Covers. Love them or hate them, they’ll always exist. Sometimes they’re a beautiful rendition of an artist’s favourite track. Other times they’re unbearable. Here are some of the best.
‘Back to Black’ – Sam Fender
There are so many beautiful covers out there but it’s me so I had to choose a Sam Fender song. The song fits perfectly with Sam’s voice, highlighting his vocal range and soul. I also love the guitar in the background, its really calming. I think this is the perfect song for Sam Fender to cover, and I could listen all the time to how this song highlights his voice.
‘Valerie’ – Amy Winehouse
This list couldn’t possibly be complete without mentioning what is potentially one of the best known covers in musical history. I am, of course, referring to the absolute diamond that is Amy Winehouse’s cover of ‘Valerie’, first penned by The Zutons in 2007.
Both versions are brilliant, and it can be asserted that being able to compose original material is an integral part of being a musician (we all know what people said about The Monkees…), but Amy puts her own distinct stamp on the song, and it can argued that her cover actually brought the original to a much wider audience too.
Not only did Amy’s version perform better in the UK charts at the time of release (peaking at two, and remaining in the top 20 for 19 weeks, compared to the original reaching [the still respectable] nine in the charts), but Amy’s version has also had much great longevity, and has firmly been granted pop culture status. Both versions are brilliant, but Amy succeeds at conveying a very different mood through exactly the same song.
‘Dog Is Life/Jerusalem’ – The Fall
Blake’s Jerusalem (properly named ‘And did those feet in ancient time…’), put to music by Hubert Parry, is the UK’s unofficial second national anthem. Its rousing lyrics depicting the return of Jesus to England could well up feelings of patriotism in even the most anti-nationalist of British citizens. The Fall’s ‘Dog is Life/Jerusalem’ from the album ‘I Am Kurious Oranj’ is a slightly more left-field post-punk cover of said anthem, complete with a disgusting (good) bassline and a slightly deranged stream of consciousness rant about dogs as the intro.
‘There She Goes’ – Sixpence None The Richer
This song has contains a lot of nostalgia. I first remember hearing and taking notice of this version when it was played in my flat in first year. Softer than the original, it has a more reflective vibe and every time I hear those opening guitar riffs I’m taken back to good times. I wasn’t sure whether to write about it but when I heard the song playing on the radio this morning (albeit the original), it felt like a sign that it had to be shared.
‘Step On’ – The Happy Mondays
I never realised this was a cover until last year. Arguably the most well-known Mondays song from the Madchester scene, the lyrics from Step On are actually taken from a song by John Kongos called ‘He’s Gonna Step On You Again’ released in 1971. Multiple covers have been made, but the Happy Mondays’ is by far the best. This is a song that became a symbol of Madchester and the Hacienda in the 80s and 90s and it is a very worthy cover.
‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’ – Alex Turner
‘Like A Version’ is an amazing YouTube series run by ‘triple j’, which allows famous artists to cover iconic songs. They’ve had some fantastic acts over the years, but one that sticks out to me personally would be Alex Turner’s take on Tame Impala’s ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’.Turner’s vocals on this track are out of this world, with his signature Sheffield twang and drawn out emphasis on every syllable accompanied by a light acoustic arrangement. It reminds me of some of the slower Arctic Monkeys songs, like ‘No Buses’, with an emphasis on vocals as opposed to guitar. In the perfect blend of Indie, this Arctic Monkeys x Tame Impala crossover is a testament to the power of artist collaborations, and that the way different artists interpret music can, in term, create new art.
‘Superstar’ – Sonic Youth
To create a great cover version of a song I think an artist has to reinvent it in their own style, whilst also showing respect to the original. I think Sonic Youth’s version of ‘Superstar’ does this perfectly. The song was originally released by Delaney and Bonnie in 1969 and has been covered by lots of artists since, most famously The Carpenters two years later. Sonic Youth were huge fans of The Carpenters, they even had a shrine to them, and released an album solely dedicated to covers of their music, so they had respect for the song they were covering. They also put their own spin on ‘Superstar’, transforming it from a fairly straight forward ballad into a much darker, moody, grungy, almost creepy song. It’s a great cover version and in my opinion the best version of the song.
‘Dirty Old Town’ – The Pogues
If the anatomy of a good cover is taking a song and putting your unique stamp on it, without dishonouring the original, then The Pogues’ rendition of ‘Dirty Old Town’ is certainly successful. The song was written by Ewan MacColl and inspired by Salford, and it has been covered relentlessly, but The Pogues’ version eclipses all others. The harmonica at the start introduces what has become a classic tune, before Shane MacGowan sets off on a deeply nostalgic recollection in his signature snarl. ‘Dirty Old Town’ is about a sentimental longing for a home that, whilst not the prettiest place in the world, contains so much in the way of personal memory, and that is something that The Pogues capture expertly. They stay true to MacColl’s original whilst adding that uniquely Celtic sound for which they are so famous, producing a cover that for me, cannot be beaten.
‘He Needs Me’ – Anika
This song achieves something few covers do, it completely transforms the song into a standalone piece that is a beautiful track in its own right. Anika does this by turning Shelley Duvall’s “He Needs Me” from the soundtrack of “Popeye” from a sweetly upbeat profession of devotion into an ethereal, almost haunting track. The repetitive church organ bassline and Anika’s monotonous echoing vocals don’t exactly inspire hope like the original track, and make for one of the best reinterpretations of a song ever.
‘All Along the Watchtower’ – Jimi Hendrix
Not the most common knowledge but this song in fact was a cover of an original tune written by Bob Dylan from 1967. Despite being a cover, it was Hendrix that made this song popular. It has been said that Dylan enjoyed Hendrix’s version of the song so much that for years after he played it the way that the cover was recorded. The heavy yet simple beat as a song is just infatuating, you can’t help but sit and listen to the full thing.
‘Believe’- Okay Kaya
Originally by Cher, ‘Believe’ has also been covered by another of my favourite bands DMA’s. However, this version by Okay Kaya is haunting and beautiful. I’m not generally a fan of covers that have been slowed down a lot- they just sound like every busker you’ve ever heard on Northumberland Street when you’re trying to hotfoot it back to your lecture Greggs-in-hand- but this one is a notable exception. There’s a clarity to her voice and a simplicity to the instrumentals that make this a standout cover.
Alex Turner all along the watchtower amy winehouse Anika Back to Black believe dirty old town dog is life/jerusalem feels like we only go backwards Happy Mondays he needs me jimi hendrix okay kaya sam fender sixpence none the richer Sonic Youth step on Superstar the fall the pogues there she goes valerie
Last modified: 20th April 2020