Covers Better than the Original

Phoebe Bridgers new album, Copycat Killer, dropped today: four tracks of Bridgers covering her own work, with an orchestral background. At least a couple of them are, to my ears, more satisfying than the originals.

Sometimes covers, whether from the original artist like this (and Joni Mitchell’s orchestral covers of her own classics), of by others, can be improvements over the original: Jonatha Brooke’s 2004 cover of The Alan Parsons Project’s 1982 Eye in the Sky, for example, is clearly an improvement (although the original has its place in the 1980s musical canon).

Randy Newman’s original I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today, you would think, is impossible to top. Did Sidsel Endresen and Bugge Wesseltoft’s cover do it? Perhaps not. But their cover is wonderful nonetheless.

Depending on your tastes, you might find Eddie Berman and Laura Marling’s cover of Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark better than the original. Or you might find the mere suggestion sacrilege. 



Thelma's picture
Thelma on November 20, 2020 - 18:02 Permalink
A New England by Kirsty MacColl. When Doves Cry by Patti Smith. Harper Valley PTA by Vivian Reed. Light My Fire by Erma Franklin (Aretha’s sister). Alone Again (Naturally) by Esther Phillips. I love love love covers and downloaded dozens when the provincial library subscribed to Freegal.
roland's picture
roland on November 20, 2020 - 22:28 Permalink

"Human kindness is overflowing" I first heard I think it's gonna rain today when I listened to UB40's version in the 80s. Loved that version until I heard Randy Newman's which I agree is better! #ymmv

. josh .'s picture
. josh . on November 21, 2020 - 08:54 Permalink

to start with - "i will survive" by cake, "born to be wild" by jaymz bee and royal jelly, "love will tear us apart" by susannah and the magical orchestra, "paint it black" by fennesz, "the way young lovers do" by jeff buckley, "blackbird" by bobby mcferrin, "enter sandman" by apocalyptica, "smells like nirvana" by laura barrett, "the heart of saturday night" by jonathan richmann, and of course "calling occupants of interplanetary craft" by the carpenters.

Andrew MacPherson's picture
Andrew MacPherson on November 21, 2020 - 10:05 Permalink

Here are some of my favourite covers that I think compete with the original for greatness:

Title – original artist – cover artist
Keep Me in Your Heart – Warren Zevon – Wesley Schultz
Like a Rolling Stone – Bob Dylan – The Rolling Stones
Democracy – Leonard Cohen – The Lumineers
Anthem – Leonard Cohen – The Once
A Case of You – Joni Mitchell – Prince
Halo – Beyonce – Peter Katz
Bobcaygeon – The Tragically Hip – Reuben And The Dark
Helpless – Neil Young – k.d. lang
Love is Blindness – U2 – Jack White
Hummingbird – B.B. King – Bonnie Prince Billy
Four Strong Winds – Ian and Sylvia – Neil Young
Across the Universe – The Beatles – Rufus Wainwright
Barrett's Privateers – Stan Rogers – The Irish Descendants
Girl From the North Country – Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash – Rosanne Cash
It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine) – R.E.M. – Great Big Sea
Summer Side of Life – Gordon Lightfoot – Blackie and the Rodeo Kings
All Along The Watchtower – Bob Dylan – Jimi Hendrix
Old Man – Neil Young – The Wailin’ Jennys
All I Want Is You – U2 – Glen Campbell
Lovers in a Dangerous Time – Bruce Cockburn – Barenaked Ladies
Mr. Tambourine Man – Bob Dylan – The Byrds
Snowbird – Anne Murray – Catherine MacLellan
All That You Have Is Your Soul – Tracy Chapman – Emmylou Harris

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on November 21, 2020 - 10:21 Permalink

Keep Me in Your Heart for a While” is effectively irreproducible, but the Wesley Schultz cover is a college try, and nothing to be ashamed about.  As it happens, I have a Tim Chaisson cover of the song, unshareable alas, as it was a recorded just for me as part of an album fundraiser, that I love a lot. 

