Almost every band at some point of their career has covered a song by another band. The practice is so encouraged by record labels that it’s as common as the live album for taking money out of the pockets of fans. Some covers are amazing technical tributes, like Tool covering No Quarter by Led Zepplin, but most are horrible cash grabs, like No Doubt covering It’s My Life by Talk Talk. This Top 10 list, though, takes a song, drags it across genres, and the music comes out the other end as an amazingly original entity. This list also includes the shock value of “I can’t believe how well the cover translated from the original.” (Yes, I considered Hurt by Nine Inch Nails and Johnny Cash, but that song is on the TopTenz list Top 10 Covers You May Not Know Were Covers.)
10. Flagpole Sitta
Harvey Danger (1998)
In the late 90’s, this quirky little ditty came out of nowhere and scorched the college charts. So damn catchy, the song crossed over to U.S. and Canadian mainstream charts. The very definition of a one hit wonder, Flagpole Sitta is Harvey Danger‘s only song to hit the charts as they only released 3 proper albums. 10 years later, the post hardcore band Chiodos covered the song for the Punk Goes Pop compilation album. Chiodos turned a fun little song about mental illness into a terrifying trip into a mental institution. Chiodos’ version is like a great horror movie.
9. The Wonderous Boat Ride
Gene Wilder (1971)
Marilyn Manson (1994)
In 1964, Roald Dahl wrote the novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and in 1971 it was adapted into the cult film Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. When Gene Wilder starts to recite a poem from the book as the movie characters are all floating down the chocolate river in the boat, the film gets a bit ‘trippy.’ A generation later, Manson releases his debut album Portrait of an American Family. The festivities begin with Prelude (The Family Trip) which is a word for word cover from the film, but when Manson sings, it doesn’t sound like the intense part of a Rated G movie, but a guide taking the listener across the River Styx into Hell.
8. Hot for Teacher
Van Halen (1984)
Richard Cheese (2005)
Before Van Halen became the poster children of how NOT to treat your lead singers, they were the purveyors of down and dirty classic rock and roll. Hot for Teacher may not have been Van Halen’s biggest hit, but between the amazing drum and guitar solos, and their controversial video, the band cemented their legacy as one of the best rock bands of the 80’s. Twenty years later, Richard Cheese, master of lounge covers- yes, lounge- trots out this rousing version and you can imagine this guy tearing it up at some seedy Vegas show off the strip. The cover not only includes the drum solo, but incorporates piano and bass solos.
7. California Uber Alles
Dead Kennedys (1979)
Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprocy (1985)
Jello Biafra & The Melvins (2004)
The Dead Kennedys were one of the first wave of punk bands on the North American side of the Atlantic. In 1981 they wrote a scathing rebuttal to the policies of the Governor of California, Jerry Brown. By 1985, the Kennedys were riddled by scandals and breaking up, but their message continued on. The Disposable Hereos of Hiphoprocy picked up the cause and covered the song as a hard hitting political rap, this time editorializing the policies of Governor Pete Wilson. Sadly, the Heroes of Hiphoprocy also quickly disappeared into history. California Uber Alles was then again covered by the lead singer of the Dead Kennedys, Jello Biafra, this time in response to the leadership of then Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger, but without his backing band, replacing them instead with the grunge legends the Melvins. 25 years later, the venom remains and the musicianship is top notch.
6. She Blinded Me with Science
Thomas Dolby (1986)
William Shatner (2011)
One of the top songs recorded in all of the 80’s is this memorable little pop song by Thomas Dolby. Another great one hit wonder, Thomas Dolby may also be one of the most grounded artists of his era. Then in 2011, 80 year old William Shatner covers the song in an unknown genre. I have listened to the cover over and over, it’s not quite spoken word and it’s not quite pop. One source calls Shatner’s style ‘interpretive reading.’ When William Shatner was doing Star Trek, who would have thought that he would still be acting 40 years later? And would be a best selling author? And would be recording music into his 80’s? Campy, over-the-top, disturbing, and awesome are all adjectives that can describe the Shatner version.
5. Helter Skelter
The Beatles (1969)
Alice Donut (1992)
The first rule of covers is to never cover a Beatles song. How could you do any better than the Beatles? Helter Skelter probably wasn’t even one of the Beatles top 50 songs, yet that song alone was covered by over 20 artists. In the past 40 years, only one artist has stepped to the feet of the Beatles and done the original justice, and that’s an obscure band from New York City called Alice Donut. On their live album ‘Dry Humping the Cash Cow,’ they churn out an instrumental version of the song using a trombone substitution for Paul McCartney’s voice that properly captures the chaos of Helter Skelter. Punk music at its finest.
4. Hard Luck Woman
Garth Brooks (1994)
Kiss is one of the purest embodiments of rock and roll. Not known for their range, Kiss ruled the rock airwaves in the late 1970’s and their merchandise continues to rule the marketplace today (remember the Kiss coffin?). In 1994, they released a tribute album to themselves called Kiss My A**. Like many tribute albums, it was hit or miss. Shandi’s Addiction cover (a band made of up of members of Tool and Rage Against the Machine), awesome; Gin Blossoms cover, not so much. But it was Garth Brooks’ cover that was a revelation. Brooks turned Hard Luck Woman into a great country song. Not only did the covered song re-chart almost 20 years later, Garth’s version also made the country charts. (Note: all of you screaming “What about Def Leppard’s country collaborations?” Here’s your answer ahead of time, they were ALL terrible.)
3. Crazy Train
Ozzy Osbourne (1981)
Pat Boone (1991)
When this song first came out, I was offended. How could Pat Boone butcher a song by the Prince of Darkness? Then you find out Ozzy and Pat were friends that lived in the same neighborhood. Then the MTV series ‘The Osbournes‘ came out and Ozzy became a cartoon caricature of himself. Now I turn on my TV and see Kelly Osbourne on E!, Sharon Osbourne on NBC, and Ozzy needs a backing track to sing his own songs live. Pat Boone’s lounge-y, pop standard version of Crazy Train was the antithesis of the original, now it personifies the original’s singer.
2. Walk This Way
Run DMC/Aerosmith (1982)
Well documented story of a song by a hard partying rock band that was covered by a rap artist and changed the course of musical history. With how popular rap is today, it’s hard to believe that it was brought into the mainstream by this rock song and the accompanying video on MTV. (Personally, I think more damage was done when Anthrax and Public Enemy got together and covered the song Bring the Noise, almost single handedly spawning Nu Metal. “Kids, say thanks Anthrax. Thanks Anthrax.”)
1. My Humps
Black Eyed Peas (2005)
Alanis Morrisette (2007)
Embedding disabled, here’s the link to the video in our Top 10 YouTube Playlist.
One of the most popular hip hop bands of all time released this single in 2005. The single was certified double platinum, won a Grammy, and was on numerous Best of the 00’s lists. It was also on multiple ‘worst of’ lists, partially due to the fact that the song was overplayed to death. Two years later, alternative music performer Alanis Morrisette rolls out a mind bending version of the upbeat tune as a slow ballad. Even the YouTube video is hilarious given its contrast to the original. It’s nice that both Alanis and the Peas have a good sense of humor.
by Fred Hunt, author of the book American Suicide.