Cover songs fall into an odd place in the sphere of popular music.
Whenever a quality cover song does come about, it can sometimes overshadow the original – to the point where you might think the artist covering it even wrote it themselves.
When a cover goes wrong (as they do on occasion), it will either become a meme, or, even worse, can cause major damage to an artist’s reputation.
Some great cover songs, however, unfortunately happen to get lost in the ether. Here are ten of those examples that both popular music and the internet have to offer which have fallen to relative obscurity.
“Hall of Mirrors” – Siouxsie and the Banshees (originally by Kraftwerk)
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Siouxsie Sioux imposes her powerful voice underneath an instrumental palette, which infuses traits from several key Banshees’ albums, namely the art pop/art rock of Tinderbox and the post-punk of Hyæna, which do justice to the lyrics which describe the perceived illusion between reality and appearance.
Even Kraftwerk’s Ralf Hütter, who is well-known for his unwillingness to speak to the media, lauded the Banshees’ version of the track in a 2003 interview with Italian newspaper La Stampa:
“In general, we consider cover versions as an appreciation of our work. The version of ‘Hall of Mirrors’ by Siouxsie and the Banshees is extraordinary”.
“Africa” – Mike Massé and Jeff Hall (originally by Toto)
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This 2010 cover of Toto’s “Africa” by YouTube cover artist, Mike Massé, alongside Jeff Hall, is arguably the greatest Toto cover you have never heard.
Massé proves that simplicity does not mean that a song is less impactful. With only an acoustic guitar, a bass, and two vocalists, this version of “Africa” sounds fuller than versions with a full band lineup (you tried Weezer; at least the music video was good meme material).
Also, this cover cannot be mentioned without praising the vocals of both Massé and Hall, which make this version of “Africa” such a particularly enjoyable listen; those harmonies on the chorus are to die for.
“The Way Young Lovers Do” – Corey Heuval (originally by Van Morrison)
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This cover by YouTube cover artist and musician, Corey Heuval, is originally found on Van Morrsion’s 1968 folk rock masterpiece, Astral Weeks and is partially inspired by the version found on Jeff Buckley’s 1993 Live at Sin-é EP.
What makes this version stand out in comparison to Buckley’s take on “The Way Young Lovers Do” is Heuval’s immense abilities on the guitar, improvising entire lead lines while managing to sound like there is more than one guitar in the mix, in a clear homage to the approach in which Jimi Hendrix wielded his axe.
There is also an effective use of dynamics on Heuval’s version of the track, which suits the lyrics so much better, as opposed to the spatial experimentation found on Buckley’s take.
While both versions do have their merits, Corey’s near seven-minute take of the track is far more engaging of a listen and a thrilling blues-inspired one of arguably Astral Weeks’ most underrated song.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” – Leandro Kasan (originally by Queen)
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An acoustic fingerstyle cover of this 1975 Queen classic by Brazilian guitarist, Leandro Kasan, is mind-bending in a way. If you were not watching him play it on one guitar, vocals, bass, guitar lines, you would make the mistake of thinking two or three guitars are playing at once.
As interpretations go, it is virtually flawless, scarily accurate, and moves through the motions in a similar manner to the original – and it certainly lives up to Freddie Mercury’s dying wishes to not have his work sound boring.
“No Surprises” – Regina Spektor (originally by Radiohead)
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This 2010 performance of Radiohead’s 1997 track, while similar in feel to the original found on OK Computer, has a greater sense of vulnerability to it when Regina Spektor is behind the microphone.
Accompanied with only a keyboard, Spektor utilises her voice to evocatively express how the perceived idealism which society encourages everyone to strive for can, in fact, lead to the unfulfilling mundanity, only fully breaking out of her soft and dreamy midrange during the second refrain.
Even if it is brief, the emotional power behind Spektor’s voice at this point seals this version of “No Surprises” as a great cover.
“The Great Gig in the Sky” – Lilian Ximenes, Kris Gietkowski, Carlos Assad, and Paulo de Siqueira Bueno (originally by Pink Floyd)
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There are some songs that are often put into hallowed territory in which it is unwise, or even career-ending in some cases to attempt to cover them. This is often down to it being almost impossible to recreate the feeling of said recording again – a once in a lifetime recording, if you will.
