The Most Surprisingly Awesome Cover Versions in History


Way back in the deep, dark days of Flavorpill past — i.e. about a year and a half ago — we amused ourselves over the quiet period between Christmas and New Year’s Eve by compiling a mixtape of the best cover versions ever. Hearing about Mastodon’s hugely unlikely cover of Feist’s “A Commotion” (and Feist returning the favor with her interpretation of the metal behemoths’ “Black Tongue”) has got us thinking about the topic again, with a slightly different slant: what about similarly outlandish covers, ones that shouldn’t work but somehow do? There have been some truly weird and wonderful ones over the years, so we’ve put together a selection after the jump. Let us know if you can think of any more.

Ol’ Dirty Bastard — “Sussudio”

One day someone will write a serious cultural dissertation about the hip-hop world’s enduring, inexplicable fondness for Phil Collins, but for now, we’ll devote ourselves to the following question: can Patrick Bateman’s favorite song, the track that basically exemplified everything that was horrible about the ’80s, be redeemed by the Wu-Tang Clan’s most notorious lunatic via the assistance of Auto-Tune and a couple of rambling verses about rhymes “so dirty you couldn’t clean them with Comet”? As unfeasible as it seems, the answer may well be “yes.” It’s certainly a whole lot less objectionable than the original, anyway.

The Mountain Goats — “The Sign”

Earnest dudes-with-guitars covers of pop songs are dime-a-dozen (cf. Travis doing “Baby One More Time” and Daughtry’s version of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face,” for instance), but there’s something pleasantly exuberant about John Darnielle’s take on Ace of Base’s 1993 megahit. Crucially, Darnielle comes across as if he genuinely loves the song and is celebrating this fact by playing it, rather than “discovering its inner beauty” or “stripping it back” or etc etc.

Eurythmics — “Satellite of Love”

From way back in 1983, Eurythmics reinvent Lou Reed’s inscrutable Transformer-era single as a last-song-before-the-club-closes epic. Even Lou liked this!

Scissor Sisters — “Comfortably Numb”

And in a similar vein, here’s Scissor Sisters’ debut single, a discofied reimagining of Pink Floyd’s songwriting apex. We’ll be honest — it took us a long, long time to warm to this, especially as the original is so perfect, but we eventually came around to the view that it could be that we’re actually just po-faced Floyd fans who need to ease the fuck up and dance.

John Cale — “Heartbreak Hotel”

Cale featured on our original covers mixtape with his glorious version of LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends,” but long before that, he was incorporating coruscating covers of Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” into his live shows throughout his, um, erratic ’70s period. Cale doesn’t so much perform the song as take an axe to it, hacking out the bleakness inherent in the lyrics and shoving it in his audience’s collective faces. The song’s still part of his live set list these days, and it’s still frightening.

Alanis Morissette — “My Humps”

This skates dangerously close to novelty territory, but ultimately works because “My Humps” is so ripe for parody that you’d have to try really, really hard to fuck it up. See also Peaches’ “My Dumps,” which is dirtier and arguably even funnier. (You could also argue that the most unlikely thing about this whole video is that Alanis Morissette has a sense of humor in the first place, but we’d never be so unkind.)

Shellac — “Jailbreak”

It’s hard to think of two frontmen more different than Steve Albini and the late Bon Scott, but somehow Albini’s perpetually priapic angst works a treat on this cover of AC/DC’s outlaw classic. Albini sounds like a man who really has been locked up for 16 years, and is going over the wall to start humping the first tree he comes across.

Veruca Salt — “My Sharona”

As a reader pointed out in the context of our recent post on gloriously offensive songs, this is actually a rather disturbing lyric when you listen to it carefully: “Ooh my little pretty one,” “Always get it up for the touch of the younger kind,” etc. The lyric’s subtext no doubt escaped the gazillions of people who bought a copy of this song in 1979, even with the pretty massive hint given by the presence of the actual 17-year-old subject of the song’s affections — whose name really was Sharona — on the sleeve, in see-through white singlet. It didn’t escape Veruca Salt, though, whose entirely straight-faced rendition of the song only served to reinforce the creepiness of the words they were singing.

Tori Amos — “97 Bonnie and Clyde”

Also in the “hugely creepy” department, behold Marshall Mathers’ murder fantasies in all their excruciating detail. Given the song’s harrowing subject matter, it’s… an adventurous choice of cover, let’s say. But not only does Amos carry this off with aplomb, she manages to make it even more haunting than the original — the fact that it’s a woman’s voice recounting Eminem’s lyrics, especially over such a sparse musical backdrop, only serves to reinforce how disturbing they are. It’s certainly not easy listening, but then it isn’t meant to be.

The Residents — “Hitler Was a Vegetarian”

In which the Residents spend a thoroughly pleasurable 18 minutes or so deconstructing pop music history and reassembling it in a manner that’s both hugely weird and yet also imbued with some curious internal logic. Released in 1976, this was wildly ahead of its time, and it still sounds strange and wonderful some 35 years later.