The cover song has long been a way for artists to pay tribute to each other. It goes without saying that there have been many excellent examples of cover songs over the years, as well as not so good cover songs. Today we’re going to take a look at what are, in my opinion, the ten best cover songs of all time. These are ten songs that are not only excellent covers, but stand out as being superior to their respective original versions.
In no particular order, here are the ten songs that we’re looking at:
- “Dream On”- Ronnie James Dio (original version by Aerosmith)
This version was recorded in 1999 for an Aerosmith tribute album called ‘Not the Same Old Song and Dance’ and Dio’s performance could not have been better. This particular song features some of his best vocal work and, of course, the addition of legendary Swedish guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen on guitar doesn’t hurt the song either. Dio might as well have been King Midas, as the power of this track conveys.
- “Raspberry Beret”- Hindu Love Gods (original version by Prince & the Revolution)
This project consisting of Warren Zevon and members of R.E.M. released their only, self-titled record in 1990 which is where you will find this masterpiece of a cover. Zevon and the guys from R.E.M. click together quite naturally and it’s clear they’re having a great time playing through the collection of covers that they put together. Zevon hits on all cylinders and sounded fresh in his sobriety.
- “Unchained Melody”- The Righteous Brothers (original version by Todd Duncan)
No, the Righteous Brothers’ version isn’t the original version although there’s nothing to really suggest otherwise without digging further into the details. Simply put, this is one of the greatest American pop songs ever written; it’s an absolutely timeless classic. The Brothers never sounded better than they do on this legendary track.
- “All Along the Watchtower”- Jimi Hendrix (original version by Bob Dylan)
Appearing on his landmark 1968 record ‘Electric Ladyland’, the thing that sets this apart from Dylan’s original is Hendrix’s unmistakable, possessive guitar sound. There are few things in all of rock music that are more convincing that a Jimi Hendrix guitar riff and this is proven in almost unprecedented fashion on this classic cover.
- “Sweet Jane”- Mott the Hoople (original version by the Velvet Underground)
Mott do an excellent job of covering this great track on their 1972 classic ‘All the Young Dudes’. Their version is a bit poppier and catchier than the Velvets’ version, essentially giving it the glam rock treatment. Bravo.
- “Bible”- Ghost (original version by Imperiet)
Ghost unleashed this excellent on cover on their latest EP, 2016’s ‘Popestar’, and it’s yet another striking example of what this band do so incredibly well. Here they are once again conveying their unique caricature of Satanic subject matter to the best of their abilities. This is a highly emotional experience.
- “Diamonds & Rust”- Judas Priest (original version by Joan Baez)
Appearing on their 1977 release, ‘Sin After Sin’, Judas Priest took the incredibly potent words of folk legend Joan Baez and blew them into the stratosphere of sonic possibility. Priest prove with this cover just how flexible the language and art of music can be. An excellent testimony to the greatness of Priest (one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s most offensive snubs) and to Baez and her ability to write such a versatile song.
- “Death Is Not the End”- Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds (original version by Bob Dylan)
The closing track of the Bad Seeds’ 1996 record ‘Murder Ballads’ is this wonderful Dylan cover. The track also features PJ Harvey, Kylie Minogue, and Shane MacGowan (The Pogues) sharing vocal duties with Nick Cave. This track is nothing short of an evocatively spiritual experience.
- “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now”- Meat Loaf (original version by Celine Dion)
Featured on ‘Bat III’, Meat Loaf is able to turn this track into a grand experience. It’s well known that Jim Steinman wrote this song for Meat as is, but somehow Celine Dion’s unworthy hands got ahold of it and turned it into one of the worst tracks on the radio at that time. Needless to say, Meat Loaf’s is an extreme improvement.
- “Hurt”- Johnny Cash (original version by Nine Inch Nails)
No list of best cover songs would be complete with including this track, which Cash used to chronicle the end of his days. Hearing his beaten and broken voice sing these words only adds to the power of it. The result was one of the most climatic exists from one of popular music’s greatest outlaws. Essential.