Cover Versions: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly


“Dawg, you really made that your own!” Every American Idol contestant beamed when they heard Randy Jackson say that. 

Of course, some covers are just awful, like the Jonas Brothers totally destroying the 80s’ classic “Take On Me.” 

Oh brother. That was painful. Ruined a perfectly good memory for me. I spent more than my share of quality time feathering my hair and slathering on makeup to that song. 

And then there’s this abomination—Candy Flip’s cover of “Strawberry Fields Forever.” (You have to watch this, just to experience its awfulness.)

Truly cringe-worthy stuff. Someone please send Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr a sympathy card.

But, thankfully, there are covers that are absolutely brilliant. One of my favorites is Jeff Buckley’s version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Rufus Wainwright also does a great job (his version is in Shrek), but no one sang with heart like Buckley. It was a great loss to the musical world that he died in 1997 at only 30 years of age.

Jeff’s version was played during the tribute to the victims of the Boston Marathon Bombings at Fenway Park.

Another cover I’ve recently found that deserves acclaim is Sturgill Simpson’s country version of “The Promise.” (As you listen to the 80s’ version, don’t be surprised if you have images of llamas named Tina, fried steak, and Glamour Shots by Deb dancing in your head.) 

Sturgill’s cover would make Randy Jackson proud. As a traditional country singer with a silky baritone voice, he truly makes the song his own. Anyone who loves the smooth tones of Don Williams will swoon to Sturgill’s version of The Promise.

What are your most beloved—and most despised—covers?



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  1. Matede Inactive

    One of the best covers ever? Proud Mary by Ike and Tina Turner. I think John Fogerty even gave that one to Tina, she rocked it

    • #1
  2. Matede Inactive

    Also the Cowboy Junkies version of Sweet Jane is pretty excellent

    • #2
  3. Asquared Inactive

    Joplin’s cover of Me and Bobby McGee is on my list of covers that are better than the original.

    • #3
  4. user_668525 Inactive

    Covers?  Anything by Annie Lennox.  Her album “Medusa” is all covers.  Great, great voice and interpretation.

    Sturgill’s voice is the type I remember as a young girl listening to all the country greats. 

    The Jonas Bros cover of “Take on Me” was made more painful by the awful dancing.

    • #4
  5. TheRoyalFamily Member

    I’ll stick with the good:
    “I Am the Walrus”, Styx
    “Come Together”, Aerosmith
    “You Really Got Me”, Van Halen
    “Ticket To Ride”, The Carpenters
    “Got To Get You Into My Life”, Earth, Wind, & Fire
    “Got To Get You Into My Life”, Chicago
    “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds”, Elton John
    The King’s Singers have a whole album of Beatles covers.
    I could go on.

    • #5
  6. Knotwise the Poet Member
    Knotwise the Poet

    Favorite Covers:

    Joe Cocker’s covers of pretty much anything

    Earth, Wind, and Fires’ cover of The Beatle’s “Gotta Get You Into My Life

    John Mayer’s cover of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin‘”

    Mindy Gledhill’s cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now

    Gary Jules’ cover of Tears for Fears’s “Mad World

    Despised covers…URRR!  I know there’s some that I really hate, but I’m having a hard time recalling any right now.

    Well, I guess one is the Four Seasons’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin“.  As much as I like Frankie Valli and the others, every time I hear this version I just think “Frank Sinatra’s version is so much better.”

    • #6
  7. Knotwise the Poet Member
    Knotwise the Poet


     “Ticket To Ride”, The Carpenters

     Good call there.

    • #7
  8. Salamandyr Inactive

    This is probably the single greatest instance of a cover eclipsing the original.  Johnny Cash’ rendition of NIN’s “Hurt”

    And I don’t know about you, but I’m a fan of some of the great covers put together by intrepid amateurs on Youtube.  Here’s one, a cover of a song I don’t even like, except when I hear this version.  Who knew what the song needed was a young Asian woman to sing the chorus?

