Cover versions are tricky things. They can be brilliant, or they can be terrible. I’m not a fan of covers in general and I don’t go out of my way to seek them out, but I always find it interesting to hear how a band has put their own stamp on a song.
On the internet you can find lists of ‘the greatest cover versions’. It’s all subjective though and depends on your criteria. The quality of the vocals? How popular the song is? The updating of a song for a new generation? And the ‘greatest’ covers are not going to be the same as an individual’s favourites. Here are mine – you probably know most of them, but there may be some surprises.
‘It’s My Life’ by Talk Talk (1984), cover by No Doubt (2003). Gwen Stefani’s voice suits this song and there is a cool, effortless vibe to it. I will always prefer the original but I think this is a very good cover.
‘Inheritance’ by Talk Talk (1988), cover by Recoil (2012). Featuring the vocals of Linton Kwesi Johnson and Paul Marshall, this is an edgy and atmospheric reworking which is sensitive to the original, yet creative.
‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ by The Beatles (1967), cover by Candy Flip (1990). This is a ‘baggy’ Madchester take on my favourite Beatles song. It’s quite cute. I should hate it but actually I find it irresistible.
‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ by The Beatles (1967), cover by Elton John (1974). I like how Elton’s version isn’t too different from the original, but is in his own style. It sounds more awake and less trippy.
‘Mad World’ by Tears for Fears (1982), cover by Michael Andrews and Gary Jules (2003). I remember there was a fuss when this reached Xmas No.1, because it’s a sad song. It works well as a ballad with minimal backing.
‘Burning Down the House’ by Talking Heads (1983), cover by Tom Jones & The Cardigans (1999). I prefer it to the original. It works well as a duet between two very different singers.
‘Freak Like Me’ by Adina Howard (1995), cover by Sugababes (2002). A great idea to use Tubeway Army’s ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric?’ as a backing track to the girls’ sultry vocals. It just works so well.
‘Can’t Stand Losing You’ by The Police (1978), cover by Feeder (2001). An angrier, rockier version. Feeder also covered ‘The Power of Love’ by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, which is less of a success in my opinion.
‘Comfortably Numb’ by Pink Floyd (1979), cover by Scissor Sisters (2004). A classic Pink Floyd song as an upbeat shimmering disco track could sound quite wrong, but it’s impressively good.
What are your favourite cover versions? Let me know!