilessly lampoons current pop music. She slows it down and sings it as a ballad, which makes the lyrics seem downright silly. The video features all the usual ridiculous things you'd expect from a pop/hip-hop video, except it's Alanis jiggling her junk this time...

In 2001, singer songwriter Tori Amos released an album of cover tunes called "Strange Little Girls." The album, despite containing no original material was actually a concept album- she took songs written and performed by male artists, and reversed the gender roles. A few years later she would also admit that she did the album specifically to close out her contract without producing new material to express her displeasure with the way her record company was promoting (or failing to promote) her work. The most interesting song on the album is her take on Slayer's speed/thrash hit "Raining Blood" - her version turned out very different- a quiet piano piece that is haunting and even more dark and disturbing (in a different way) than the original.

Slayer originally wrote the song describing a vengeful soul in purgatory plotting to overthrow heaven. Thr Tori Amos version keeps the theme of revenge. In a 2001 interview for Spin magazine she claimed that she was inspired by the plight and oppression of women in Afghanistan, when she heard the original, she "imagined a huge juicy vagina coming out of the sky, raining blood over all those racist, misogynist fuckers." As I said- in it's own way, it's darker and more menacing than Slayers brutal original version. Slayer guitarist Kerry King almost didn't recognize his own song until halfway through, and was impressed enough to send Tori Amos several Slayer T-shirts (which she appreciated).

Gangsta Bluegrass Style!

This has to be one of my favorite cover songs ever. In 1993, rapper Snoop Dogg, working with producer Dr. Dre, wrote "Gin and Juice" about a typical west coast rapper house party complete with marijuana references, alcohol references, and "Hos". In 1998 a progressive bluegrass band called The Gourds from Austin Texas recorded their cover version- they treated the song as a serious straight bluegrass tune, despite the "gangsta" lyrics- which they kept as intact as possible. The song gained a huge amount of attention- at the time, free file sharing  on services such as napster were prevalent, and a copy of the song ended up there, but the name of the band on most of the files circulating around the internet was mislabeled as the wildly popular Vermont jam-band Phish. The result was that a song that the Gourds did just for fun blew up and became their most popular by a wide margin.

Snoop Dogg apparently thinks very highly of this cover version. There is a youtube clip of him showing his appreciation circulating. The Gourds never shot a video for "Gin and Juice," but there are still fan-made ones floating around the internet for your enjoyment...

1 comment:

  1. Check out my cover song