I don’t always love a cover version. Often I think they are pointless and boring. But a cover version done well, when it brings something new to the song, is a beautiful thing. These are my all-time favourites.
Hole – Gold Dust Woman (original by Fleetwood Mac)
Every element of this is so perfect to my sensibilities. Love. Nicks. Gothed up to the nines. ‘Did she make you cry/make you break down/shatter your illusions of love?’ Yes. Yes, she did.
Nick Cave – Tower of Song (original by Leonard Cohen)
One of those covers where the synergy is so right you could have dreamed it. Cave doing his best psychobilly crazed death swagger, to one of his hero’s (and mine) most darkly hilarious and sexed-up songs. ‘Well, you can stick those pins in your voodoo doll/I’m sorry honey, but it don’t look like me at all… THEY DON’T LET A WOMAN KILL YOU IN THE TOWER OF SONG!’
Cat Power – Metal Heart (original by Cat Power)
Yes, you read that right. Metal Heart was a song on Cat Power’s breakthrough album, Moon Pix. At the time, she was seriously depressed and alcohol-soaked – she famously wrote most of the album during a fever-dream hallucination in a remote farmhouse, where she thought demons were trying to possess her, writing and writing songs to protect herself and keep them away. Fast forward a few years – Cat Power has been sectioned and released, taken up Pilates and pretty much given up alcohol, grown up and got seriously glamorous. So it was incredibly fitting that on her second all-covers album, Jukebox, she should cover one of her old songs – transforming her own work into a song of triumph and brilliance. Hat off, Chan.
Sonic Youth/Ciccone Youth – Get Into the Groove (original by Madonna)
This is getting into territory dangerously close to the novelty/ironic cover version – but, for once, in a good way. Yeah, it’s a deadpan version of a disco classic – and it’s sung by Thurston rather than Kim, which somehow heightens the effect. But here’s the crucial thing – it’s really, really good. It’s a great song, done in a sludgy lo-fi style that actually really suits it. It’s a good piece of work on its own, with or without the hipster factor.
Tori Amos – I Don’t Like Mondays (original by the Boomtown Rats)
You’ve got to love a cover if it is part of a pretentious concept album, right? Yes, dear Tori made a whole album of very specific cover versions – songs written by men about women. This is very different and even better than the original – it brings out the spookiness and heartbreak of the subject matter so far that it’s almost unbearable. The Eminem cover’s pretty bloody good, as well.
Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah (original by Leonard Cohen)
Leonard Cohen himself has acknowledged, in typical understated style: ‘I think it’s a good song, but it’s been overdone now’. He is, of course, so very right. However, I do have a favourite version and it’s the divine Jeff Buckley’s. On Grace, this is positioned next to the sublime and wonderful Lover, You Should Have Come Over – I swear I nearly wore out those two tracks.
Evan Dando – I Ain’t Missing You (original by John Waite)
The charming Evan does a lovely line in charming cover versions. To give you a general flavour, I will tell you that he usually whistles and winds it up by making some funny noises. This is a particularly nice one – Mr Dando’s jovial nature somehow adds to the poignancy of this sad, sad pop song.
REM – First We Take Manhattan (original by Leonard Cohen)
God, there are a lot of Leonard Cohen covers on here. Fuck it. I suppose that’s because the man writes songs that other songwriters covet. This is such a dark, sinister song – and the 80s doom-pop tones that REM bring to this one add to the atmosphere. ‘I don’t like your fashion business, mister/I don’t like those drugs that keep ya thin/I don’t like what happened to my sister – first we’ll take Manhattan/then we’ll take Berlin.’
Satisfaction – PJ Harvey and Bjork (original by the Rolling Stones)
Oh, how I miss the days when the Brit Awards were all like this. Polly and Bjork standing up, both dressed in black, doing the sparsest, sexiest cover I have ever heard in my entire life. I hero-worshipped them both – still do – so this was mind-blowing to me at the time.
The Man Who Sold The World – Nirvana (original by David Bowie)
An obvious one to end on – but it’s only obvious because it’s so bloody good! Nirvana Unplugged is one of the most perfect (and poignant) sets ever played in history, and every cover on it is divine. However, it was this one that first grabbed me. Strangely, I have to admit – despite being a Bowie fan, the first version I heard of this song was the Nirvana one. I knew it was a cover (because I knew the Nirvana catalogue backwards) but I had to find out who did the original. And then, of course, it seemed obvious. KC had a particular talent for knowing the covers that suited him the best, almost like telepathy. ‘I must have died alone, a long long time ago…’ If that doesn’t reduce you to tears, or at the very least give you serious goosebumps, then there is no hope for your soul.