Music History

Published on July 16th, 2018 | by Alan Cross


Weekly Survey: What are your top 3 cover songs?

The sign of a great song is its ability to be adapted by anyone in any style and still be great. Another way of looking at this is the campfire test. If a song can be successfully performed in a super barebones way and still sound good, then it’s a great song.

And artists love doing covers because, well, it’s fun. Who wouldn’t want to rock out playing and acting out a favourite song yourself?

Alt-rock history has some awesome covers. Soft Cell’s version of Gloria Jones’ “Tainted Love.” Marilyn Manson’s spin on the Eurthymics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” Nirvana’s “The Man Who Sold the World” (Bowie, of course). We can even toss Pearl Jam’s treacly “Last Kiss,” originally by J Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers.

My top three?

The Clash, “Brand New Cadillac,” originally done by Vince Taylor.

Johnny Cash does all sorts of justice to Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt.”

The White Stripes with Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.”

Simple question: What are your top three alt-rock covers?

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About the Author

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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30 Responses to Weekly Survey: What are your top 3 cover songs?

  1. Marty Murray says:

    Wow! This is a hard one, simply because there are so many choices. I love all three of your picks, Alan. Some immediately spring to mind. “Going Down To Liverpool” by the Bangles, originally done by Katrina & The Waves. “Wasted Years” by Ryan Adams, originally done by Iron Maiden, and that’s real barebones cover just on the acoustic guitar. “Venus” by Bananarama, originally done by Shocking Blue. I love Bryan Ferry’s cover of Dylan’s “Talking Tom Thumb’s Blues.” My old friend Ron Sexsmith does a lot of amazing covers, especially of Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney.

  2. fred says:

    Have to agree with Jack White’s Jolene and Johnny Cash’s Hurt.

    Queensryche did a cover of Dalbello’s “gonna get close to you” and whether you like QR or not, you have to give Geoff Tate’s vocal chops their due. The guy has a fantastic voice and it truly comes through in this cover. Give it a listen. Arguably one of the best metal voices ever.

    Also would add “Into your arms” by the Lemonheads. Found out recently it was a cover of a song by an Australian band called Sexual Positions.

  3. Cara says:

    Mrs. Robinson – The Lemonheads

  4. Jen says:

    I’m an odd duck so here are mine
    Baba O’Riley – Pearl Jam
    Enjoy the Silence – Lacuna Coil
    Stand By Me – Pennywise

  5. NK says:

    I think your top 3 is pretty unimpeachable, but would add the following. The Sonic Youth cover of “Superstar” which was originally done by the Carpenters. I also really enjoy both the original and vastly diffferent cover version of Devo’s “Girl U Want” that Soundgarden recorded. Lastly, I would go with “Police and Thieves” by the Clash, which is a cover of an already great song by reggae artist Junior Murvin.

  6. Call Me Snake says:

    Lera Lynn and bandmate Ben Lewis doing a banjo driven cover of TV On The Radio’s “Wolf Like Me”

  7. Call Me Snake says:

    You wanted 3. Locked in the Trunk of a Car by Justin Rutledge. Pretty good video as well. He did a whole album of Hip covers.
    Chris Cornell- Billie Jean

  8. Greg says:

    Love and Rockets – Ball of Confusion
    Bangles – Hazy Shade of Winter
    Pukka Orchestra – Listen to the Radio

  9. Dave Breakenridge says:

    MIke Doughty (Formerly of Soul Coughing) – Country Roads Take Me Home
    Ryan Adams – Wonderwall
    Charles Bradley – Heart of Gold

  10. JPK says:

    My top 3
    Nirvana – The Man Who Sold the World (originally by David Bowie)
    Frente – Bizarre Love Triangle (originally by New Order)
    Gary Jules – Mad World (originally by Tears For Fears)

    Honorable mentions
    Jimi Hendrix – All Along the Watchtower (originally by Bob Dylan)
    Cowboy Junkies – Sweet Jane (originally by the Velvet Underground)
    Urge Overkill – Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon (originally by Neil Diamond)
    Soft Cell – Tainted Love (originally by Gloria Jones)
    Depeche Mode – Route 66 (originally by Bobby Troup/Nat King Cole)

  11. Emily says:

    Foo Fighters – Best of You
    Better Than Ezra – Good (although probably not considered Alt-Rock)
    Long Time Running – Tragically Hip (also probably not really alt-Rock)

  12. CJF says:

    Disturbed’s cover of “Shout” by Tears for Fears. And it’s hard not to laugh every time I hear Dread Zeppelin’s treatment of “Stairway to Heaven”.

