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The Best Cover Songs of All Time

Now! That’s what I call UDS’s favourite covers


Cover songs are a tricky beast. If they sound too similar, they’re almost not worth doing. If they’re unrecognisable, you might as well have written an original song. But find that sweet spot in the middle, and you can produce a work of art that not only honours what came before, but adds to its legacy. 

We’re celebrating those tracks that do just that. We asked the UDS office to share their favourite cover songs of all time. The ones that stand on their own, while giving the necessary reverence to their forebears. Read on to find out if your favourite made the list. 


Tom

Astro Zombies – My Chemical Romance (Originally by Misfits)

There’s a healthy dose of nostalgia in this pick, but hear me out. Released as part of the soundtrack of Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland, MCR’s take on the Misfits’ classic manages to retain the punk energy of the original, while adding a contemporary, more hardcore edge. While Gerard Way’s youthful snarl is a departure from Danzig’s crooning warble, I think it arguably fits the story of space monsters and faces melting in a pile of flesh. 

It also happens to be the song that introduced me to both bands in one fell swoop, and both have since provided the soundtrack to the last 15 years of my life. Not bad for a cover song on the soundtrack of what’s often considered one of the weaker Tony Hawk games (although it’s absolutely the best and if you disagree I’ll send Dobbie to beat you up).

One Step Closer – 100 gecs (Originally by Linkin Park)

100 gecs’ version of One Step Closer flirts on the boundary between cover and remix. It retains a lot of samples and vocals from Linkin Park’s iconic original, but adds enough new material to justify a place on this list. 

Produced as part of the 20th anniversary release of Hybrid Theory, it takes the youthful angst of the original and makes it as weird as possible. Electronic leads that wouldn’t sound out of place in an early 2000s Europop track blend with death metal gutturals so well, you’ll wonder why Aqua didn’t collaborate with Sepultura. 

I love it when artists push the boundaries of conventional genre definition, and 100 gecs use this familiar starting point to create something truly unique, demonstrating an off-kilter beauty among the chaos. 


Dobbie

Whiskey In The Jar – Metallica (Originally by the Irish and Covered by Thin Lizzy)

The best cover songs are those that an artist can take and truly make feel like their own song, whilst maintaining the undeniable spirit of the original. It’s not an easy thing to do, and it’s why many pub bands all over the UK will remain just that – pub bands. There aren’t many artists in the world who can really claim to be capable of covering a song to an exceptional degree; many fall flat and some can be fun-but-completely-unnecessary carbon copies (for example, anything on Weezer’s Teal Album).

Equally, it’s not often that a cover song can become truly ingrained into an artist’s identity. It’s incredibly difficult to think of any off the top of my head, aside from Whitney Houston’s version of I Will Always love You, but that’s not much in my wheelhouse. Instead, I’d like to suggest that Whiskey In The Jar is potentially as important to Metallica’s career and legacy as a good number of their most famous songs (I mean, maybe not Enter Sandman or Master of Puppets, but certainly I Disappear, King Nothing and the like…).

Whiskey In The Jar is a traditional Irish song with lyrics from the perspective of a highwayman who is betrayed by his lover. A cursory look at the wikipedia page for the original song suggests that there are many covers of this song out in the world, but there’s no question this is probably the best one – and if we’re being honest, it’s more or less a cover of another cover version by the band Thin Lizzy (which, truthfully, I’m not all that big a fan of, personally). 

Papa Het and the gang take Thin Lizzy’s more traditional Rock version of the song, turn on the distortion, add the huge thuds of Ulrich’s drums and make that incredible riff sing to you in the most astounding way. There’s no question for me that it’s one of the best cover songs of all time, and I’d even go so far as to say it’s likely in my Top 5 Metallica songs. It’s just that good. As an added bonus, it even comes from what’s probably the best covers album ever released in 1998’s Garage Inc. which I highly recommend.

Crazy – Alanis Morissette (Originally by Seal)

Crazy was Seal’s debut single, and though it’s probably not his biggest song, it’s definitely a song that a large amount of the world’s populace will have heard at some point in their life. I’ll throw my hands up here, this song is practically untouchable, it’s excellent. By no means would I want to stand here and say Alanis Morissette’s cover of the song is better than Seal’s original. It’s really good though. Dare I say, for my musical taste, it might even be preferable.

