So, the Observer Music Monthly is due to release their list of the 50 Greatest Cover Versions. Pop music has always had even the biggest stars churning out their own takes on music by artists that have influenced them. The earliest charts frequently had different versions of the same song battling against each other. Rock and Roll was awash with updates of classic numbers, band like The Beatles (Long Tall Sally) started their careers updating the old r'n'b classics.
The late 70s and early 80s saw punk reclaiming standards as their own (My Way - Sex Pistols) and the new wave and ska/reggae revival thrived on putting a slant on tracks that many people didn't even realise had been released before (Police and Thieves - The Clash, Our Lips Are Sealed - Fun Boy Three, A Message to Rudy - The Specials).
In the 80s and 90s it was the turn of the stadium rockers (Live and Let Die/Knocking on Heavens Door - Guns N Roses, Easy - Faith No More) to pave the way for today's nu rockers to turn tracks into power ballads and lighters-in-the-air live set essentials (Green Day - I Fought the Law, Smooth Criminal - Alien Ant Farm). The "hit factories" of bubblegum pop used drive-in movie themes and glossed them up for a teenage audience (Unchained Melody - Robson and Gerome, Sealed With a Kiss - Jason Donovon). And not forgetting dance music and electronica's reworkings which continue to this day (Tainted Love - Soft Cell, Pet Shop Boys - Always on my Mind - Pet Shop Boys, Happy Mondays - Step On, Over Yet - Klaxons).
With the advent of sampling and the proliferation of boy/girl bands the radio nowadays sounds like one big remix of old tunes (anything by Atomic Kitten/Westlife etc), especially with every other rap record being backed by a eclectic mix of tunes the artists must have raided from their parents record collection (So Many Roads - Example samples The Carpenters!!!).
Even the indie crowd are in on the act, ironically covering pop songs and "guilty pleasure' tunes (Independent Women - Elbow, Hit Me Baby One More Time - Travis, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road - Keane). Even Jo Whiley's show on Radio One is made listenable by the "LI
ive Lounge" sessions where everyone playing live has to chose a track they want to cover. Today 30 Seconds to Mars made Kanye West's Stronger into a bearable ballad!
Ok, enough, on with the list. These are all random (good and bad) covers which many people don't even realise were cover versions, I'm not going to attempt to say which are "the best"! They were generally bigger hits than the original versions.
- Twist and Shout - The Beatles (originally recorded by The Topnotes)
- House of the Rising Sun - The Animals (traditional American folk song)
- All Along the Watchtower - Jimi Hendrix (Bob Dylan)
- Knockin' on Heaven's Door - Eric Clapton (Bob Dylan)
- Jealous Guy - Roxy Music (John Lennon)
- I Fought the Law - The Clash (Sonny Curtis and The Crickets)
- Hallelujah - Jeff Buckley (Leonard Cohen)
- New England - Kirsty McColl (Billy Bragg)
- Go West - Pet Shop Boys (Village People)
- Stepping Stone - The Farm (The Monkees)
- Caravan of Love - The Housemartins (Isley-Jasper-Isley)
- Hurt - Johnny Cash (Nine Inch Nails)