    David LeDuc et al. cover NightTiming

    • #8
  9. Inactive

    Cash’s version of U2’s “One Love” is great, too.

    I’m casting my vote for Devo’s cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction.” It’s a must-hear.

    • #9
  10. Pliny The Glint in the Milkman's Eye Member
    Pliny The Glint in the Milkman's Eye

    Shooting fish in a barrel here but….

    Best: Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower”. Eclipsed Dylan’s original so much most people don’t realize its a cover.

    Worst: Celine Dion doing “You Shook Me All Night Long” at some VH1 event.  Ooofah!

    Bonus: Can’t go wrong with most of the “Me First and the Gimmie Gimmie’s” catalogue. Different Drum is my favorite.

    • #10
  11. user_1938 Member

    During the early days of Ricochet, Kenneth the Kind introduced me to this nice cover of “Cortez the Killer” by Grace Potter, Satriana and company.

    Agreed on “All Along the Watchtower.” I believe Dylan himself once said some of his songs really belonged to Hendrix.

    My first exposure to “Fire and Rain” was this very different Badlands cover. 

    One of these days, I’ll finish a cover I started of “Blood Roses” by Tori Amos. I’ve got a guitar version of her harpsichord, changed the middle, and reworked the lyrics into something actually coherent. Amos is so gifted melodically, it’s a shame she’s such a nutty libertine in regard to lyrics.

    • #11
  12. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn

    Speaking of Take On Me, local Christian punk band MxPx covered it…great stuff.

    • #12
  13. CandE Inactive

    Any cover by Kurt Elling, Bobby McFerrin or Earth, Wind, and Fire is automatically good.  Some highlights include:

    • Kurt Elling’s cover of  “You Send Me”, “Steppin’ Out”, and “In the Wee Small Hours”. are all better than the original (Yep, better than Frankie)
    • Kurt Elling’s cover of “On Broadway”, “Norwegian Wood”, and “Golden Lady” are all great, but I don’t know the originals well enough to say if they’re better.
    • Bobby McFerrin covers “Spain”, “Drive My Car”, “Good Lovin'”, and “From Me To You”

    BTW, Michael Jackson’s cover of “Come Together” was better than Aerosmith’s, but neither of them measure up to the original.


    • #13
  14. user_989419 Inactive

    The worst cover is Guns and Roses’ doing Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.  Every time a radio station plays that instead of Dylan’s original, it’s a crime against the FM spectrum.

    Best covers?  Everything Eric Clapton and BB King did together.  Including Hold On, I’m Coming (Sam and Dave) and Riding with the King (John Hiatt).

    DC, you mention Take On Me.  Uh, how do you murder something that’s already among the undead?

    • #14
  15. CandE Inactive

    Also, I don’t know if it counts as a cover, but Will Smith’s “Wild Wild West” is an abomination and Stevie Wonder should be embarrassed that his music was used for it.


    • #15
  16. Eeyore Member

    Somehow the Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (IZ) version of Somewhere Over The Rainbow pierced the donkey’s armor-like hide. The ocean scene at the end is IZ’s funeral celebration – with emphasis on “celebration”.

    I don’t remember how I happened to link it, as I’m not song/dance show aficionado , but Josh Krajik’s audition for America’s Got Talent, singing Etta James’s At Last, ain’t no weak sauce. X Factor has pulled the original, and the copies all seem to have clipped the bass pretty badly, but this version seems the least worst offender I could find. Song itself runs from 2:07 to 4:30. Krajcik has a career now, but it might not be a long one, as cigarettes and alcohol caused problems for his voice even during the competition.

    • #16
  17. Tired Pappy Inactive
    Tired Pappy

    Chicago gets a special award for taking their classic 25 or 6 to 4:

    And turning it into this frustrating modernized version:

    • #17
  18. Patrickb63 Coolidge

    Alison Krauss’ cover of Keith Whitley’s “When You Say Nothing At All”.  Sends chills up my spine.  And makes me feel that soft sentimental love that is the best part of a long time marriage.  

