It’s not everyday you hear a cover of a song that’s better than (or even as good as) its original. It’s hard to believe someone could sing a Dolly Parton song better than Dolly herself. Most artists write and perform songs that best suit their style and voice, but every once in a while an artist comes along who can transcend genre or generation (or both!) and knock us off our feet with a great cover. Not everyone is a fan of covers; there are certainly a handful of purists out there, but we’re not one of them. So here are 10 cover songs that we think best their originals.
1. Peter Gabriel – “My Body Is A Cage” (Arcade Fire cover)
Intern Erika: The Peter Gabriel cover of this haunting song was actually the first version I heard (#discoveredonWRAS88.5) and I immediately fell in love with it. Upon searching for the song on the interwebs, I discovered the original Arcade Fire version, from their 2007 album Neon Bible, and of course listened to both. Peter Gabriel’s incredible vocal delivery turned this song from a mostly optimistic-feeling song to an eerie, lyrically poignant expression of solitude.
2. White Stripes – “Jolene” (Dolly Parton cover)
AMG Emily: Now I’m not much of a country fan, but the Dolly Parton original of this song is one of my favorite, so naturally I dig the cover as well. While Dolly has an unmistakably amazing voice, and so does Jack White and I think that’s one of reasons why this cover works so well. Maybe it’s the songs flawless transition from country to rock, either way, we can’t get enough of it. Hats off to Dolly for a great original and the White Stripes for making it their own.
3. Dr. Dog – “Heart It Races” (Architecture in Helsinki cover)
Intern Erika: Architecture in Helsinki is one of the most fun bands out there right now. Their music is poppy and exciting without being kitschy. Dr. Dog takes their “Heart It Races” to a more mainstream, more relatable level, and we mean that in the best possible way. The original is a strange sound (and a super weird video) that just isn’t for everybody, but Dr. Dog gives is a more mellow feel that makes you actually want to listen to it more than once every few months.
4. Israel Kamakawiwo`Ole – “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” & “What a Wonderful World” Mix (Judy Garland & Louis Armstrong Covers)
AMG Emily: This cover is a 2 for 1 deal. This medley of two wildly popular songs, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World,” is one of the most popular covers of all time. It’s been utilized in countless films and television shows. The song first came out in 1993 on Isreal’s (better known at Bruddah Iz) album Facing Future. Tragically, Bruddah Iz past away in 1997 at the age of 38 but his music continues to grow in popularity, particularly this single.
5. The Bird & the Bee – “I Can’t Go For That” (Hall and Oates cover)
Intern Erika: It’s always cool when bands and artists go cross-genre and cross-generation to cover a great old song. The Bird & the Bee do a great job of turning this golden oldie into a new-age pop hit with their usual bouncy tunes under an effortlessly gentle voice. This one should have you tapping your toes and shimmying your shoulders all the way through to the weekend.
6. Dave Matthews Band – “Time of the Season” (Zombie’s Cover)
AMG Emily: Originally featured on the Zombie’s 1968 album, Odessey and Oracle, this classic song was a huge hit in its day. However, in recent years it’s regained momentum thanks to the Dave Matthews Band. This song is a staple among the jam band’s live sets. I think it’s DMB’s full band that really fleshes out the sounds of the song in a way that The Zombies never could really do. Either way, we truly love both versions of this song.
7. Bon Iver – “I Can’t Make You Love Me”(Bonnie Rait cover)
Intern Erika: There isn’t much in the world that’s more sad than Bonnie Rait’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me”. It’s a desperate plea for love that nearly brings a tear to our eyes every time we hear it. Justin Vernon of Bon Iver does this song such an incredible justice with his warm, high-pitched cry. He doesn’t seem to try to turn this song into a revision of his own, but simply tries to remind us of its existence.
8. Alien Ant Farm – “Smooth Criminal” (Michael Jackson Cover)
AMG Emily: I took a little poll amongst my friends and learned that for many people, this version is way more popular than the original- in some cases, those polled didn’t even realize this wasn’t the original. In fact, if you look up the original music videos on YouTube, you’ll find that the Alien Ant Farm Version has more than 35 million views, which trounces Michael Jackson’s 8 million views. Of course, we mean no disrespect to the King of Pop, just noting that Alien Ant Farm might have done it a bit better in this case.
9. Lykke Li – “Silver Springs” (Fleetwood Mac Cover)
Intern Erika: Let’s face it — everyone likes Fleetwood Mac and “Silver Springs” is certainly among their most favorited ballads. Most of us have heard all sorts of Fleetwood Mac covers, but Lykke Li is one artist who does serious justice to this song. Her strong, echo-y voice reinvigorates this classic and gives it life in a more modern era. The constant, steady drumming gives the song a sense of progression and build up and makes our hearts flutter a bit.
10. Lissie – “Pursuit of Happiness” (Kid Cudi Cover)
AMG Emily: This song was my first introduction to Lissie. And it was through this song that this girl totally impressed me. She’s got a sweet, smoky sounding set of pipes. Lissie completely changes the sound of this song by transforming it from hip hop to alternative pop and masculine to feminine. While technically it might not be more popular that the original, I applaud Lissie for taking on this cover so soon after the hit rose to fame.
Is your favorite cover missing from the list? Let us know your picks in the comment section or on twitter!