They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but there are times that an individual or group takes the imitation to a whole new level. That's what this list is all about.
Every artist has that one song they love and they think they can make even better, and in my twenty-odd years of music addiction, I've heard more than my share. In my humble opinion, these are the artists who clearly succeeded in their visions (and I've limited it to one entry per artist, lest one band dominate the list):
- Red Hot Chili Peppers – Higher Ground – While the Red Hot Chili Peppers have had a number of excellent covers (including Love Rollercoaster, another personal favorite), it was their cover of Stevie Wonder's Higher Ground that really put them on the map as a band. This song is good enough to make any top covers list, as well as most top songs lists as well.
- Lost Prophets – Cry Me A River – I always enjoy a cover song that takes a weak pop song and adds depth and emotion to to it. In this case, Justin Timberlake's whiny and depthless Cry Me A River gets a proper remake by the Lost Prophets, providing it with the heartache and anger it originally deserved.
- Nirvana – The Man Who Sold The World – While almost any song from Nirvana's Unplugged album could have been selected as Kurt Cobain paid tribute to many of the artists who influenced him (like the Meat Puppets' “Plateau” and “Lake of Fire”, The Vaselines' “Jesus Don't Want Me For A Sunbeam” or Leadbelly's “Where Did You Sleep Last Night”), their cover of David Bowie's The Man Who Sold The World stands out amongst the rest, and you're pulled in from the first note.
- Fountains of Wayne – …Baby One More Time – In addition to pop songs covered right, I also enjoy it when pop songs are twisted and perverted into something much different from their originals. Fountains of Wayne did a complete 180 from the Brittney Spears original when they decided to cover “…Baby One More Time”. Their slow and almost depressing take on the song hilight's the lyric's sad nature, and goes that extra step to “almost too far”. Sorry, no video for this one, but you can listen to it at Last.fm: Fountains of Wayne – …Baby One More Time
- With A Little Help From My Friends – Joe Cocker – A song that many have ingrained in their minds as the theme of The Wonder Years is actually a cover of a Beetles song released just two years prior to Cocker's cover.
- Foo Fighters – Darling Nikki – Here is a song that has stirred up some controversy because Prince, the songs originator, refused to allow the song to be distributed as a single because he was not a fan of the cover. Instead, the song took the underground route and still managed to crack the top 25 on the rock charts.
- The Black Crowes – Hard To Handle – A cover of a song originally done by Otis Redding, the Black Crowes really jazzed up the beat and gave the song more of a southern rock influence. A must have for any music collection.
- Pearl Jam – Last Kiss – I had to add this song to the list simply because the emotion in Eddie Vedder's voice when he sings this song is almost too much for me. He does an amazing job of vocalizing the moment that is being described in the lyrics. Heck, it usually gets to me so much I can't sing along if I want to because my voice starts to tremble and crack as tears well up. Seriously…
- Sugar Ray – Abracadabra – While all of Sugar Ray's songs may not have held up well against the test of time, their cover of the Steve Miller Band's Abracadabra is one that has. They give a nice, harder edge to this song (because, yes, Sugar Ray has their roots as a alternitive rock band) which will likely have you singing along, if you do that sort of thing.
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- Lenny Kravitz – American Woman – Yes, it was recorded for an Austin Powers movie, but if you look past that, this song is a solid, amped up cover of a great original.