Pink Floyd’s “The Great Gig in the Sky” from 1973’s The Dark Side of the Moon is one of these songs, helped in no small part by Clare Torry, whose legendary performance on the track rivals that of any vocalist’s greatest moments on the mic – an opinion I will happily take to the grave.
If you are so inclined, you can read more about how the track came to be here.
With that now said, Lilian Ximenes’ attempt at performing the non-lexical vocals on this masterpiece is an astonishing show-stealer, which pays deep reverence to Clare’s own performance, while also adding her own colour to the part. While not quite as desperate or primal as Torry, Ximenes does come extremely close to capturing that feeling.
The instrumentation behind Lilian follows the original on The Dark Side of the Moon almost to a tee and is performed very faithfully by Kris Gietkowski, Carlos Assad, and Paulo de Siqueira Bueno. However, this is no point of criticism, as adding or taking away anything from the track lessens its potent impact, which was originally titled “The Mortality Sequence”.
It takes a lot of balls to cover this song, and even more so to even dare attempt to provide the lead vocals. However, the quartet comes as close to the original as you can, even outshining every live performance of the song done by Pink Floyd themselves.
“By This River” – Jannis Anastasakis (originally by Brian Eno)
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This meditative instrumental cover of this Brian Eno track from his 1977 album, Before and After Science, by Greek musician, Jannis Anastasakis, stays faithful to Eno’s philosophy for ambient music, while at the same time, homaging it.
Substituting the sparse piano and reflective vocals for a guitar and a board full of effects, this version of one of Eno’s lesser-known songs enhances its melancholic tranquility, extending the track out to eight minutes as opposed to the three minute-long original.
The cover is also an interesting thought experiment in what a musician can do over a simplistic repeating riff, with each passing of the motif adding a new texture or colour to the sound.
“The Big Medley” – Dream Theater
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An ambitious cover which moves through six songs which Dream Theater love, this ten-minute live performance found on the group’s 1995 EP, A Change of Seasons, is an excellent showcase of why this American progressive rock and metal band are regarded as one of the best live acts of the last three decades.
While it is not overly ambitious or does anything new with the songs, it works simply because of how well Dream Theater manages to flow from one section of the medley to the next, with very little effort, with the transition between “Carry On Wayward Son” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” being the standout moment.
The songs which make up the medley in order of appearance are “In the Flesh?” (Pink Floyd), “Carry On Wayward Son” (Kansas), “Bohemian Rhapsody” (Queen), “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’” (Journey), “Cruise Control” (Dixie Dregs), and “Turn It On Again” (Genesis).
“Golden Slumbers” – Elbow (originally by The Beatles)
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This version of “Golden Slumbers” was featured as part of the John Lewis 2017 Christmas advert and is a brave pick for a cover, especially considering it constitutes the start of one of the greatest sequences of songs ever to close an album – the album being The Beatles’ Abbey Road.
Guy Garvey smartly does not imitate Paul McCartney’s intense vocal delivery, and instead uses his own vocal abilities to place emphasis on the track’s softer qualities, which mainly comprise of the iconic string lines, warm keyboard and synths, as well as sparse acoustic guitar. A track which truly lives up to its lullaby description, if the lyrics are to be taken literally.
Naturally, it is difficult to call this a superior version to that of its original found on Abbey Road. Nonetheless, it is an admirable take on one of McCartney’s finest Beatles’ deep cuts, which leads to natural curiosity as to how an Elbow tribute album to the Beatles would pan out.
“Let It Happen” – Meg Mac (originally by Tame Impala)
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Taking the glitchy synth-pop of arguably, Tame Impala’s greatest track, Meg Mac injects modern soul into “Let It Happen”, virtually creating a brand new song in the process while also paying respect to the original.
Special praise should go to how the bridge of the original track (found at around the 5:30 mark) was reworked to act as the refrain to Meg’s version, which is key to tying her version together. On paper, a soul-influenced rework with the song’s original structure would have easily fallen apart.
This is truly a cover which is ambitious in its intent to simplify the original’s sound and structure, yet flawless in its execution.