20 Cover Songs That Are Better Than The Originals!

Tommy James and The Shondells "Hanky Panky" (The Raindrops)

Recorded at a local radio station in Niles, MI by a teenage Tommy James, "Hanky Panky" went on to do absolutely nothing, leaving a young Tommy ames no other option than to continue his high school studies.  Almost two years later, a Pittsburgh DJ discovered the single in the budget bin of a local record store and began playing it on the air, creating an immediate sensation and forever changing the trajectory of James' career.

The original version, written by the legendary Brill Building songwriting team Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich and recorded by their group The Raindrops, had been released as a B-side to their single "That Boy John".

Blue Cheer "Summertime Blues" (Eddie Cochran)

Despite passing away at the age of 21, Eddie Cochran left behind a rich musical legacy featuring such hits as "C'mon Everybody", Somethin' Else", "Sittin' In The Balcony" and "Summertime Blues", the latter of which was not so much covered by Blue Cheer as turned into an acid rock anthem by the San Francisco based band.

The band's hard-edged reinvention of the song is hailed by many as the first heavy metal tune to break the Top 20, which it did in 1968.

Johnny Cash "Hurt" (Nine Inch Nails)

Whether or not you're a fan of Trent Reznor's work, it's impossible to deny the desolate beauty of his song "Hurt", which first appeared on 1994's Downward Spiral.   While not released as a single by Nine Inch Nails, Reznor and Daid Bowie often closed their joint set with the song during their tour together in 1995.

In 2003, a 71-year-old Johnny Cash would record the song with Rick Rubin for his album American IV: The Man Comes Around.  When Reznor was given a copy of the song's video, he later commented that seeing the song's video made him feel as if he'd lost a girlfriend "because the song isn't mine anymore."

Jeff Buckley "Hallelujah" (Leonard Cohen)

While he lived only long enough to see the release of one studio album, Grace, Jeff Buckley's decision to cover Leonard Cohen's on the album seems somehow prophetic in hindsight, as the singer would die of an accidental drowning before he could record a follow-up.

Based on John Cale's cover of the song for the Cohen tribute album "I'm Your Fan", Buckley's version was voted one of the 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time.

Santana "Black Magic Woman" (Fleetwood Mac)

Written by Fleetwood Mac's Peter Green, "Black Magic Woman" first appeared on their album English Rose and became a UK Top 40 single in '68.  Santana's version of the song is decidedy different from the original and taking its intro from Gábor Szabó's "Gypsy Queen" (1966).

The new arrangement became the perfect platform for Santana's guitar skills to truly shine and quickly became the band's signature tune, hitting #4 in 1971 and continuing to be a staple of Carlos Santana's live shows for the past five decades.

Joe Cocker "With A Little Help" (Beatles)

A whole lot of artists have covered The Beatles over the years, but very few have come even remotely close to creating a version equal to the Fab Four version.  One such exception is Joe Cocker's version of "With A Little Help From My Friends", which Cocker covered on his debut album of the same name.

While the song was far from a hit, reaching #68 on the Billboard charts, his performance of the song at Woodstock was one of the festival's iconic moments.  The song gained further popularity when it was used as the theme song for the TV series "The Wonder Years".

Bangles "Hazy Shade Of Winter" (Simon & Garfunkel)

It's easy to dismiss this cover based solely on the fact that The Bangles don't garner nearly as much universal respect as Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel.  However, their verson of "Hazy", which was recorded for the movie "Less Than Zero", packs a potent punch that the original recording lacks.

While the band had parted ways with previous producer David Kahne, who recorded much of their hit album Different Light with studio ringers, the band performed this song live-in-the-studio with producer Rick Rubin.  Their version hit #2, surpassing the chart peak of the original, which peaked at #14.

The Lemonheads "Mrs. Robinson" (Simon & Garfunkel)

We're still a bit cloudy on how the Lemonheads version of this song came to be.  What wedo know is that the band had already ben performing the song live before being approached to record a new version of the song to mark the video-release of the film "The Graduate".

While their version is merely a high-octane run-through of the original arrangement, The Lemonheads version may not be superior to the S&G version, but Dando & Co. get bonus points for pissing off Paul Simon, who was reportedly very critical of the band's version of his song.  Of course, these days, Dando seems to have joined Simon in his loathing of the song, which became so popular that it threatened to overshadow the band's original material and was therefore dropped from their live sets.

Blondie "Denis" (Randy & The Rainbows)

Originally named "Denise" and recorded by Randy & The Rainbows in 1963, a quick change of name/sex led Blondie to rechristen the song "Denis" and release it on their Plasic Letters album in 1978.  The song reached #2 in the UK.

Most notable abut the Blondie version is that Debbie Harry improvised a verse of the song sung in "pidgin French", leading her British record label to demand that she re-sing the verse in proper French phrasing.  She and the band obliged, but felt the original version was better and refused to allow the label to release the other version, which later appeared as a bous track on the 1994 CD re-issue of the album.

