A while ago, some Canadian dude named Ben made an list of five covers by artists that no one’s ever heard of that blew the originals out of the water. At the end he challenged others to make a list of their own. Two words, Ben: challenge accepted. Now his guideline was to choose only obscure artists, but I’m gonna step out of line and choose whatever artists I want because A. I’m a lazy bastard, B. I’ve been wanting to do this list for a while, and C. these covers are awesome. But in the spirit of Ben’s list, I’m going for some not so obvious answers that you would generally see on this kind of list, so anyone expecting to see “Hurt” or “All Along The Watchtower” on this list may find themselves disappointed. I’ve also decided to dismiss cover bands, which pretty much eliminates bands like Powerglove, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes and the Northern Kings. Okay, let’s do this.
6. “You Can Have It All” by Yo La Tengo (originally by George McCrae)
I’ve known and loved this song for quite a while, but didn’t find out until just recently that it was a cover. If you never heard the original, I don’t blame you. George McCrae was one of the early innovators of disco in the 70’s, but isn’t really well known outside of certain music circles. He’s been sampled by several hip hop artists like Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent and Big Daddy Kane. It seems an odd choice by indie titans Yo La Tengo, but they managed to turn it into something completely new. Sure, half the reason I didn’t recognize it was because it’s an obscure song, but even if it was a big hit it wouldn’t distract from the fact that they did a terrific job, turning a simple disco track into a low-key lullaby.
5. “Single Ladies” by Pomplamoose (originally by Beyonce)
Okay, this is probably the only cover on the list that really follows that guideline, but I have a very good reason for this. Pomplamoose have done quite a few covers from artists like Lady Gaga, Simon and Garfunkel, Earth, Wind and Fire, hell, they even did the Angry Birds theme. But those were all good songs to begin with. The reason I put “Single Ladies” on here is because they took a song that I don’t really like and managed to breathe new life into it. Even Nataly Dawn pokes fun at the lyrics in the third verse. Aside from it, the instrumentation and is a nice departure from the clattery production, Nataly Dawn’s voice compliments it well, and the video is entertaining all around.
4. “The Book of Love” by Peter Gabriel (originally by The Magnetic Fields)
“The Book of Love” is considered the crown jewel of The Magnetic Fields’ opum magnus, 69 Love Songs. It’s a very romantic song but I have only one problem with it. While the lyrics are what gives the song its emotional intensity, Stephen Merritt’s boring guitar plucking and baritone voice remind me of Elvis during his Hawaiian phase. And if there’s one thing you need to know about me, it’s that I hate Elvis’s Hawaiian phase. So how do you give this song the boost it needs? Why, give it to the guy who wrote “In Your Eyes” of course. Peter Gabriel has the ability to inject so much heart wrenching emotion into a song in a way most musicians can’t. He saw the romantic potential of this song and decided to give it the jolt to the heart that it needed. Throw in some breathtaking strings and bring in Gabriel’s voice at its best in years, and you got yourself one hell of a tearjerker.
3. “No One’s Gonna Love You” by Cee Lo Green (originally by Band of Horses)
Cee Lo Green has been around a lot longer than most people realize. Whether you remember him from his days with the Goodie Mob, his stint as frontman of Gnarls Barkley, or his pop breakthrough “Fuck You”, chances are he’s popped up on your radar at some point. His latest album, The Ladykiller, is a pretty solid album with a bunch of great songs lik “Fuck You”, “Wildflower” and “Bright Lights, Bigger City”, the standout has to be his cover of Band of Horses’ “No One’s Gonna Love You”. I had the same problem with the original that I did with “Book of Love”, being that its lyrics were good but the music was too dreary and will probably put you to sleep. Like Peter Gabriel, Cee Lo saw the potential the song had and injected it with the right amount of soul. The song on its own is earnest enough and seems like it’s on verge of venturing into 80’s cheese territory, but reels itself back in
2. “Hungry Like The Wolf” by Reel Big Fish (originally by Duran Duran)
Ska punk legends Reel Big Fish have done quite a few covers in their lifetime. Their cover of A-ha’s “Take On Me” is good, but is more of a straight up ska rendition. They also covered the ska staple “Monkey Man”, but that song is so synonymous with the genre that I might as well put a punk band on this list for covering “Anarchy in the U.K.”. “Hungry Like The Wolf” stands out the most. One, the intrumentation is different from what you expect of Reel Big Fish, taking a jazzier approach. It still manages to bring out the sense of adventure that the original has, but at the same time makes it something you can really dance to.
1. “The Guns of Brixton” by Arcade Fire (originally by The Clash)
Like most music critics, I’m guilty of partaking in the Arcade Fire circle jerk. In fact, I still catch myself doing it once in a while. (Seriously, if you haven’t heard Funeral by now, you need to stop what your doing and go buy it RIGHT F*CKING NOW!) Regardless, while I must admit that there’s a tiny bit of bias going on since Arcade Fire is one of my favorite bands, their one off cover of The Clash’s “Guns of Brixton” still deserves to be looked at. Like a lot of The Clash’s songs, it’s a reggae influenced ode to the multitude of riots and civil unrest going on in England during the recession of the late 70’s. Arcade Fire took a different approach for their rendition, making it sound less like a reggae jam and more like a death march, further enhancing its somber subject matter. And if that wasn’t hardcore enough, this was performed in Brixton Hall, the location of a tremendous police riot that influenced the original.
Well, that’s my list. Hope you like it.