As both of our regular readers understand, I'm a sucker for a good cover song. Invariably, at least one bizarre cover will make an appearance in my Friday Random Ten, and I'm not just talking about the literal covers like the brilliant "Ethel Merman Disco Album" cover that stands to the left here.
I'm talking about people having the guts and/or laziness to tackle a classic song and put their own spin on it. There's just something about hearing a familiar tune reworked in unfamiliar ways, about having someone rip apart a perfectly good song and patch it together in new and surprising ways. I like seeing what different artists can do with the same text.
In that spirit, I thought we'd have another midweek musical discussion.
What are your favorite cover songs? Here are some of mine:
Jose Gonzalez, "Teardrop" (Massive Attack) -- This one is incredibly impressive. With just an acoustic guitar and his own vocals, Gonzalez somehow manages to get this one right. Doubt me? Check it out yourdamnself.
Superchunk, "100,000 Fireflies" (Magnetic Fields) -- The worst interview I've ever read? A college newspaper sent its music reporter out to interview the notoriously-moody Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields and, in the very first question, asked him, "What does it feel like to be in a band most people only know because of a Superchunk cover?" Wow. Way to insult the interviewee and expose your own ignorance at the same time, Chuckles. While lots of people love to cover the Magnetic Fields, this is probably the best cover I've found.
Radiohead, "Nobody Does It Better" (Carly Simon) -- This is a live version from the B-Sides collection. Thom Yorke introduces it as "the sexiest love song ever," and dammit if he isn't right. The original was the theme song from "The Spy Who Loved Me," and was so sexy that it drove superhot Russian spy Barbara Bach into the arms of the talentless, nebbishy Ringo Starr.
Christopher O'Reilly, "Everything in Its Right Place" (Radiohead) -- O'Reilly is a classical pianist who put out an entire album of Radiohead covers for which all aspects of the original -- vocals, guitars, keyboards, etc. -- are reproduced by him and him alone on the piano. If you're a Radiohead fan (and thus, not a dirty communist) you might enjoy this. It has moments where it gets close to Muzak, but for the most part it's impressive.
Afghan Whigs, "Band of Gold" (Freda Payne) -- Greg Dulli has a thing for Motown songs, usually Supremes songs like "I Hear a Symphony" and "Come See About Me." I guess he's in touch with his feminine side and it looks a lot like Diana Ross. Despite his Supremes obsession, this Freda Payne cover is one of his best.
Johnny Cash, "Hurt" (NIN) -- This has to be the greatest swan song from a musical legend. Ever.
Miho Hatori, "Crazy for You" (Madonna) -- This is like Cibo Matto on quaaludes, with Hatori's airy vocals and a sparse acoustic guitar slowing the song waaaaaaaaay dooooowwwwwnnn. Beautiful.
The Folksmen, "Start Me Up" (Rolling Stones) -- This is from the soundtrack to A Mighty Wind. It's easily my favorite thing to come out of the movie, and I'm surprised they didn't show it in the film itself. It's a brilliant twist on the original, and one that really brings out the dirtiness of the lyrics. "You make a grown man kum-ba-yaaaaaaaaah, my Lord!" Beautiful.
Magnapop, "Thirteen" (Big Star) -- They take a nice, sweet folk song and make it a nice, sweet grunge song.
Urge Overkill, "Emmaline" (Hot Chocolate) -- Most people would probably select their cover of Neil Diamond's "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon," but I've always loved the tragic groove of this slow funker. It's fairly close to the original's sensability, but the vocals set it apart.
Red House Painters, "Long Distance Runaround" (Yes) -- This one's for the Thrillhous. Great cover.
The Cardigans, "Iron Man" (Black Sabbath) -- I have a weakness for Scandinavian pop groups, but when they regularly cover Black Sabbath songs -- as in this one, and another cover of "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" -- I have no defense.
Cat Power, "Wonderwall" (Oasis) -- This is from a live performance on BBC Radio. I normally despise all things Oasis, but her slowed-down acoustic version of this song is pretty damn good.
The Gourds, "Gin and Juice" (Snoop Doggy Dogg) -- There's something perverse about hearing a bluegrass band sling it Westsiiiiiidddeeeee, but this is absolutely brilliant. Along with an accordian-dominated cover of the Stones' "Miss You," this cover closes out a three-CD live set that the Gourds did at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville. Sa-lute!
Iron & Wine with Calexico, "Always on My Mind" -- This is from a concert given by these two for NPR (available here). The two combined for a final set of nine songs, three of which were great covers. ("All Tomorrow's Parties" and "Wild Horses" were the other two). This is perfect.
Alright, that's enough for now. I could do this all day, but you would've stopped reading long, long ago when I got into the ABBA covers I discovered over at Copy, Right?
Please feel free to drop your own favorites in the comments below. We'll then cover your comments into a new and wholly original version of our own.