5 Twist and Shout – The Beatles (Original: Phil Medley and Bert Russell.)
You’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t know Twist and Shout. Not only that, your average person may not even realize that it’s a cover (and has been covered by the likes of The Isley Brothers, The Mamas and The Papas, and even 80s female rap group Salt-n-Peppa). The Beatles’ version may be the most famous out there, and for good reason – you just can’t sit down when it comes on. John Lennon’s almost gravelly voice, with the typical and solid Beatles’ harmonizing, makes their version the most enjoyable of all. You can’t help but jump up and dance around, grinning like a fool, when the song comes on the radio. As, undeniably, one of the greatest bands of the 20th& 21st centuries it’s no wonder The Beatles’ cover of this sweet and simple dance song is so outstanding.
4 All Along the Watchtower – Jimi Hendrix (Original: Bob Dylan)
In every other case on this list, the cover artist has crafted his or her masterpiece long after the original was penned. In this case, Jimi Hendrix broke the mold – by covering one of his peers. Though performing in different circles during the 60’s, both artists were recognized for their groundbreaking talent and exceptional musical genius. Hendrix’s cover of All Along the Watchtower takes Dylan’s typical acoustic sound and, quite literally, amplifies it. With Hendrix’s velvety voice and slick electric guitar, Watchtower takes on new life. I’d challenge anyone to try and choose which version is “better,” but upon life or death, my vote goes to the Voodoo Child himself. No one can surpass Dylan’s lyrical genius and acoustic playing prowess, but something in Hendrix’s voice breathes passion into the words that Dylan’s classic nasally twinge does not evoke.
3 Wish You Were Here – Sparklehorse (Original: Pink Floyd)
Shock and awe; I bet you’ve never even heard of Sparklehorse! I didn’t the first time I heard this song, sitting in a crowded movie theatre watching Lords of Dogtown – the album on which this cover song appears. Definitely an innovative take on the original, Sparklehorse’s version of Wish You Were Here is, somehow, much sadder. Mark Linkous’ (who is, in fact, the whole band) ethereal voice is captivating and melancholy, truly evoking the despondency of the lyrics. Audible nostalgia leaks through the speakers and by the end you’re on the verge of tears. Whatever small kernel of sadness you’ve kept locked away, that person you miss, the loved one who passed on, a town you left behind, is wrenched out of you in musical glory, in a way the original sometimes misses, because of the pedestal which it comes from. Being ‘a classic’ divorces it of this deep, emotional impact – and Sparklehorse reinvigorates the song (both versions) with that power. All in all, Sparklehorse does a great take on an unbeatably genius song.
2 Somewhere Over the Rainbow – Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole (Original: Judy Garland)
This may be one of the most well-known cover songs to date. A complete reinvention of Judy Garland’s trademark, IZ’s cover of Somewhere Over the Rainbow is pure perfection. Not only is his voice magical, but also the completely unique sound of the ukulele heightens the melodic quality of the song. All the same feelings expressed by Dorothy in that famous scene in The Wizard of Oz come to new life when sung by IZ, and it is impossible not to feel heart-warmed when listening to his version. It is a song that will outlive the ever-changing fads of contemporary music. Even for those who haven’t seen The Wizard of Oz, the song has exceptional meaning and merit.
1 Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want – Clayhill (Original: The Smiths)
It is hard to out-melancholy Morrisey&co., but Clayhill succeeded – and skillfully so. Featured as the final song in Shane Meadowes’ epically brilliant film “This is England,”Clayhill’s cover of Please, Please, Please,LetMe Get What I Want is the single most heart-wrenching song I have ever heard. Gavin Clark’s voice, complete with soft British accent, is much more earthy and human than Morrisey’s ethereal whine.Ali Friend’s and Ted Barnes’ distinct acoustic guitar is far more powerful compared to the delicate guitar and esoteric electronic sounds of the original. Clayhills’ simplicity highlights a deep and unbearable, hopelessness. Clayhill’s version is a song of pleading, begging, and unfulfilled desire (as opposed to The Smiths’ detached lamentation). In my opinion, better than the original by far (and I am a loyal Smiths fan), Clayhill distils and captures the pure essence of this song (which obviously would not have existed without The Smiths’ genius). Regardless of whether you’ve seen the masterpiece that is “This is England,” this song is undoubtedly going to bring tears to your eyes, and leave you breathless.
Perhaps one of the most contentious lists I’ve penned to date, these five songs all epitomize what it means to make a great cover. Similarly to actors interpreting a written play, these artists have taken lyrics and music, and crafted it into something entirely new – illustrating the original artist’s genius in ways not imagined in the original versions. In the end, each cover song pays homage to the true brilliance of any given original artist – and for each of these songs, we should thank their creators, while also honoring the genius that re-crafted them for our ears.