13 Classic and Confounding Covers of Popular Songs


Yesterday’s video of Bret Michaels serenading the new Nissan vans with Lionel Richie’s “Endless Love” got us thinking about cover songs.

Of course there are singers and artists who have made a name for themselves by doing gonzo covers of beloved songs (Richard Cheese singing Nirvana’s “Rape Me” comes to mind, or perhaps that one Pat Boone album when he was in his leather daddy phase singing Metallica covers …), and then of course folks like Weird Al who have mastered the art of musical parody. But what we present to you here are covers that sort of turn the original songs on their head, or just make you say “WTF” when you think about the artist singing the song (say, Dave Grohl), and the type of song they’re covering (say, Gerry Rafferty’s Lite FM-hit “Baker Street”).

We can haz saxophone solos in our songs?

1. Foo Fighters, “Baker Street” by Gerry Rafferty

This is a fairly straightforward cover, but it’s notable for being a pretty unexpected bonus track from their The Colour and the Shape album.

2. Aretha Franklin, “Respect” by Otis Redding

Hey, are you like me, and only learning now that Aretha was asking for second-hand respect?

Gotta give R-E-S-P-E-C-T to Otis!

3. Flaming Lips, “Borderline” by Madonna

Contemplative and trippy. Well done, Wayne.

4. Scissor Sisters, “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd

The Scissor Sisters ease your pain and get you on your feet again with this discofied version of the Pink Floyd classic.

5. Pet Shop Boys, “Always on My Mind” by Brenda Lee

Yet another song you would probably never expect to hear on the dance floor, and yet it was a big hit for the Pet Shop Boys. While the 1972 original by Brenda Lee never even cracked the Top 40 on the Country Charts, Elvis Presley’s version (which I thought was the original) peaked on the Billboard Hot 100 charts at No. 20, Willie Nelson’s version peaked at No. 5 in 1982, and the Pet Shop Boys’ version ultimately reached No. 4 (although in the UK and other European countries it topped the charts).

6. William Shatner and Joe Jackson “Common People” by Pulp

I’m sure most people are familiar with Shatner’s cheeky rendition of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” (and if you’re not, check it out here. We’ll wait …) but Shatner later teamed up with Ben Folds, who produced the 2004 album Has Been and worked to legitimize the musical prowess of our dear Captain. On this track he teams up with Joe Jackson (which helps give credence to the cover tune).

7. Tori Amos, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana

Turning the angsty grunge anthem into a creepy dirge with piano accompaniment, I think Tori’s version of the song helped to pinpoint people’s focus on Kurt Cobain’s powerful lyrics.

8. Devo, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones

So, back to Otis Redding for a moment. I erroneously thought that he sang the original version of “Satisfaction,” and not the Stones! But alas, the Stones recorded it in 1965, and Redding covered it a year later. Twelve years later Devo recorded their futuristic version on Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, their debut album.

9. Fountains of Wayne, “Hit Me Baby One More Time” by Britney Spears

Laugh all you’d like, but FoW’s pleading version of Britney’s mega-hit adds a nice amount of gravitas to lyrics that you would otherwise dismiss as simple-minded.

10. Limp Bizkit, “Faith” by George Michael

Oh lordy, the ’90s were a strange time for music. People paid good money to go to concerts like the Family Values Tour and see faux-metal groups like Limp Bizkit perform. Fred Durst was a household name! This cover makes me sad, so I want to stop talking about it now. (For what it’s worth, George Michael has gone on record to say he hates this cover, too.)

11. Tom Waits, “Somewhere” from West Side Story

I know, I know, Tom Waits is such an acquired taste. Polarizing, too. You either love his voice (as I do) or you run from the room at the mere mention of his name. So, you know, it’s cool if you want to skip over this entry.

12. Violent Femmes, “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” by Culture Club

Gordon Gano and friends did a fun cover of this on their Why Do Birds Sing? album, which is probably best known for the track “American Music.”

13.Will to Power, “Baby I Love Your Way/Freebird” by Peter Frampton/Lynrd Skynyrd

OK, so when this song first came out, I was perplexed by their use of “Freebird” in the song, not realizing that they actually had mixed two popular tunes together. And this video? This video is just amazing. It’s as if Will to Power (or as I like to think of them as “Will” and “Power”) stepped inside one of those nonsensical videos that are regularly played as backdrops in karaoke bars. Baby, I love this cheesy ballad.

Thanks for sticking with this list. Your reward is watching this video of Vin Diesel covering Rhianna’s “Stay,” which he recorded for his fans on Valentine’s Day. Move over, Telly Savalas.

Header image via Thomas Hawk


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I like talking about "The Walking Dead" on Mondays, new music on Tuesdays, "The Mindy Project" on Wednesdays, new blockbuster films on Thursdays, "Nashville" on Fridays. It's kinda like days of the week underpants; you get the idea.

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