Sometimes when a band releases a cover song, fans scratch their heads and say “what were they thinking?” Sometimes fans think to themselves, “Hey, that wasn’t so bad. That’s a pretty cool cover.” And then there are times when a band covers a song so well that no other version is remembered. In some instances, fans don’t even realize that it is a cover song. Here are five such songs that bands have made their own, by recording a version so memorable, it destroys the original.
Faster Pussycat – You’re So Vain
Originally recorded by Lite FM radio darling Carly Simon, Faster Pussycat’s version of “You’re So Vain” is one of the best cover songs ever recorded by any band anywhere. Their dedication to the song and the transformation from sappy, easy rock, to sleazy hair metal, was brilliant. Converting this song into a metal mainstay had to be a painstaking chore, but Faster Pussycat did it with conviction. Anytime that I hear the original version, I immediately think of the (far superior) Faster Pussycat version and have to crank it on my I-Pod. Taime Down’s vocals are exceptional on this recording, and the power that the band put into their version is superb. Faster Pussycat made “You’re So Vain” a fun song. And while the theme of the song is still the same, there is something about the Faster Pussycat version that makes it too enjoyable to be considered a “sad” song. Whenever I think of great cover songs, this is the first one that comes to mind.
Van Halen – Ice Cream Man
Take one old blues tune, add one screaming Eddie Van Halen guitar solo, and a lot of David Lee Roth scat-doo-bop-wop, and you have the musical recipe for a delicious cover song. Originally recorded by John Brim in 1953, this blues classic became a fan favorite and a staple of the Van Halen catalog. If you’ve ever heard the original version of this song, then you know how Van Halen drastically changed it. They took a slow picked, harmonica blues song, and turned it into a powerful riff driven, screaming rock song. Prior to Van Halen’s version, a lesser known cover by Tom Waits had been recorded. However, it was Van Halen’s version of this song that brought it the fame. Most fans didn’t even realize it was a cover song, mistaking it to be a VH original. And while the original is decent and maintains the same semblance of the modern version, it is the Van Halen style that put their stamp on this song and made it their own. Van Halen would go on to record many more cover tunes over the years, but none were as fantastic as “Ice Cream Man.”
Charm City Devils – Man of Constant Sorrow
New to this list is the recently released “Man Of Constant Sorrow” by Charm City Devils. For reasons that are similar to Van Halen’s recording of “Ice Cream Man,” Charm City Devils took an old folk song (well over 100 years old) and put their own smoking riffs to it, resulting in a hard rock beauty that is quickly climbing the charts. While Charm City Devils is currently known for their party anthem “Let’s Rock And Roll,” that could quickly change as “Man Of Constant Sorrow” could become their signature song. They’ve already killed any other cover versions that exist (and there are plenty) with their hard rocking version, so it’s safe to say that it’s only a matter of time before people (and fans) forget that this is not a Charm City Devils original.
Tesla – Little Suzi
For years, I never knew that this was a cover song. It wasn’t until I saw Tesla in concert with Rob Rockitt that he filled me in to the fact that “Little Suzi” was not a Tesla original. Originally recorded by PhD as “Little Suzi’s On The Up,” Tesla took an electronic keyboard, almost unlistenable song and made it a modern day rocker. If you’ve never heard the original version and want to see the stark contrast between Tesla’s version and the original recording by PhD, look it up online. It is amazing to see how drastically this song was changed. Tesla took a garbage song (PhD’s version is terrible) and recorded one of their greatest songs ever. Tesla may be forever known as the band that recorded “Love Song,” but their transformation of “Little Suzi” is truly one of the defining moments of their career.
Guns N Roses – Knocking On Heaven’s Door
Whenever I hear Guns N Roses version of “Knocking On Heaven’s Door” I always forget that this was originally done by Bob Dylan. While Dylan did a great, haunting original, Guns N Roses took this song and truly made it their own. What Guns added to this song was the missing element of power. When Axl leads the crescendo into a scream toward the end of the song (Knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door….yeah!), I get chills. Although released on Use Your Illusion II, Guns had been covering this song since their early days on the strip. The years of live play, gave the band time to hone their signature sound on “Knocking On Heaven’s Door.” A finer version of this song is not known to me, and that includes the original.
I’m sure that there are many other cover songs that could have made this list, so don’t be surprised to see a couple of sequels to this post in the future. What cover songs can you think of that a band has made their own? Drop a line in the comments section and share your opinion.
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