    • #18
  19. Eric Hines Inactive
    Eric Hines

    There are Elvis Presley’s cover of Blue Suede Shoes and his cover of Tutti Frutti.

    And if we’re doing movie covers, John Sturges’ Magnificent Seven was a pretty sound cover.

    Eric Hines

    • #19
  20. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.

    Good covers (including lateral moves):
    Sea Of Love performed by the Honeydrippers
    Hazy Shade of Winter performed by the Bangles
    Hard To Handle performed by the Black Crowes (Otis Redding original is damn good though)
    Signs performed by Tesla
    You Really Got Me performed by Van Halen

    On Broadway performed by George Benson (pretty much any cover of the Drifters is a downgrade)
    Brown Eyed Girl performed by Jimmy Buffet (incidentally, Jimmy’s parrot is pictured in  the dictionary next to the entry for “overrated”)
    I Think We’re Alone Now performed by Tiffany
    Pretty Woman performed by Van Halen (I love me some Van Halen but this is just awful)
    Mrs. Robinson performed by Frank Sinatra (yes, that’s right: the chairman of the board meets the balding long-hair folkies and he delivers in a C, a bouncy C)
    Killing Me Softly performed by the Fugees (pretty good in it’s own right, but nobody could beat Roberta Flack)
    I heard It Through The Grapevine performed by CCR (also good, but Marvin Gaye is in top form and not so indulgent coming in at under half an hour unlike CCR)

    • #20
  21. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.

    Probable Cause:


    Best covers? Everything Eric Clapton and BB King did together. Including Hold On, I’m Coming (Sam and Dave) and Riding with the King (John Hiatt).


     Sam and Dave cannot be copied. Clapton can come close, but copies of Sam and Dave are all missing some intangible element.

    • #21
  22. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.

    Tired Pappy:

    Chicago gets a special award for taking their classic 25 or 6 to 4:

    And turning it into this frustrating modernized version:

     Why did you inflict this on us? We’re all supposed to be friends here.

    • #22
  23. Franco Member

    Shameless plug alert. My band’s cover of Zeppelin’s Battle of Evermore. I’m very happy with how it came out. I produced and played mandolin.
    you can preview it for free. If you buy it, all the money goes to your Ricochet pal Franco.

    • #23
  24. EThompson Inactive

    Someone please send Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr a sympathy card.

    As a former Beatles Fan Club president, I’ll be more than happy to take on this responsibility. :)

    • #24
  25. Stad Coolidge

    Best:  Jimi Hendrix doing Earl King’s “Let the Good Times Roll” and Stevie Ray Vaughan doing Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing”.

    Worst:   Any song converted to rap (e.g. Run-DMC doing Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way”)

    • #25
  26. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue

    Sweet Jane by the Velvet Underground, covered by The Cowboy Junkies
    Memories Can’t Wait by The Talking Heads covered by Living Colour
    Dancing Barefoot by Patty Smith, covered by U2

    All Along the Watchtower by Bob Dylan, covered by U2
    Start Me Uby the Rolling Stones, covered by Anne Murray
    Don’t Stand So Close to Me by the Police, covered by The Police

    • #26
  27. Johnny Dubya Inactive
    Johnny Dubya

    Joe Cocker’s version of The Fabs’ “A Little Help From My Friends” blows the doors of the merely-pleasant original.

    • #27
  28. Johnny Dubya Inactive
    Johnny Dubya

    The Jayhawks’ cover of Grand Funk Railroad’s “Bad Time” is a wonderful take on that chestnut, done in their special Minneapolis brand of jangly country-rock.

    • #28
  29. Johnny Dubya Inactive
    Johnny Dubya

    “Give Me One Reason”, a typically boring song by Tracy Chapman, became an infectious power-pop masterpiece when completely reworked and covered by the band Ruth.

    • #29
  30. user_176994 Inactive


    Alison Krauss’ cover of Keith Whitley’s “When You Say Nothing At All”. Sends chills up my spine. And makes me feel that soft sentimental love that is the best part of a long time marriage.

     One of my all-time favorites – both versions.

    • #30

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