Andrew MacPherson's picture
Andrew MacPherson on November 21, 2020 - 16:02 Permalink

I think "Keep Me In Your Heart" is the song that should be used at times of grief and mass remembrance rather than "Hallelujah". The Wailin' Jennys also cover it on their most recent album. I first encountered it at the end of season 2 of Californication.

The Wesley Schlutz version is part of record of covers that he release last month that has excellent Sheryl Crow and Counting Crows covers as well. I was supposed to see him and The Lumineers live in September, hoping for 2021.

Andrea's picture
Andrea on November 21, 2020 - 16:08 Permalink

Not quite a cover, but one of the most interesting projects I've ever heard was Petra Haden's a capella recording of The Who's album, The Who Sell Out, using an 8-track recorder to cover all the tracks. Apparently even Pete Townshend thought listening to it was like hearing the music for the first time.

Also, I need to put in a good word for Neko Case who has done many wonderful covers, my favourites being her version of Bowling Green (orginally by the Everly Brothers) and Wayfaring Stranger (a folk song recorded by many, so maybe it doesn't count? But it's the best version I've ever heard.)

Andrew MacPherson's picture
Andrew MacPherson on November 21, 2020 - 16:15 Permalink

Willie Nelson covers need their own post. Part of me would be interested to see how he would interpret almost any song. Of course there are the classics songs he's covered like "Pancho and Lefty" (Townes Van Zandt via Emmylou Harris) and "City of New Orleans" (Steve Goodman) and of course "Stardust". I also enjoy his less well known covers of "Gergia on My Mind", "Bird on a Wire" and "What a Wonderful World".

In fact his first hit was as a songwriter for "Crazy" sung by Patsy Cline. Even that version of the song in a cover version because she got the idea for the weird intonation on singing the word crazy from listening Nelson own demo track of the song.

This year I came across two newer covers that seem appropriate during the Covid-19 pandemic. "The Scientist" by Coldplay and "Just Breathe" by Pearl Jam.

Finally let's not forget the awesome cover of "Always on My Mind" by The Pet Shop Boys.

Andrew MacPherson's picture
Andrew MacPherson on November 21, 2020 - 16:23 Permalink

Another notable song to be considered when discussing covers is "Both Sides Now" by Joni Mitchell. This is a song she wrote in the 60s when she was in her early 20s and while she did record it herself then, it was widely covered by many other people back then including Judy Collins and Anne Murray. A curious instrumental cover I came across this year is by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band from the early 70s which speaks to just how influential she has been. Two years ago Rufus Wainwright and his husband organized a 75th birthday tribute to Joni Mitchell which includes many great cover versions of her best songs including Seal singing the hell out of "Both Sides Now" apparently at Joni's specific request.

However, I think the best cover version of this song is actually Joni Mitchell's 2000 recording of the song. Her voice is deeper and gives the feeling of truly experiencing both sides of life. It is of course featured in "Love, Actually" and was one of the highlights of the opening ceremonies to the 2010 Olympics.

Andrea's picture
Andrea on November 21, 2020 - 16:56 Permalink

Others that have to mind is Chrissie Hynde's cover of Radiohead's Creep and Everything But The Girl's 1992 album Acoustic (which has a few gems) cover of Bruce Springsteen's Tougher Than the Rest is one of my favourite songs. Also, i think Rod Stewart and Amy Belle's version of I Don't Want to Talk About It is better than his original.

I love this topic.

Oliver (FS)'s picture
Oliver (FS) on November 23, 2020 - 03:50 Permalink

Richard Thompson's "Oops, I did it again"

Kate McKenna's picture
Kate McKenna on November 23, 2020 - 16:49 Permalink

Late on this, but thanks for the Bridgers rec. I agree, I like some of these versions (Kyoto, Punisher) better than the ones on Punisher.