When An Artist Transcends The Material (A Covers Thread - Sort Of)

It’s easy for a great band or singer to take a great song and improve on it. But to take a mediocre (or less) tune and make it great? Not always so easy.

So what are some of your favorite examples of someone (or some band) being so great that it makes the (almost) un-listenable into something magic.

I’ll start.

John Denver by way of Kingston

This comes to mind

Pearl Jam’s Last Kiss cover is gorgeous and imbued with all the appropriate pathos the original failed to embody.

Obligatory link to Johnny Cash doing NIN Hurt.

Personally I feel that is more of a novelty cover. It is not bad, but… it ain’t better than angst-y Reznor doing his own angst-y material. I just can’t see Johnny Cash in eyeliner, man!

Great Husker Du cut. I never heard it before. It sort of reminded me of The Dickies playing the Banana Splits theme.

If you want to go all the way back to my childhood, there’s this.

Janis Joplin taking a fairly standard folky song like “Me & Bobby McGee” and making it transcendent:

Squirrel Bait doing something similar to Phil Ochs (though, TBF, the original is pretty great too):

Red House Painters transforming terrible dross like Kiss’s “Shock Me”:

Of all the vocalists of the era of original American indie punk and loud rock from 1985 through 2000, no one was a better singer than Squirrel Bait’s Peter Searcy. No one.

Sadly, in his heart of hearts Peter kinda knows how great a singer he is and for whatever reason wanted to do something really commercially successful and never really had the ear for the kind of material to take him there. Still, have to think that everyone from Eddie Vedder to Lane Staley to Scott Weiland pretty much openly copied Searcy’s singing style on those two Squirrel Bait records.

From Mark Lanegan’s amazing first solo record. He’s backed on this by by Krist Novoselic and Kurdt Cobain, who were both kinda unknown then but who’d do their own version of this on Nirvana’s Unplugged album. (It was salvaged from a scrapped, lost to the ages project that Lanegan, Cobain, Novoselic and Screaming Trees drummer Mark Pickerel were fooling with for a bit.)

Sadcore Shock Me is awesome. Kozelek did a ton of Bon Scott era AC/DC covers, too.

You’re right. He really was one of the great punk/indie vocalists…if had just held on a few more years he could’ve ridden the “year punk broke” wave. He was at least as good as Kurt Cobain and Billie Joe Armstrong!

I remember buying one of his post-SB band’s records Big Wheel, I think? It was fairly dire. I see he’s still doing music…I kind of fear finding out what it sounds like.

No Doubt!

And then to bring it back around, Kozelek’s more recent cover of Husker Du’s “Celebrated Summer” (a song I never liked much, on one of my least favorite HD albums) is terrific as well.

Also, just thought of Camper Van Beethoven’s excellent cover of Status Quo’s Picture of Matchstick Men, which I’m sure many people have heard. But it definitely takes the nice-but-forgettable psych-pop original and made it rock pretty hard.

If it’s not too far afield in terms of medium, I think Ellen’s performance in Finding Dory rises incredibly far above the material.

I’ll play, but I’ll go back a little farther. Here’s one of my all-time favorite Led Zeppelin arrangements, from back when they were more into covering old blues music than writing their own stuff. Leadbelly was a great musician, but “Gallows Pole” wasn’t one of his most popular pieces; it really takes Plant’s vocals to bring it into greatness.

Tori Amos transforms “Smells Like Teen Spirit” into a haunting ballad that almost outshines the original.

I love, love, love these two covers


I listened to that Dynamite Hack song hundreds of times when I was going through a particular coding phase in 2000.

One great song, being covered by one talented artist.

I think you mean stealing old blues music and putting their names on it than writing their own stuff.