The 1989 effect: 15 song covers that give the originals a makeover

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all

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The recent release of Ryan Adams’ cover album of Taylor Swift’s 1989 has changed the way tracks like Blank Space sound forever, swapping Swift’s poppy sass filled anthems for something far more sombre. However, Adams is hardly the first musician to dip their toe into another artist’s work to try and re-invent it for themselves. Here’s our list of some of the best sounding covers around, that may well change your feelings on the original.

1. The White Stripes – Jolene (Dolly Parton)

I like to think Dolly Parton has been the secret inspiration for rock stars everywhere, and that was the main reason for The White Stripes taking on the classic country track and making it their signature cover. Either way, it’s a pretty great rendition that takes the original and makes it a little more edgy.

2. Florence and the Machine – Take Care (Drake)

Musical tongue twister of the day: Florence and the Machine covering Drake’s version of Take Care, which he reworked from the Jamie xx remix of Gil Scott Heron’s cover of the original sung by Bobby Bland. Try saying that 3 times!

3. Bon Iver – I Can’t Make You Love Me (Bonnie Raitt)

King of heartbreak Bon Iver gives this Bonnie Raitt breakup staple a new lease of life with nothing more than a piano and his sad, sad lungs, proving once and for all he lives to make people miserable in the best way possible.

4. Frightened Rabbit – The Only Place (Best Coast)

Best Coast sing about California, the ocean and the good time vibes that come with living in The Golden State. Frightened Rabbit’s hometown of Selkirk, Scotland didn’t have a lot of that, so their cover of Best Coast’s ‘The Only Place’ is suitably less jolly.

5. Jenny Owens Young – Hot In Herre (Nelly)

Nelly’s Hot In Herre is a pretty fun song, there’s no denying that. Listening to Jenny Owens Young effortlessly harmonise and strum along to the infamous party track may be even more fun – the music video alone could give ol’ Nelly a run for his money.

6. Johnny Cash – Hurt (Nine Inch Nails)

You can’t get much more bleak than Trent Reznor singing about heroin addiction and self harm – unless of course you go ahead and get Johnny Cash to cover it, bringing a whole new meaning to the word ‘hurt’.

7. First Aid Kit – Dancing Barefoot (Patti Smith)

Queens of both original material and covers alike, it’s hard to choose just one First Aid Kit song cover to blow you away – but when the incomparable Patti Smith herself cries during the rendition, you know you are onto a winner.

8. The Smashing Pumpkins – Landslide (Fleetwood Mac)

Fleetwood Mac is one of those bands that are covered endlessly, with a lot of efforts missing the mark by varying degrees. Not so with The Smashing Pumpkins’ take on Landslide, whose acoustic version is just as bittersweet as the original (and it doesn’t hurt that Nicks herself is a fan of the cover).

9. Bright Eyes – Devil Town (Daniel Johnston)

The beginning of Bright Eyes’ Devil Town cover is pretty identical to Johnston’s original, however while Johnston stays full on a cappella and minimalist for his track, Bright Eyes throws in a backing singer and a whole host of instruments to jazz up their version and truly set it apart from the original.

10. Keaton Henson – Maps (Yeah Yeah Yeahs)

How to make one of the saddest songs around even sadder:

Step one: Add the permanently gloomy Keaton Henson and some sparse guitar.

Step two: …nope, that’s it. That’s all you need.

[Ed: Step three: profit?]

11. She & Him – You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me (Smokey Robinsons and The Miracles)

There are people in the world that think Zooey Deschanel can do no wrong and those people are me. For all the unbelievers out there, listen to her band She & Him cover a song that has been covered to absolute death and still manage to make it their own.

12. Marilyn Manson – Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) (Eurythmics)

Marilyn Manson’s cover of this classic Annie Lennox track makes the lyrics suddenly sound a lot less like a warning, and a lot more like a threat. PS. You don’t want to watch the music video late at night – trust me.

13. Daughter – Get Lucky (Daft Punk Ft. Pharrell Williams)

When you think of Daft Punk, the words sad, moody and atmospheric might not immediately come to mind. However, give Daughter a chance to cover one of their biggest hits and that’s exactly what you get, and more.

14. Lana Del Rey – Chelsea Hotel (Leonard Cohen)

As polarising as Lana Del Rey’s particular brand of pop often seems to be, this  solid re-working of a classic Cohen may just silence the cynics for a while, by staying faithful to the original whilst managing to add her own quietly wistful take on the track.

15. Cat Power – Wonderwall (Oasis)

Is Wonderwall the most covered track of all time? I haven’t done the maths, but it may well be. I have, however, decided Cat Power’s take on the Mancunian rocker classic is definitely the best of the bunch, followed closely Ryan Adams’ attempt (sorry Ryan, but you do have that entire album of Taylor Swift covers to make yourself feel better).


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