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The 411 Music Top Five 02.05.13: The Top 5 Surprising Cover Songs

February 5, 2013 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas


Honorable Mention:
Yngwie Malmsteen – “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” (originally by ABBA): Leave it to Yngwie to turn a poppy disco song into a decent power metal song with plenty of the weedly-weedly guitar.

Vader – “I.F.Y. (I Feel You)” (originally by Depeche Mode): This isn’t that different in style from the original, but this is Vader, and they’re covering Depeche Mode, and it sounds similar to the original. That is enough to land it here.

Blind Guardian – “Mr. Sandman” (originally by The Cordettes): A nice soft swing song covered by one of my favorite power metal bands. I was headbanging by the end of this cover, also, the video is nightmare fuel.

5. Pat Boone – “Enter Sandman” (originally by Metallica)

This should be in the honorable mentions, but I can’t help but put it here, just because it gives me pure glee. I can’t help but laugh every time I hear it, because this honestly isn’t that bad; it’s fun and in good fun. I would never be caught dead with this on my iPod, but still it’s fun to listen to. Funny side note, Pat Boone almost got excommunicated from his church for doing this album of metal covers. Some people need a sense of humor.

4. Sodom – “Surfin’ Bird” (Originally by Trashmen)

This song is the second of my entertaining novelty songs on the list. I ran across this one random day listening to some Sodom, and I’ve been ruining peoples’ days since. This was done in 2001, a full 7 years before Family Guy beat it into the ground. This isn’t a great cover, but I don’t think anyone saw it coming, not to mention everyone loves a random metal novelty!

3. Children of Bodom “Jesse’s Girl” (Originally by Rick Springfield)

This was sent me one day from the cover fanboy, 411’s own Mark Radulich (listen to our Hatebreed album review tomorrow, kids). I expected this to be entertaining, because Children of Bodom are a pretty damn good cover band. They even have a cover of, “Oops I Did it Again” that would make it on here, if it weren’t for this pretty great cover. This still manages to encapsulate the feel of the original, while still making it pretty metal, with a nice guitar solo at the end.

2. Anthrax “Got the Time” (Originally by Joe Jackson)

This is probably no surprise to anyone who saw my name on here. This is one of Anthrax’s better known songs, and a staple of their live show. The original is one that I’ve not really heard much of, but I do know that Joe Jackson and his band have played it faster than Anthrax play their version. This is a fun cover, has a nice punk feel to it, catchy as all hell (no surprise), and it is a showcase for the awesomeness that is Mr. Frank Bello.

1. Exodus – “Low Rider” (Originally by WAR)

I had no clue of the existence of this song until I bought the classic, ‘Fabulous Disaster’ and was jamming along on the way to college. Low and behold, I hear the familiar beats of “Low Rider” blasting through my speakers, and I find myself uncontrollably headbanging. This song is so much fun, it’s weird though, because this is a song I really never saw as thrash metal material, but that’s why I’m not Gary Holt. This song is fun (as I’ve said a ton), but the guitar solos are impeccable, well worth the price of admission.

Disclaimer: This is a bit of a trick category. Any metal band can take a song from Bette Midler, crank up the guitars, gravel the vocals and make it “their own”. Any bozo can do that. To me an “unexpectedly good cover” is when an artist or band take something and turn it inside out and make it their own, which is usually stylistically a million miles away from the original. That’s what I was going for here. I’ve included the originals with the covers for comparison

5. Marilyn Manson – “Tainted Love”

This song was famously a cover to begin with and was a massive dance floor smash for Soft Cell who could make a case for having their own version on this list. Marilyn Mason made his bones with a rather famous cover of “Sweet Dreams” but it’s his version of “Tainted Love” that I think is better than Soft Cells and “Sweet Dreams” alike. Before he became a caricature of himself, Manson had the great ability to get to the heart of a song and sonically pervert it into something that pulsed and dripped sex. The other thing you get from Manson cover songs…the sense that he really means everything he’s signing.

4. Nouvelle Vague – “Dancing With Myself”

The original was done by Billy Idol fronted punk band Generation X and gained greater acclaim when Idol went solo. It was your bog-standard, punk-pop song that stuck in your brain for a few moments before you went about the rest of your life. When French Bossa nova act Nouvelle Vague decided to re-imagine a bunch of indie/punk songs in their peculiar style it was interesting how they flipped the intent of the song. It turned the tune into a celebration of individuality from the nihilistic punk snarl that Idol gave it.

