Sadly, many of my favorite musicians just do covers—some of them have never written their own material (I’m thinking of those who fall into the category of show tunes and “easy listening” like Sarah Brightman, Michael Ball, Michael Crawford, John Barrowman, etc). But that’s okay, I guess—there’s room for everything in this big, wide musical world.
Johnny Cash- “One” (originally by U2)
Johanna introduced me to both Johnny Cash and U2, but I heard this version of one of my favorite U2’s songs in the supermarket. I liked it so much I went out and bought my first Johnny Cash CD. The original’s good, and I don’t know quite what I like so much about this version. I just do.
Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon- “It Ain’t Me, Babe” (originally by Bob Dylan)
And speaking of Johnny Cash . . . I always said Joan Baez was the one qualified to sing Bob Dylan’s songs as at least her voice didn’t sound like a cow sat on it. Nevertheless, reinterpreted by the cast of Walk the Line based on a reinterpretation by Johnny Cash and June Carter, it’s one of Dylan’s best.
Tony Gallichan- “Mr Dalek’s Bad Wolf Xmas” ie the Doctor Who theme (originally by Ron Grainer and Delia Derbyshire)
I’m a junkie for remixes of the classic Who theme, and if pressed to pick a favorite I guess I would have to choose this one (originally found one whomix.trilete.net). It’s so good, it made otherwise timid me message Tony Gallichan when I saw him on Facebook to tell him how much I enjoyed it. We thus became friends and a bunch of other fun Who-related stuff ensued. But that’s a digression. Tony’s a gifted composer, and this haunting version of the theme manages to get in “Bad Wolf,” “The Watcher” from “Logopolis,” the sombre Dalek choruses from “Parting of the Ways,” the new (well, 2005) theme tune from TV in music box-like flourishes, “The Satan Pit”-like cello, and an amazing mix of Derbyshire and Gold. Go find it on whomix. Or better yet, find Tony on Facebook.
Alabína- “LoLoLe (Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood)” (originally by The Animals)
What irony that the title of the original corresponds to the fact that the cover is in Spanish and Arabic.
Nightwish- “Walking in the Air” (originally by Aled Jones)
Britons will probably recoil in dismay when they hear the original as it gets a lot of airtime here at Christmas. I must have seen the animated Snowman when I was little, and the tune haunted me, but it wasn’t until I heard it Gothic heavy metal with electric guitar and a crowd of clapping acolytes by the Norwegian group that I really appreciated it. It manages to be both mysterious and beautiful, a little dark and lovely. Their interpretation of “Phantom of the Opera” is also good.
Simon and Garfunkel- “Red Rubber Ball” (originally by the Cyrkle)
There’s nothing wrong with the original, it just ages with less alacrity than the vocal stylings of Paul and Art.
The Lounge Brigade- “Deep Dish” (originally by Ani DiFranco)
The Lounge Brigade interpret so many of Ani’s songs in interesting and accomplished ways, but this one is the funnest because of its use of different sound editing techniques as well as having a sort of James Bond feel to it!
Alanna Davis- “Don’t Fear the Reaper” (originally by Blue Öyster Cult) (I couldn’t find her version, but I did find this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnrgQtxnm-k)
Somehow stranger, creepier, and prettier than the original.
LA Guitar Quartet- “Loose Canon” ie “Canon in D” (originally by Johann Pachelbel)
I have many favorite versions of the famous Canon, including an a capella one by Platinum, a hyper-electronic one by Isao Tomita, and reinterpreted as a Christmas song by the San Francisco cast of the Phantom of the Opera (!) but this one stylistically covers all the bases and gives the quartet a chance to show off their superb guitar skills. “Bluegrass” canon is perhaps coolest.
Sarah Brightman- “Gloomy Sunday” (originally by Reszo Seress)
Who would have known this was the suicide song? I certainly didn’t, as Sarah (or her arrangers) make it a jazzy, sultry number with an upbeat added verse at the end. That doesn’t take away from the dreamy, sensual lyrics or haunting, melancholy tone.
Smashing Pumpkins- “My Blue Heaven” (originally by Gene Austin)
I just love this song, and if Smashing Pumpkins hadn’t dug it out of musical obscurity, I would have never known about it.
Gary Jules- “Mad World” (originally by Tears for Fears)
Gary Jules manages to sound like Simon and Garfunkel on “Broke Window,” so maybe making derivative sound good is his gift (although there are a lot of gems on Snakeoil for Wolftickets that are often overlooked). This is the cover that had me hitting the replay button about ten times in a row. Tears for Fears may have created the obscure, profound, awed, and cynical lyrics, but Jules imbues the sweetly sad piano with much emotion. And I always think of Jack Sparrow and Elizabeth Swann when I hear it, but that’s another story.
Michael Ball- “Hot Stuff” (originally by Donna Summer)
Of all the Michael Ball covers, this is the most ludicrous and fun.
The Obertones- “Under the Bridge” (originally by Red Hot Chili Peppers)
Oberlin College a capella ensemble that has managed to do great things with Radiohead’s “No Surprises,” the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows,” and The Beatles’ “Please Please Me,” though this is the most ambitious and integrated of the lot. Also good is Yale’s Kingsmen’s version of Barenaked Ladies’ “What a Good Boy” and Nothing But Treble’s “Harder to Breathe” by Maroon 5.
I’m sure there are more, but I can do a part two.