The Rundown: 10 Kick-Ass Covers

Above (clockwise): Whitney Houston, Jeff Buckley, Nirvana's Kurt Cobain and The Fugees' Lauryn Hill

If you read this site regularly (and why wouldn’t you?) than you already know that I’m in love with Ryan Adams’ recently released 1989 cover album, so much so that I told you to go listen to his entire catalogue earlier in the week.

I still think you should do that.

I also think you should check out this list of amazing covers, some of which you’re probably familiar with, some of which you might not know were covers to begin with and some of which might be new additions to your music files in the future.

Standard Rules apply, kids: we can’t get every song in here and this is my list of 10, so tell us some of your favs in the comments, but please don’t call us stupid for not including “Hurt” by Johnny Cash even though it is obviously great.

“I Will Always Love You” – Whitney Houston

This just feels like the obvious way to start off this list, given that it was one of the biggest songs on the last 25 years and people were all kinds of surprised to find out that it was originally a Dolly Parton song. That point where there is the one-note pause before Whitney belts out another “And I…” is so powerful and such a tremendous reflection of what made her such a special talent.

As an aside, my mom absolutely loved The Bodyguard, bought the soundtrack (on cassette) and played it non-stop for pretty close to a year both in the house and in the car, so in addition to knowing this song cold like everyone else, I can do a pretty mean rendition of “Queen of the Night” as well.

“How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” – Al Green

Listen up, kiddos: if you aren’t familiar with The Reverend Al Green, jump on whatever music service you use and do yourself a favour. This is one of the best sad songs in the history of sad songs, an all-time Top 5 classic in that area and Green’s delivery draws out every bit of emotion and melancholy the lyrics talk about.

Listening to the original by the Bee Gees – yes, the goddamn Bee Gees – sounds weird, especially given how perfectly Green nails this arrangement.

“Hallelujah” – Jeff Buckley

Leonard Cohen’s version is good, but there is something extra haunting about Buckley’s rendition. Maybe it’s that he’s passed on and this stands as his most memorable and beloved contribution or just that there is a little more soul in his delivery than that of the smoky Canadian veteran. Maybe it’s just that it made an appearance in a bunch of television shows that everyone saw. Whatever it is, this is definitely one of the most popular and appreciated covers ever released.

“Killing Me Softly” – The Fugees

Let me start by saying that the Roberta Flack version of this song is incredible and the Nicholas Hoult version in About A Boy remains one of my favourite horrible musical performances in movie history.

Having said that, L-Boogie made this her own and absolutely crushed it. Damn, I miss Lauryn Hill. Putting a little beat behind it and Wyclef’s little riffs in the chorus (One Time!) made this a near-perfect track when it dropped and it has held strong to this very day.

“Handle with Care” – Jenny Lewis and The Watson Twins ft. M. Ward, Connor Oberst & Ben Gibbard

I love me some Jenny Lewis, the vocalist for Rilo Kiley, who also happens to be the female lead in the Fred Savage, Nintendo movie The Wizard, which was one of the first movies I went to see by myself in theatres way back when.

Her team-up with these fellow indie rock darlings to cover the 1988 Traveling Wilburys joint is great, although getting a little more from each of the other contributors would have made the track really stand out even more, as the original did. Side note: holy crap were the Wilburys an amazing collection of musical talents – George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Rory Orbison, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne… amazing.

“Proud Mary” – Ike & Tina Turner

Originally recorded by Creedence Clearwater Revival – whose version is outstanding in its own regard – but Anna Mae Bullock has made it her signature track, starting way back when she was still with Ike. What differentiates Turner’s version and takes it to a different level is that midpoint where things slow right down… before the horns kick in, the energy kicks up and Tina kills it.

Shout out to John Krasinski for his Lip Sync Battle rendition of this gem earlier this year as well and much respect for rocking the appropriate fringe dress too.

“Me and Bobby McGee” – Janis Joplin

This one stands for two reasons, beyond the incredible performance. One, it became Joplin’s biggest hit and two, it was recorded shortly before she died, making it the second posthumous No. 1 single in U.S. history after Otis Redding’s “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay.”

Originally recorded by Kris Kristofferson, Joplin’s version is an encapsulation of what made her special – it’s rough and raw and raspy and powerful and punches you in the chest. This is going to make me sound like Captain Get Off My Lawn, but you don’t get passion like this too often any more and that’s exactly what music needs right now.

“With A Little Help From My Friends” – Joe Cocker

I didn’t intend to make two Fred Savage references in one piece when I started putting this together, but it’s a nice happy accident to encounter, as Cocker’s version of this Beatles track was the theme song for The Wonder Years, which is how an entirely different generation was introduced to it.

The Beatles version is good – melodic and pleasant – but Cocker just puts so much heart and soul into his rendition that it smashes the original. It’s not quite as drastic a change and shift as the Al Green/Bee Gees difference mentioned above, but they are distinct and I don’t know anyone who prefers the original.

“The Man Who Sold the World” – Nirvana

Originally the title track to Davie Bowie’s third album, Nirvana took it and stripped it down for their MTV Unplugged performance and subsequent album and there is just something about the raspy pain that always comes through in Kurt Cobain’s voice that makes this version something special.

I was never a big Nirvana guy, but even I couldn’t deny the excellence of this song.

“Valerie” – Mark Ronson & Amy Whitehouse

This was Amy’s future – a kick-ass crooner that drops jazzy little bombs on the world left and right. Unfortunately, like Cobain and Joplin on this list and countless others, she departed this realm far too soon. Initially done by The Zutons as kind of just a folky-rock ditty, Ronson and Whitehouse crank up the horns, the funk and the tempo and turn this into a monster.

Listen at your own risk because if you hear this song early in the day, it’s going to be stuck in your head the rest of your waking hours. Trust me, you’ll be walking down the street or shuffling through the office shouting, “Why don’t you come on over Vaaaler-ie!” non-stop.

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