The Zaw Towers Top 10 Cover Versions of All Time
Although there weren't enough responses to the little poll I had running (but thank you for those who did give me some ideas anyway, I appreciate it a lot) I thought it would be nice to actually give you the ten that I would have nominated for. Hopefully it might make you go and listen to either the cover or the original..
1 - Cactus - David Bowie (2002, original by The Pixies, 1988)
David Bowie for years had been singing the praises of the Pixies, saying that they were one of his favourite all time bands. Indeed he got Black Francis (who by that time was now Frank Black) playing at his 50th birthday do. So when he was working on his 2002 album Heathen, it was about time he felt he could do a good version of a Pixies album track. Yes, that's right, an album track, not a single. Respect to the man indeed. And more respect because not only did he pull it off, but actually made it a different version but yet retaining that ragged edge that the original has with Bowie's vocals really making it spine-chillingly good the way he sings it. Now why can't all covers be like this?
2 - Bigmouth Strikes Again - Placebo (1996, original by The Smiths, 1986)
The Smiths were so good back in the day, and at many a Smiths night this would be the song that got quite a few people on the dance floor. When Brian Molko of Placebo decided to give the vocals a go, he dared change a few words here and there, so you now got phrases "as her Megadrive started to melt" which intertwined brilliantly with a brooding mood which although in the same musical key as the original, had enough edge and bite to make this version a most excellent reworking that it is. Rumour was that even Morrissey himself actually liked this one, so it can't be half bad.
3 - Metal - Nine Inch Nails (2000, original by Gary Numan, 1979)
Hard to believe for some of you, but Gary Numan actually influenced a fair number of Industrial bands and they respect him highly (see Fear Factory's cover of Cars below, in fact). Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails is also a fan, and when it came to a set of remixes of tracks from the 1999 epic album "The Fragile" that became "Things Falling Apart" there were some new tracks too and this storming cover of Metal was one of them. It doesn't deviate that much from the original but keeps its electronic roots intact, only a bit darker and with an extended end part that somehow adds to the piece and makes you feel a little more like you're in suspense somewhere. And Trent does sound rather a bit more angry as he thrashes out the vocals too, which helps a lot.
4 - New Dawn Fades - Moby (1994, original by Joy Division, 1979)
Hidden away on the Feeling So Real CD single, and then publicised by its appearance in the movie Heat, Moby turns the original a little into a more twisted and tortured reworking, with the main parts treated with more than enough love and respect, now the Hooky guitar is replaced by a really crunching guitar and Ian Curtis' vocal is instead Moby's tortured soul bared open as he gradually breaks down more emotionally as the tune goes on. Definitely when he did it acoustic live once it didn't have half the impact that this bared down electric full of soul version did. And the original is utterly timeless.
5 - Step On - Happy Mondays (1990, original by John Kongos, 1970)
Madchester and its baggy era needed a defining anthemic moment, and by hell did the Mondays hand us one nicely. Although not one of their own, they turned an old John Kongos piece on its head, with the immortal line of "You're twistin' my melon, man!" throughout which just added. There were just enough lyrics for Shaun Ryder to get his head round before he would go off on drugged frenzy, and the piano that led the whole thing into the tune was a veritable masterstroke of substance over style. Even today it's so emintently catchy that this just had to be here.
6 - Does Your Mother Know? - Ash (1995, original by Abba, 1979)
Pop punk replacing Swedish pop and actually doing them an honour? Yes, believe it kids. Hidden on a B-side are often the best covers and this is no exception. It takes away the cheesiness of the original, adds a sprinkling of pop punk guitar, blends it in well with Tim Wheeler's more soothed voice, and really does make it into a track that you actually aren't ashamed to dance to, if that's possible. Short, but sweet, and it fitted in with Ash's then penchant for bringing out great three minute or so pop punk choons. Since then this cover has appeared on some Abba tribute compilation so maybe the band even liked it?
7 - We Have All The Time In The World - Fun Lovin' Criminals (1996, original by John Barry, 1969)
What no Louis Armstrong? Well, he made it not long after John Barry had composed it for a Bond film, you see, but that's besides the point. What we're talking here is Huey Morgan and the boys putting some schmoove into the mix and making it a welcoming chillout almost cuddle up to your partner and slow kiss them type of piece, such is the mellowness of the way that the FLCs did it on their first album Come Find Yourself. It's so laid back, the slide guitars in there really add some depth and dimension and Huey is at his huskiest along the way, which can't be bad. And they still do this live, too.
8 - Cars - Fear Factory (1999, original by Gary Numan, 1979)
Cars, what a classic song that is. It even was used in a Carling beer ad. But then in 1999 Fear Factory thought as good as the original is, it needs something more, like an electric guitar that pounds in the main background lead along with a good drum to really make it less electronic and more mordern, but yet keep all the electronic stuff in the background. And that worked. But not only that, Numan himself was so impressed that he actually got to sing guest vocals on their cover, just to give the song that extra little bit of realism and stamp of approval. Now if that doesn't make you want to go and search for it...
9 - Hurt - Johnny Cash (2002, original by Nine Inch Nails, 1994)
A late entry maybe, but so well deserved. Not least for the fact that it was from the Cash's last album, but also the whole of his American Recordings series were the man stripped bare, with just him and his guitar. With a few altered lyrics ("I wear this crown of thorns" being an example), the sheer emotion of the man and the simplistic but yet perfect guitar that makes the whole thing work gives the tune a dimension that even Trent Reznor himself marvelled at, recalling when he saw the accompanying video, which you should definitely go and check out - it's a masterpiece of raw talent over marketing.
10 - Pennyroyal Tea - Kristin Hersh (1999, original by Nirvana, 1993)
Some irony: Pennyroyal Tea was due to be released as a single but Kurt Cobain's death saw that it wasn't. Anyway, a few years later and the divine Kristin Hersh has a go at the seminal Nirvana track. And does a bloody good job, with the raw and emotional Kristin in her fiercest gruff voice during the chorus blasting out the chorus, with all the less angry acoustic bits in between. It works on so many levels and yet is really faithful to how the original sounds, after all if it isn't broke, put your own slant on it but don't fix it. One at least to remind you of even if you didn't like them, how much Nirvana put themselves and a lot other bands on the map.