Five Cover Versions

I got into a conversation yesterday about great cover versions, so I thought I would share a few of the ones I like best…

The Futureheads – ‘Hounds of Love’ (Original, by Kate Bush)

Improving Kate Bush’s work is some sort of Sisyphean task, but I think the four lovely lads from Sunderland made this song their own. True indie gentlemen, and so much fun when they play it live.

Sex Pistols – ‘Roadrunner’ (Original, by Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers)

The original ‘Roadrunner’ is a really wonderful song, and among a handful of tracks that perfectly encapsulate the pre-fall innocence of youth. The Sex Pistols attempt to cover it in the studio (despite Johnny Rotten not knowing the words) is just ridiculous, but makes me laugh whenever I listen to it. Which is pretty frequently.

Nirvana – ‘Where did you sleep last night?’ (Original, by Leadbelly)

On one level this song is thoroughly nasty, and certainly delves into misogyny for its raw emotion. Its transformation (by a not-long-for-this-world Cobain) into a desperate, aching chamber ballad is incredible.

Johnny Cash – ‘Hurt’ (Original, by Nine Inch Nails)

The original was pretty good, but the dying Cash somehow distilled his whole career into this version, wresting from the raw material a symphonic Wild West corrido-come-funeral march which is just heartbreaking. Every word is infused with bleak, brutal meaning.

Joan Baez – ‘It’s all over now, Baby Blue’ (Original, by Bob Dylan)

Joan gives Bobby a taste of his own medicine in putting a new spin on found material. Her version imparts sadness and longing in place of Bob’s trademark kiss-off indifference. This is especially poignant (or ironic?) given the speculation that Baez herself was ‘Baby Blue’.

Incidentally, it’s very hard to find Bob Dylan on YouTube, presumably because he can afford good lawyers, but had I been able to track it down, I would have included my all-time favourite cover which is Bob singing “Baby, let me follow you down“. It’s uncharacteristically raunchy, and is a wonderful expression of undiluted desire. The version I like is on the Live 1966 album, where Bob is backed by the Hawks.

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Published in: on August 15, 2010 at 6:36 pm  Comments (5)  

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  1. I thought I would have found an Amy Winehouse track to include, but her cover versions generally haven’t been of outstanding songs. This one is, but old misery guts on guitar and annoying Jools tinkling away manage to make it ordinary:

  2. My rec would be Cat Power’s version of New York. Mesmerising.

    • Oh I haven’t listened to that for absolutely ages! Brilliant. Yes, it has that hypnotic reverb all the way through and she sounds like a snake charmer. Great stuff.

  3. Devo: Satisfaction (perfect deconstruction of one of the most mythical rock classics, reinterpreting the song in a late seventies context).

    Marianne Faithfull: Working Class Hero (how wonderfully cheeky of her: a distant descendant of the Habsburgs sneering at another of rock’s mythologies. Somewhat unpleasant, but brilliant all the same).

    Telex: Rock around the clock (bloodless, machine-clunky rereading of 50s classic. Too, too funny).

    Not to say I don’t love the originals of these, it’s just I love it when rock debunks and ironises itself.


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