In the current issue of Smith Journal, we interviewed Evan Dando from The Lemonheads, famous for their rocky cover of Simon and Garfunkel's Mrs Robinson. Inspired by this, we cobbled together a list of our top 10 covers. It's a risky project, we admit, but here goes.
1. Hurt, originally from Nine Inch Nails, covered by Johnny Cash
Look, we love a bit of NIN, but Johnny took this to such a different place. It's the last gasp of a broken philosopher, harking back to his devil days. The film clip (Cash's last) is an honest-to-goodness heartbreaker. These days Trent Reznor basically plays the Cash version rather than his own. It's that good.
2. China Girl: Bowie versus Iggy
Bowie wrote China Girl with Iggy Pop in Berlin. Pop recorded it, then a few years later Bowie took it back and released it in 1983. We vote 1 for Bowie’s version.
3. Suicide is Painless, originally the M*A*S*H theme, covered by Manic Street Preachers
We're not sure whether we can say this is BETTER than the TV M*A*S*H theme, but the lyrics are probably way darker than you'd expect from Hawkeye, Klinger, et al. This seems to follow the lyrics from the original movie, and make it into a slow-burn headbanger.
4. Ever Fallen in Love, originally by the Buzzcocks, covered by Nouvelle Vague
Back in 2006 French Bossa Nova outfit NV really sparkled up the original, defying us to resist dancing to it.
5. I Will Always Love You, originally by Dolly Parton, covered by Whitney Houston
Dolly Parton is a gift humankind barely deserves. That said, Whitney Houston made this her own. If the 45-second opening – which Houston performs without accompaniment – doesn’t send a shiver down your spine, the explosive key change surely will. If not, see a doctor.
6. Stranger Than Kindness, originally from Nick Cave, covered by Fever Ray
FR is the side/solo project of Karen Dreijer Andersson, one half of dark Swedish electro outfit The Knife. It’s no easy thing critiquing the Cave, but it always felt to me that he was still feeling his way with this song at the time of recording. Fair reads or not, the version crafted by Fever Ray invests the track with a hauntedness that's far more visceral. The percussion jitters, the bass throbs, the synths pique* and subside, the vocals hover. Where Cave’s version maunders, Fever Ray’s stalks. And the film clip? Eerie as all get–out.
*(not a misspelling)
7. In the End, originally from Linkin Park, covered by Gordi
A few months after the death of Chester Bennington, Gordi performed live on Triple J’s Like A Version ‘a pocket symphony that underscored the electricity and emotion of the Platinum-busting original’.
8. Flame Trees, original from Jimmy Barnes, covered by Sarah Blasko
Why?: There’s no yelling in it. That’s all.
9. Peggy-O, original traditional Scottish folk song, covered by The National
This track, also known by the title The Bonnie Lass o' Fyvie is about a thwarted romance between a soldier and a girl. Authorship is unattributed, and there's no strict version of the lyrics, and it is often referred to by its opening line "There once was a troop o' Irish dragoons". It's been covered by everyone from Bob Dylan to Joan Baez, but we liked The National's version, below.
10. Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key, original from Woody Guthrie, covered by Billy Bragg & Wilco
This is one of a bunch of good 'uns, from Bragg's 1998 album 'Mermaid Avenue' which contains previously unheard lyrics written by folk icon Woody Guthrie.
11. Hallelulah, original from Leonard Cohen, covered by Jeff Buckley
It's been covered by John Cale, Rufus Wainright and even Bon Jovi but Buckley's version is the one that sings, wrapped up with soul, hope, love and despair.