I don’t have an awful lot to say on this one, this is purely a personal choice. Hearing this cover chime in when I first listened to Alanis’s Greatest Hits collection was a wonderful surprise, and it even sits alongside her biggest hits quite comfortably. The cover retains the atmospheric soundscape vibe of the original, the biggest change purely being the addition of more guitars and a Pop-Rock sensibility which truly makes the song feel like it would be right at home on one of Morissette’s mid period albums (both Under Rug Swept and So-Called Chaos would be perfect homes for it and incidentally, if you’ve only listened to Jagged Little Pill then you’re truly missing out). 

I don’t think it would ever replace the original for most listeners, but I think it can sit alongside the original as a glorious footnote on how to cover an astounding Pop song in an interesting and enjoyable way. 


Ryan

Axel F – The Crazy Frog

Some would argue I know nothing about music at all. They would be correct.

That’s why I’ve selected Axel F by the Crazy Frog as the best cover of all time.

It’s a blue frog. With nads. Covering the theme song to the hit Eddie Murphy movie Beverly Hills Cop. I honestly don’t think any other songs in this article will top it. I have no arguments to support it, and will hear no arguments against it.


Drew

Ramin Djawadi – Exit Music For A Film (Originally by Radiohead)

Trust me to make an article about music into an opportunity to gush about movies and TV I like. But I genuinely thought long and hard about it, and my favourite cover has to be the finale music of Westworld’s first season. Westworld is riddled with orchestral or piano versions of popular modern music, kind of as a joke about the simulated reality of the park: it looks and sounds old-timey but it’s actually a modern imitation, and the truth nags at you – “is that Seven Nation Army being played on a sitar in colonial India?”

The crowning achievement has to be Exit Music For a Film, played as the hosts essentially achieve sentience and start their revolution. At first it seems like a fairly normal piano cover, but the genius move comes when the theme music to Westworld begins playing as a counter-melody to Exit Music in the final minute. As the hosts turn against the humans on screen, the metaphor of the player piano (representing the hosts’ illusion of agency) comes full circle, and our music is replaced by their music – they literally start dancing to their own tune.

Lewis Capaldi – When The Party’s Over (Originally by Billie Eilish)

Right out the gate it’s worth saying that these two versions aren’t all that dramatically different. Billie’s original is an emotionally wrenching, minimalistic, piece of perfection. Capaldi’s version is also all of that. But louder. I wish I was being facetious, but that’s pretty much what it comes down to, and I love it.

I don’t want to downplay the impact that loudness has – Capaldi puts his absolute all into the performance, on a live recording no less, and it’s a real gut punch. Sometimes I want to say that Billie’s version is better because there’s plenty of people who can belt out a tune out there, but not many have her ability to emote at barely more than a whisper. At the end of the day though, I’m just glad both versions exist, with a time and place for both.

There’s also a part of me that finds Capaldi’s version hilarious, given that he’s repeatedly screaming the line “quiet when I’m coming home” at the top of his lungs – I just appreciate the irony.


Neale

I Don’t Wanna Die – Jeff Rosenstock (Originally by Ging Nang Boyz)

“You want to talk about Jeff Rosenstock AGAIN?”

YEAH.

I DO.

What I really love about this cover is that it’s a really great place to jump into Jeff Rosenstock’s discography. It’s big, it’s loud, it’s organised chaos. There’s some really great layers at play in this juiced up cover, and as with a lot of Jeff’s best songs, there’s some really great contrast between the intensity of the guitars playing into the quieter synth melodies that are sprinkled throughout.

In a recent tweet Jeff explained “the biggest reason we don’t play that song much is cause I always too get amped and blow my voice out”, which is a real shame but I think it only goes to show how much he really does love playing it.

The fact that Jeff sings in an entirely different language is impressive in it’s own right, but thankfully the English lines in the song are incredibly catchy and easy to sing along with, so when he does play it live everyone has a chance to really get involved. You should listen to Jeff Rosenstock.


Craig

Kids / Poker Face – Weezer (Originally by MGMT & Lady Gaga)

*Insert joker about Weezer cover here*

There is no point arguing about Weezer any more. In 2021 everyone knows how they feel about the band and the music they produce. Back in 2009 Weezer covers weren’t as commonplace as they are now and Rivers Cuomo decided to make an absolute banger of the best MGMT song and a few Lady Gaga lyrics.

Every band when covering a song has the opportunity to make a song their own and try something new. In this instance Weezer have just chosen to have fun with it. Isn’t that what music is really about? Having fun? No, but this song is good regardless.


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