Cowboy Junkies "Sweet Jane" (Lou Reed)

Not only did the Cowboy Junkies score a huge critical and commercial success with their darkly hypnotic version of Lou Reed's "Sweet Jane", they would apply that same musical aesthetic to the entire Trinity Sessions album, recorded with a single ambisonic microphone in a trinity church in Canada.

The album peaked at #26 in the US, with the song becoming a top 10 modern rock hit.

Neko Case "Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis" (Tom Waits)

The number of artists who have recorded Tom Waits songs over the past five decades is vast and varied, but the exact number of artists who have managed to record a version even remotely comparable to the Waits original is one: Neko Case, whose fragile, yet heartfelt rendition of the song appeared on the Waits tribute, New Coat of Paint.

Soft Cell "Tainted Love" (Gloria Jones)

Since this song is often bookended with The Supremes' "Where Did Our Love Go", many presume that "Tainted Love" is also a Motown hit that the UK synth-duo Soft Cell rode to the top of the charts.  In truth, "Tainted Love" was recorded by Gloria Jones, best known as Marc Bolan's girlfriend at the time of his death.

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts "I Love Rock & Roll" (Arrows) 

Sometimes, the genius isn't in the writing of a great song, but the discovery of a great song.  In the case of "I Love Rock & Roll", Joan Jett became familiar with the song in '76 during a tour of the UK with her band The Runaways after hearing it used as the theme song for the short-lived British TV series featuring the band Arrows, who originally wrote the song.

Jett first recorded the song in '79 with Steve Jones and Paul Cook from the Sex Pistols, but that version failed to generate any interest.  Thankfully, she took another stab at it with the Blackhearts and the rest, as they say, is history.

Bruce Springsteen "Because The Night" (Patti Smith)

Despite the fact that Patti Smith's original version was, itself, iconic, it is a testament to the talents of one Bruce Springsteen that he was able to create a version of the song that was both respectful of the original and an effortless attempt to make it his own.

Which shouldn't have been that difficult, as he did co-wrote the song with Smith, after all.  Therefore, his version wasn't so much a "cover version" as a "repossession" of something that was just as much his anyway.

As for the 10,000 Maniacs version that became a huge hit, the less said the better.

Cheap Trick "Ain't That A Shame" (Fats Domino)

As one of many musical highlights from their breakthrough album, At Budokan, Cheap Trick made this 50's hit for Fats Domino into a stadium-size anthem that helped propel the and to international stardom and remains a staple of their live sets to this day.

Beatles "Twist & Shout" (Isley Brothers)

The Beatles' choice of covers was not only excellent, so was their ability to surpass the originals, as they did on this riveting cover of the Isley Brothers smash.  They woulkd achieve similar results with covers of "Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby" (Carl Perkins), "Words Of Love" (Buddy Holly), "Money" (Barrett Strong), and "Boys" (The Shirelles), which marked Ringo's debut as lead vocalist.

Ramones "California Sun" (The Rivieras)

Like The Beatles before them, The Ramones chose great cover material and always seemed to find a way to make it their own without really deviating all that much from the original, despite also performing the songs in their own inimitable fashion.  They would also record stellar covers of "Do You Wanna Dance?" (Bobby Freeman), "Surfin' Bird" (The Trashmen), "Needles and Pins" (Jackie DeShannon), and "Baby, I Love You" (The Ronettes).

The Byrds "Mr. Tambourine Man"

For all the accolades bestowed upon Dylan's early folk period, it took this L.A. pop band to unleash the potent pop sensibilities of such songs as "All I Really Want To Do", "The Times They Are a-Changin'" and, of course, "Mr. Tambourine Man", which became a #1 hit in the US.

Dylan's version and The Byrds' version were not only released on the same label, Columbia Records, but also came out within a month of one another (March/April 1965).

Manfred Mann's Earth Band "Blinded By The Light"

While Springsteen would certainly go on to achieve success in his own right, the truth of the matter was that when Manfred Mann took a stab at this Springsteen album cut, they not only succeeded in embellishing upon Springsteen's pop leanings, but also demonstrated that they're just as accomplished at interpreting The Boss's material as the E Street Band.  They had also covered Springsteen's "Spirits In The Night" the year prior, which was re-issued as a single after the #1 success of "Blinded By The Light".

Van Halen "You Really Got Me"

Like The Beatles, The Kinks are a band that have had their material covered heavily over the years, but the instances where the cover versions are comparable to the original are few and far between.
One such instance would surely be Van Halen's cover of "You Really Got Me", which did for the song what Blue Cheer had done for "Summertime Blues" as Eddie Van Halen's pyrotechnic guitar skills turned the song into a distortion-drenched heavy metal anthem and one of the band's hallmark songs.

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