  13. Steve says:

    Nirvana love buzz
    Me first and the gimme gimmies county roads
    Metallica turn the page

  14. lisalacroix says:

    Here’s some heavyweight Canadian band covers.

    1. The Rheostatics – Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
    2. The Headstones – Tweeter and the Monkey Man
    3. The Arkells – Dancin’ in the Dark

  15. John Conway says:

    Pete Townshend – Save It For Later
    Franz Ferdinand – All My Friends
    Amity Beach – Right Back Where We Started From
    Weezer- Africa
    Johnny Cash – Bird On A Wire
    Dan Mangan & Zeus – Waltz #2 (XO)
    Grey Lands w/ Mike O’Neill – Coax Me
    Arkells – Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours
    Frank Black – This Is Where I Belong
    Wye Oak – Strangers
    Blinker The Star – Running Up That Hill
    Paul Simon – Biko

  16. Cathy says:

    The Colourfield – “Can’t Get Enough of You Baby”
    Kirsty MacColl – “A New England”
    The Clash – “I Fought the Law”
    Honourable mention: the many great covers by Roxy Music/Bryan Ferry

  17. Dr Proximo says:

    Weezer “Paranoid Android”

    The Bangles “Hazy Shade of Winter”

    Cranberries “(They Long To Be) Close To You”

  18. markosaar says:

    3. Radical Face – Assimilate (by Skinny Puppy)
    2. Lush – Love At First Sight (by The Gist)
    1. Ned’s Atomic Dustbin – Saturday Night (by the Bay City Rollers)

    Check out the Radical Face track!

  19. markosaar says:

    Oh man …this is really a rabbit-hole, but I’ll try to stick to one honourable mention:

    Electro-industrial band Covenant does Lee Hazelwood’s Rider on a White Horse:

  20. Joe says:

    Matthew Good Band – Enjoy The Silence
    Crash Test Dummies – The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead
    Great Big Sea – Run Runaway

    Honourable Mentions:

    Anthrax – Got The Time
    Orgy – Blue Monday

  21. Anthony DAngelo says:

    Tough one, for sure.

    Tool – No Quarter (Zep) has to be on there
    The Tea Party – Paint it Black (Stones)
    Disturbed – Sound of Silence (Simon & Garfunkel)

    Close in the Running:
    TV on the Radio w/ Reznor & Murphy – Bela Lugosi’s Dead (Bauhaus)
    FFDP – Bad Company (Bad Company)
    Disturbed – Land of Confusion (Genesis)
    Minor Threat – stepping stone (Monkees)
    Dead kennedys – take this job and shove it (Johnny Paychek)
    Machine head – hallowed be thy name (Maiden)

  22. Charlie A. says:

    All time favourite cover: Joe Strummer’s version of Redemption Song.

  23. Joe says:

    I forgot Reel Big Fish – Take On Me

  24. Tim McMullen says:

    Hi Alan. Like many, I love a good cover song. Especially when an artist chooses a GREAT song and puts their personal stamp on it. As we know, Johnny Cash was the arguable master at this.

    My three:

    Bauhaus’ 1980 cover of T-Rex’s “Telegram Sam”. It adds a stiff-arm of power to a great song by an iconic artist. Bauhaus makes it their own.

    Supersuckers 2004 cover of Outkast’s “Hey Ya”. Eddie Spaghetti and Company rock the crap out of one of 2003’s biggest hits. A lot of fun to listen to as the Supersuckers stay true to the entire song while adding their own brand of spice to it.

    Peaches’ 2009 cover of The Stooges “Search and Destroy”. That 1973 original is so damn good. We all know that. But Peaches covers the song with a cooing snarl while adding her own brand of electronica. It’s borderline genius.

  25. Kirk says:

    snake river conspiracy -how soon is now
    chris cornell-nothing compares to you
    lemonheads-mrs robinson

  26. Walk on By – The Stranglers
    Tears of a Clown – The English Beat

  27. Raleigh St Clair says:

    Night and Day – U2
    Here Comes the Sun – Richie Havens
    Hot Wire My Heart- Sonic Youth

    • Anthony DAngelo says:

      U2 had a bunch of covers for B-sides. I’m rather partial to their version of Satellite of Love

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