I used to be a firm critic of covers because I'm a strong proponent of recognizing original credit, but I've found so many excellent re-makes lately that I just allow myself to keep this amazing stuff from you guys. These aren't your typical covers. There's none of that lame same note, different voice nonsense in this list. This is a list of covers the way they're meant to be done.
How are covers "meant to be done?" In my mind, skilled reworking isn't just singing a song the way it's always been sung, nor is it taking a popular theme and making millions by throwing in some spoken words and a groovy beat without giving near enough credit to the creator. Curse them greedy rappers and pop artists! (Speaking of original credit, I've got a score to settle with Jason Derulo. Listen to this song and proceed to hate Jason Derulo forever...go to about 2:45 in the video. Imogen Heap ftw!!!)
Anyway...in my opinion, a good cover changes the song in some way. It changes the speed, the instrumentation, the vocal style, or any mix of these and other elements. The most memorable covers take a song from one genre to another. Here in this list we've got pop -> rock, pop -> alternative, folk -> pop, and a number of other change-ups. The cool thing about this list is that these covers weren't just sung in a bedroom some random day; these were arranged (and some produced for albums) with much effort by many of my favorite bands. You're bound to fall in love with at least one of them. Here we go! (Original versions are linked below each video for comparison.)
1. Crazy In Love - Snow Patrol (originally by Beyoncé)
This cover is nuts! From cheery pop tune to a fairly dark rock song...not for everyone, but I think it's sweet. This is Snow Patrol's only cover that I know of and you've got to wonder: what made them pick this song? I'd never have thought this vocal part could work so well with a male singer, but the band's nifty interpretation is commendable.
Original or cover?: I like the cover lots more. I'd take head-banging over foot-tapping any day!
2. Man in the Mirror - The Midway State (Michael Jackson)
Sadly, I heard this version of the song before I knew it was Michael Jackson's, which kind of skews my thinking in terms of bias. Good thing this band is tremendous and helped me to know this was a cover by putting the pop artist's name first on the video. They actually came up with this cover as a tribute to Michael shortly after his death...a real admirable bunch of guys. This version is extra touching and they definitely do the record-breaker justice.
Original or cover?: I respect Michael Jackson and his legacy, but I've never been a huge fan of his style. Cover wins here.
3. Eye of the Tiger - The Rural Alberta Advantage (Survivor)
This cover is absolutely stunning and I've been hooked since my first listen. I presume a lot of people will find it tough to accept the voice, but this acoustic instrumentation is genius and that can't be denied. The Rural Alberta Advantage released this cover as a single and it has become something that fans are really proud of. This is more than just a switch in genre, this is a switch in generations! I love it's mellow simplicity...much different than the original.
Original or cover?: That's a tough choice...I think I'm gonna have to root for the original here. That song is untouchable.
4. Just Dance - Gary Go (Lady Gaga)
This cover right here inspired my heavily-involved search for amazing covers and sparked my idea for this blog post. Anyone who pushes this cover aside is insane! Never before has a tune so energetic and empowering become something so sweet and packed with emotion. From heavy electronics to soft piano. I can't get enough! Gary Go needs to cover more often!
Original or cover?: They're like two different songs! Geeze...it's guess it's got to be the cover!
5. Imagine - A Perfect Circle (John Lennon)
The top comment on YouTube puts this cover best... 40 years ago, John Lennon shared a hope for the future with a extra melodious, inspiring song called Imagine. 30 years later, A Perfect Circle took the song and, in a way, corrupted it, just like power, greed, and the resulting conflict have corrupted Lennon's dream in our time. They contain the same words and the same ideal, but they are surrounded by separate, very different worlds. This song comes from an entire album of covers that A Perfect Circle put together to peacefully protest foreign intervention and unnecessary hate. This cover epitomizes both their beliefs and their musical skill. Check it out.
Original or cover?: Even though I heard A Perfect Circle's version first, I definitely like the original more.
6. No One's Gonna Love You - Cee Lo Green (Band of Horses)
Now you guys may not know the original song, but it's one of my favorites. Despite my general ill-feeling toward Cee Lo, I'm a big fan of his way of playing it. The original version is filled with a hint of regret and I love how Cee Lo keeps this feeling intact while alternating it with burst of joyful-sounding stuff. I'm thrilled such a big star would pick one of my little-known favorites to cover on his album!
Original or cover?: Definitely original here...I've loved that song for far too long.
7. Run - Leona Lewis (Snow Patrol)
Leona Lewis AND Snow Patrol!? Oh boy...we're getting serious. The previous coverer becomes covered in this amazing rendition of one of my all time favorite songs. This is definitely the most popular cover on the list; you might have even heard it (If you have...don't forget that Snow Patrol created this beauty first!). If I were to have anyone cover this song, someone just like Leona Lewis would be my pick. Her voice is perfect and provides a variety of emotion that's unique from what the original has to offer. I highly recommend to listen to both versions of this tune.
Original or cover?: Don't get me wrong, I love the piano/strings/harmonies of the cover, but the soft rock of Snow Patrol's original can't be beat, especially when its tied to so many good memories of mine. That's the feeling that was meant so that's the one I stand by.
8. Don't Give Up - The Midway State w/ Lady Gaga (Peter Gabriel w/ Kate Nash)
WHAT IS THIS!?!? One of my favorite obscure bands teaming up with a popular pop powerhouse!? They can do no wrong! Not only do they cover the song, they remake the music video! Shweet. Both versions are primarily electronic, but the difference between old and modern really shows. I wish stuff like this would happen more often, especially when we've got this example to show us how brilliant the result can be.
Original or cover?: I like the new version A LOT, but it seems as if Peter Gabriel and Kate Nash's voices were made for this song. To raise any recreation above the original would just be silly.
9. Use Somebody - Laura Jansen (Kings of Leon)
This is my most recent find and addiction. Covering the 2010 Grammy's song of the year seems like it'd be a daunting task, but artists are flocking to the masterpiece. I've heard Matisyahu, Paramore, Pixie Lott, and others take a whack at it, but Laura Jansen does it best of all. It's so cool to see the vocal gender-cross executed so nicely (this is the 4th time on the list now)! The piano is always a safe choice when beauty is in focus. I like the softer touch. Listen up!
Original or cover?: The cover's nice, but the original feels so much...I don't know...more epic.
10. Teenage Dream - The Rescues (Katy Perry)
My most favorite of the bunch! I'm not going to lying...I'm extremely excited to share this one with you guys cause it's an amazing find. These guys are harmony masters and this song is the perfect pick! When you see a band as skilled as this morph a huge pop tune, doesn't it kinda make them hotshot billboard leaders seem almost amateur? Compliments don't add much to how awesome this song is...just listen already!
Original or cover?: Cover, most definitely.
So there you have it! Impressed much? Usually we like to believe that nothing could beat the original tune, but when I tally up my preferred versions, I'm nearly split at 4 covers vs. 6 originals. I guess that's evidence that artists can beat each other at their own games, if you will. Well I've got a collection of such tunes large enough to supply another one or two excellent 'cover' lists...let me know if that sounds appealing!