Fall Playlist: 16 Cover Songs We Can't Get Enough Of
The first cut isn’t always the deepest—that’s what we learned in the process of making our ultimate fall mixtape. Blame it on the change in seasons, but we find ourselves craving the shelter of nostalgic, time-honored tracks to match our music-centric décor goals. We’re taking a journey down the back catalogue of a few favorite musical artists brought about a rousing discussion on the best cover songs of all time.
Reprising old classics and revered gems is a forever-controversial enterprise. It’s bold to claim art might be better articulated by someone other than its original architect. With that premise assumed, we’ve assembled a few deep cuts and killer tracks for your consideration. From the dispassionate cool riffs of punk to Johnny Cash crooning Nine Inch Nails, these iconic do-overs give their source material some serious competition. Crank up your speakers. These records are meant to be played loud. Enjoy our list of the most undeniably great cover songs ever. You heard it here first (sort of).
Written by Neil Young and released in 1979, the complex, story-laden tune chronicles a massacre of a Native American tribe by European settlers. Young’s critically acclaimed original is hauntingly beautiful. Cash, backed by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, covered the track on his posthumous 2003 release, Unearthed. Cash’s trademark vocals, in all their dark, melancholy spirit, draw a brilliantly evocative sense of longing that feels even more intimate and intense. Buy it on iTunes.
Composed by Marvin Hamlisch with lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager, the smash ’70s ballad was originally recorded by Carly Simon as the theme for the James Bond flick The Spy Who Loved Me. In Radiohead’s take, Thom Yorke’s vocals are brimming with unexpected cool and a luxe, diversified range of sound that makes even a major worldwide hit feel fresh. Download it on Last FM..
Written by Hoyt Axton and featured on Three Dog Night’s 1971 album, Harmony, the King’s 1972 take on “Never Been to Spain” crescendos effortlessly from mellow, subtle nonchalance into trademark Vegas-level vibes. It’s a solid good time chock-full of soul. Buy it on iTunes.
English rock group The Animals’ #1 hit “House of the Rising Sun” is a traditional folk song of uncertain authorship that proves art is ultimately in the execution. While countless renditions of the ballad exist, including takes by Bob Dylan in 1961 and Nina Simone in 1962, The Animals’ howlingly distinctive arrangement from 1964 is an unequivocal classic. Buy it on iTunes.
Originally penned by Sonny Curtis of the Crickets, the 1966 version of “I Fought the Law” popularized by the Bobby Fuller Four is a classic. The Clash debuted their cut of the American edition on their self-titled debut album. The lyrics marry perfectly with the punk scene, making for a spin arguably more iconic than its predecessor. Buy it on iTunes.
Jack White’s take on Dolly Parton’s sprawling lyrics of spurned love gone awry is raucous and layered. A little bit less country, a little more rock ’n’ roll, it works on every level, adding power and lively antics to the already impassioned composition. Buy it on iTunes.
One of the most infamously beloved Bob Dylan covers of all time, Jimi Hendrix’s rock-’n’-roll riff on the lyrically verbose icon’s “All Along the Watchtower” is oft referenced as “better” than the source material. It’s all subjective, but there’s no doubting Hendrix’s deftly skilled execution is superb. Buy it on iTunes.
Tom Waits’s raucous, husky rendition of The Ramones’ follow-up to “Judy Is a Punk” for the tribute album We’re a Happy Family was produced by Rob Zombie at the behest of Johnny Ramone himself. The version is an all-out tour de force of raw, celebratory cool that feels at home on any summer playlist. Buy it on iTunes.
Covering Jimi Hendrix is arguably treading on sacred ground. Ethereal French songstress Charlotte Gainsbourg teamed with Beck on this chill revival track. She treads softly and peppers in some major sex appeal with lush layers of piano and slick bass. The result is gorgeous. Buy it on iTunes.
Written by Johnny Christopher, Mark James, and Wayne Carson, the 1972 country ballad was first recorded by Gwen McCrae and Brenda Lee. Willie’s wildly popular version is full of soulful angst and the singer’s signature honey-soaked vocals. Painfully nostalgic and achingly bluesy, its lonesome, reflective calm is enough to pull at your heartstrings. Buy it on iTunes.
Originally written by Lou Reed and performed by The Velvet Underground, The Kills’ dynamic duo of Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince conjure up a hauntingly cool rendition of the classic 1969 tune. Mosshart’s languid sexpot vocals coupled with Hince’s symphonic guitar sound make for a song full of sultry moodiness and modern edge. Buy it on iTunes.
Cash’s notorious Nine Inch Nails cover brought Trent Reznor to tears. Not much more of a case needs to be made for the stunning interpretation. It tops the list of many a critically revered must-listens, in terms of historical bests. Buy it on iTunes.
Joy Division’s take on The Velvet Underground’s “Sister Ray” manages to add an extra dose of restrained danger to the White Light/White Heat track. While the bold frenetic energy of the original is fantastic, Ian Curtis’s lethargic post-punk vocals build just enough to make the avant-garde style all the more provocative. Buy it on iTunes.
Written and recorded by Bob Dylan in 1988, Nick Cave’s cover of the more obscure track closes his 1996 Murder Ballads record. With vocal turns from Shane MacGowan, among others, it has a raw sing-along feel that feels eerily full of hope. Buy it on iTunes.
The original version of Spoon’s “Don’t You Evah” belongs to The Natural History (aside from the off-kilter spelling). Spoon covered the track on their sixth studio album Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga and included the track (and a handful of remixes) on their 2008 eight-song EP of the same name. Buy it on iTunes.
Lead singer Nathan Willett’s gospel croon brings mellifluous depth and texture to The Band’s song “You Don’t Come Through.” Cold War Kids’ version is a stirring, more robust completion of the raw track, executed with soulful precision and reticent emotion. Buy it on iTunes.
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