Cover Songs That Are Better Than the Originals

I got to thinking about this the other day. I was in the kitchen doing dishes and listening to one of my Spotify playlists. The Townes Van Zandt song “Nothin,” as performed by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss (from their wonderful joint 2007 album Raising Sand), came on, and immediately I thought about the fact that I like their version better than Van Zandt’s original (which is still a great song, I love Townes Van Zandt’s style and voice on it, but it just doesn’t compare the what Plant and Krauss do with it). So I got to wondering what other songs I think are better done in cover versions than they are in their originals.

The immediate one that came to mind quickly was Jimi Hendrix’s version of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.” So iconic and flawlessly done is Hendrix’s version of this song that it is often overlooked, if not outright forgotten, that it was originally penned and performed by Dylan. Interestingly Dylan has had quite a few songs that while good in their own right have been better performed by other artists. Specifically I also think of Eric Clapton doing “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” which is made great in part by Clapton’s superb guitar skills. I could also say this for Mason Jennings’ performance of Dylan’s song “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” which is very much an homage in style and sound to the original, and yet strikes me as a far superior version.

Other songs that come to mind: Willie Nelson’s version of Dave Matthews’ song “Gravedigger” is wonderful (on that note Willie Nelson has some really excellent covers of a whole bunch of songs). And Johnny Cash singing NIN’s “Hurt” is absolutely amazing (so much so, that I’d consider arguing that it might be the most perfect song cover ever done). Adele does a stunning cover of The Cure’s “Lovesong” on her album 21. Chris Thile’s covering Britney Spears’ “Toxic” is one of the most glorious things I’ve ever heard (or seen in a live performance, as I did at Bonaroo in 2006). I think that Gnarls Barkley and the Violent Femmes exchange the courtesies to each other, where Gnarls Barkley does a cover of “Gone Daddy Gone” better than the Violent Femmes, but in turn the Violent Femmes take Gnarls Barkley’s hit “Crazy” and surpass the original.  And while this may be sacrilege to some, I honestly think that Patti Smith’s cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is actually better done than Nirvana’s original (I know, I’ll probably get a lot of hate for that).

I’m sure there are a good number more too. Covers are fascinating and I really enjoy them, even when I don’t think that they are better than their original source. I maintain a large playlist on Spotify of nothing but cover versions of songs, and periodically add new ones to it as I encounter them. I’d be fascinated to hear what other cover versions of songs people think surpass their original sources.

~ by Nathaniel on May 28, 2014.

One Response to “Cover Songs That Are Better Than the Originals”

  1. Just saw a video of a guy covering Slayer’s Raining Blood on the banjo. Not sure if it is better but it does show you that covers can be very interesting.

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