Friday, September 14, 2012

Song of the Week #212 - The Best Cover Versions

This week’s episode has been a long while in the making. I had almost 100 cover versions in the end to choose from! Some were great and there were a couple I couldn’t face listening to for very long! I also realised how many songs were actually cover versions that I didn’t know about.

What I’ll do here is present the 5 covers that I liked the best. Really it’s just my opinion and I’d love you to let me know why you agree or disagree. I’ll also publish the complete list of suggestions on the blog in case anyone is interested. If you bear with me I’ll provide links to all of them as well as the original versions.


When I went through all these tracks I was looking for sounds and renditions that weren’t just straight re-workings of the originals, there needed to be something that made the song stand out. Amusing versions were good. Humour most certainly does belong in music Mr. Zappa.


And here’s a quick pet hate…I really dislike it when bands do a cover that is simply a slow acoustic version. Rarely is it any good.


Here we go, in no particular order.


Track 1 – Nature by The Mutton Birds –

This track was a #1 hit in 1969 for a New Zealand band called Fourmyula. Interestingly, after listening to the Mutton Birds version I discovered that it was voted NZ’s greatest pop song ever. My ‘little’ brother recommended this track even though it wasn’t his top pick in the songs he gave me to listen to. Even without listening to the original I reckon this is a top selection. It’s moody, reverent and all in all a good listen. I get a bit of a Byrds vibe out of the backing vocals and that’s cool.


Track 2 – Hurt by Johnny Cash –

Originally by Nine Inch Nails, this is an amazing version. If I was counting votes from my listeners then this would be number 1 by a landslide. It’s a haunting tune that works just as well for NIN as it does for Johnny Cash – I guess it’s a question of perspective. I’m a big Johnny Cash fan and whilst this isn’t my favourite cover that he’s done it’s definitely the one with the most impact.


Track 3 - U2 – Helter Skelter -

Written and recorded by The Beatles for the White album, this song has an interesting history involving Charles Manson. If you’ve seen the U2 documentary “Rattle and Hum” you’ll know that Bono famously said, “this is a song that Charles Manson stole from The Beatles, we’re stealing it back!” There is a really, really good version by Motley Crue as well but the U2 version hits the spot for me. Granted, it isn’t all that different from the original but it’s a version with an amazing amount of feeling. I really like the video too – it’s from when Bono and the boys were real rock stars instead of media personalities.


Track 4 - Reel Big Fish – Take On Me -

This was a pretty cool song to start with but very, very poppy. Reel Big Fish and the horn section have turned it into a real party tune. I’ve seen local band Los Capitanes play it this way as well and it’s a hoot. This is the ‘get up and dance’ (or skank) tune of the collection.


Track 5 - Nina Simone – Mr Bojangles -

This is the only cover of the five I’ve chosen that I’d never heard before. And I’ve been listening to it over and over. If YouTube was vinyl the grooves would be wearing out. What a voice! I like a song with a story in the lyrics – they are the kind I can’t write no matter how hard I try. This was the first song I’ve listened to in a while that gave me shivers down my spine.


There you have it. Not a bad quintet I hope. As I said I’ll post the entire list of suggestions plus the originals in the next few days – watch the blog ( for all that.


Let me finish with two of my personal favourite cover versions.


Johnny Cash – I Won’t Back Down -

The story goes that Tom Petty just walked in, recorded some backing vocals and walked back out. How cool. This is a song I play almost every time I have an acoustic guitar in my hand. It would be number 1 on my desert island mix tape if I had to compile one. Cash has sung and played better and Tom Petty has probably written better tunes. But this particular combination struck a chord for me the first time I heard it on a $9.99 clearance bin cassette and it still does.


Metallica – Stone Cold Crazy -

This is a Queen song. The Queen version is pure rock ‘n’ roll heaven much in the same way that ‘Tie Your Mother Down Is’ – almost the perfect rock song. Metallica’s version is heavy like you’d expect but true enough to the original to be respectful. (they drop the f-bomb once or twice, you’ve been warned). Metallica has played this live with Brian May – that’s a solid vote of approval.


Brothers and sisters, thanks for listening and a huge thanks to the folks who sent me so many suggestions, my ears were well and truly opened.


Original versions for your listening pleasure:


Nature – Fourmyula -

Hurt – Nine Inch Nails -

Helter Skelter – The Beatles -

Take On Me – A-Ha -

Mr Bojangles – Jeffrey Jeff Walker -

I Won’t Back Down – Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers -

Stone Cold Crazy – Queen -



DJ Rob

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