Even Better Than The Real Thing: Five Covers That Are Better Than The Originals

We are inundated with cash-in cover songs that introduce new acts that have “talent” but no real songs of their own. But in a small number of cases, songs are reinterpreted as a way of bringing something new to the song. In an even smaller number of cases, those cover versions eclipse their original versions in their greatness. Here are five examples.

1. John Cale – Hallelujah

I know what you are thinking. “Jeff Buckley’s version is THE BEST”, you say. Well, it isn’t. Jeff Buckley created his overwrought version only after hearing John Cale’s definitive arrangement. CBS Records had basically buried Cohen’s version upon its release and it wasn’t until John Cale covered it on the excellent tribute album I’m Your Fan that most people heard it. Cohen manufactured the parts, but Cale built the song.

The Cover

The Original

2. Elvis Costello – (What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love, And Understanding

While many assume that this is an Elvis Costello original, it was actually the creation of fellow Stiff Records artist/producer-in-residence Nick Lowe. Lowe was a hard-luck veteran of the British music scene when he eventually caught fire as a jack of all trades at Dave Robinson’s Stiff Records. Costello was the first new star to emerge from Stiff’s roster and Lowe gave him the song to record (Lowe was his producer).

In my opinion, the hard-charging drums and guitars along with the urgency in Elvis Costello’s vocal delivery make the cover better than the gentler, 70’s rock original version.

You be the judge.

The Cover

The Original

3. Spiritualized – Anyway That You Want Me

Jason Pierce was a well-established space rock icon from his work with Spacemen 3 when he emerged with Spiritualized. The band’s first release was this brilliant cover of Anyway That You Want Me by 60’s rockers, The Troggs. While the original is a classic in its own right, Pierce took it into outer space with layers, upon layers of guitars.

Note: You must play it loud.

The Cover

The Original

4. Nico – These Days

Jackson Browne’s earnest, coffee house song gets transformed by the uber cool vocal stylings of Nico as well as an entirely new musical arrangement. The fact that it was included in Wes Anderson’s best film didn’t hurt its standing either.

The Cover

The Original

5. Johnny Cash – Hurt

Trent Reznor’s Hurt is excellent. But it doesn’t stand out much from the alt-rock of its time. Johnny Cash’s version, however, is unlike anything else. Cash recorded this track after it was put forward by Rick Rubin. He really turned it into the ultimate farewell to his fans and to his life. It is rare to see an ancient performer become the most relevant artist of the moment. Johnny Cash did that with his cover of Hurt.

The Cover

The Original

Here’s a Spotify Playlist with these five and many more!