3. The Animals – “House of the Rising Sun”

The origins of this song are lost and some claim it is close to 200 years old. The first known recording of this song was in 1933 and has been done by every slave/field hand for decades since. In steps a bunch of hard drinking, Northerners from England who’s poor, working class roots easily suited this Appalachian ballad except they drove the electric blues of Chicago right through the middle and set the world on fire. From the opening guitar picking, Eric Burdens anguished howl and the amazing Hammond organ solo, this version redefined what a cover version really was.

2. The Beatles – “Twist & Shout”

The original is called “Shake It Up, Baby” and was played with dancehall enthusiasm by the Top Notes. It is fairly unremarkable song that sounds more like the bastard child of surf music and Ray Charles with too many musicians contributing too many parts. In steps The Beatles. They strip back the arrangement to three chords, a back beat, tremendous backing harmonies and John Lennon’s incredible throat shredding vocals. It’s as gritty and real as any punk and blues you will ever hear.

1. Johnny Cash – “Hurt”

This to me is such an obvious choice and I think most people dismiss it purely based on the fact it is so good. Trent Reznor wrote this song about his ongoing addiction to heroin and it was a dense meditation on his life to that point. While Reznor had seen things up to that point, nothing he’d done could compare to the life of Johnny Cash. Nearing the end of his mortal coil, Cash poured his heart into “Hurt” in a way that Reznor never could and turned it into a meditation of someone who had done some much damage to himself and others and knowing know matter how much he atones, it will never be enough. It truly is one of the great, heartbreaking moments ever captured in music history.

Honorable Mention: Honorable Mention: Dynamite Hack – “Boyz in the Hood,” Seether – “Careless Whisper,” Black Ingvars – “…Baby One More Time”

5. Mark Ronson and Amy Winehouse – “Valerie”

“Valerie” was originally a song by The Zutons, recorded for their 2006 LP Tired of Hanging Around. Their version has a distinctly indie-rock feel, but there is something in there that hearkens back to an earlier day. Amy Winehouse and producer Mark Ronson took that feel and put it in the forefront for a song that sounds like it could have come right out of the 1970s…which, of course, put it firmly within Winehouse’s wheelhouse. It’s an energetic and lively song that features one of Winehouse’s warmest performances without a doubt. All due respect to the Zutons, but Ronson and Winehouse took a good song and made it great.

4. Marilyn Manson – “Sweet Dreams”

This is probably the first song that comes to people’s mind when they think of cover songs that really changed things up from the original, and for a good reason. Manson’s take on the Eurhythmics classic took what was already a fairly creepy song and sent it into full-on nightmare mode. Manson completely reinvented this one for a new generation and did so in pretty brilliant fashion. And let’s not even talk about the terrifying video, which is one of his most full-on disturbing videos to date.

3. The Gourds – “Gin and Juice”

For some reason rap songs inspire the most bizarre covers, usually for comedic effect. Take this one, for example. Snoop Dogg created a great rap song in “Gin and Juice” off his debut song Doggystyle but the Gourds made a novelty classic with their country take on it. It’s actually kind of shocking how well Snoop’s rap lyrics fit in with a bluegrass sound; there are incongruencies of course, but those provide comedic value. It’s insanely catchy–possibly even more than the original–and I daresay I listen to this version more than Snoop’s.

2. Johnny Cash – “Personal Jesus”

A lot of people may have thought that Cash’s cover of “Hurt” would end up on here, but musically it is more similar to Trent Reznor’s original; it is Cash’s thematic differences that make it so impressive. The rock legend’s take on Depeche Mode, on the other hand, is a completely different monster musically. Manson also covered this but didn’t do as impressive a job as Cash, who gives it his own sound and comes off sounding at least as good as Dave Gahan and company, if not better. There’s no one who covers songs quite like Cash did and this is one of the most striking examples of that.

1. Jonathon Coulton – “Baby Got Back”

Blame Mr. Coulton for this list, as his dustup with Glee got the topic in my head. I won’t go into that whole thing, but I will say that in terms of genre-twisting cover songs there are none that I enjoy as much as “Baby Got Back.” The comedic value of “Johnny C’s” version of Mix-A-Lot’s novelty rap hit cannot be accurately measured. I dare you to listen and not laugh. Bet you it won’t happen. It’s such a bizarre arrangement for the song but it works on so many levels, just one of many reasons I’m a huge Coulton fan.

The Final Word
As always, the last thoughts come from you, the reader. We’re merely unpaid monkeys with typewriters and Wikipedia. Here’s what you need to do: List your Top Five for this week’s topic on the comment section using the following format:

5. Artist – “Song”: Why you chose it
4. Artist – “Song”: Why you chose it
3. Artist – “Song”: Why you chose it
2. Artist – “Song”: Why you chose it
1. Artist – “Song”: Why you chose it


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Jeremy Thomas
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