Better than you thought: 10 covers that work…no, really (part 2)

Ah, cover songs. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. When done properly, these tracks can take the best elements of a hit and mold them into a brand new creation. However, when done poorly these atrocities can rile up fan bases quicker than tour cancellations and “band hiatuses” combined.

Welcome to part two of our countdown for covers that are actually better than you thought they would be. While in most cases the original versions are seen as definitive, the songs on this list seek to open the discussion on which version listeners might prefer if given the chance. Enjoy!


First released on Nine Inch Nails 1994 album “The Downward Spiral,” Trent Reznor’s sobering ballad about heroin addiction was never released as a commercial single. However, in 2002 country icon Johnny Cash found critical success by lending his years of experience to the song’s powerful message. Though Reznor admits he originally thought the idea of a remake was, “a bit gimmicky.” He has since changed his tune, and admits “that song isn’t mine anymore.”   

See Nine Inch Nails original here:

See Johnny Cash make the song his own here:

“Last Kiss”

Some songs age like a fine wine. And a rarer few receive the privilege of being covered multiple times to varying degrees of success. Such is the case of songwriter Wayne Cochran’s 1961 work “Last Kiss.” While not a hit during its initial release, J. Frank Wilson and the Cavalier’s would take the track to the top 10 in 1964. Then thirty-five years later, Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder stumbled upon a copy of the song at a garage sale and encouraged his band to record their own version as a charity single. The song would again reach the upper echelons of the Billboard charts, but more importantly would also help raise almost 10 million dollars for the Kosovo relief fund. Not bad for a tune that what was originally intended as a “tragedy song” novelty.

Hear Wayne Cochran’s non-hit here:        

Hear J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers’ 1964 version here:

See Pearl Jam’s 1999 rendition live here:


Though never able to match the level of success they had in England, the Brit poppers of Oasis broke through to American audiences with the third single off their second album “What’s the Story (Morning Glory).” Even years later, “Wonderwall” maintains an enduring level of popularity, and is one of the most covered songs in recent history. However, perhaps its most notable rendition is by alt-country singer/ songwriter Ryan Adams. Even the track’s original writer, Noel Gallagher, has taken to performing the song in Adams’ style, and the tune has been used by numerous television shows to heighten the melancholy of certain scenes.

See Oasis’ Britpop classic here:     

Hear Ryan Adams’ melancholy remake here:

“Ms. Jackson”

Covering a song by hip-hop icons Outkast seems like a Herculean task for an alternative rock group. Andre 300 and Big Boi push so many boundaries that any track in their catalogue is bound to be seen as uniquely them. However, Australian garage rockers the Vines pull it off by keeping things simple. Musically, this means trimming the song down to just its chorus and bridge and ditching extra instruments for a steady acoustic strum. While not as frenzied or psychedelic as some their other efforts, live versions of the tune still provide a slow burn for audience members taking it easy between rave ups.

See Outkast’s video here:

See the Vines cover live here:

 “Billie Jean”

As one of the singles from the smash album “Thriller,” Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” was a chart-topping hit that redefined the dance/ pop genre in the ‘80s. Then in 2007, former Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell recorded the track for his solo album “Carry On.” Though radically different than the original (including the removal of the definitive bass line), Cornell’s version was praised by critics for its “bluesier, more pained and impassioned feel.” The Los Angeles Times even called the rendition a “grim, spooky take,” and concluded that “Jackson’s mega hit [survived] the stunt translation.”

See Michael Jackson’s classic here:

See Chris Cornell’s version here:

Did your favorite make the list? If not, list it in the comment section. One can never have enough covers. Who knows? We just might have to compile a part 3. Stay tuned…

  1. #1 by Bensch on October 24, 2010 - 10:10 pm

    Man, you forgot a major one here…. gotta have “Respect” by Aretha Franklin. It was done originally by Otis Redding. One of my others that you should have is “Higher Ground” redone by Red Hot Chili Peppers, original by Stevie Wonder.
    Thats how I see it.

  2. #2 by Kyle on October 25, 2010 - 3:13 pm

    So does this mean that Iron and Wine’s cover of Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights” is going to get its own post? Because that, my friend, works. Just saying.

    Great list. The 30 Secs to Mars version of Gaga is brilliant.

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