You would think that for certain songs, you can’t improve on perfection.
However, the great thing about cover songs is that singers who want to do their renditions of a particular song don’t have to do it better. Rather, they have to own the song such that it would be impossible for music-lovers to think of that song as being sung by anyone else.
Here are eight cover songs that have transcended their original singers or creators and made their own impact:
Garbage & Screaming Females, Because The Night
Patti Smith initially kicked ass with this song in 1978, but two hard-rocking bands fronted by women—namely Garbage and the Screaming Females—combined to make it even more punk with their 2013 cover. (Another exceptional cover was done by 10,000 Maniac’s Natalie Merchant in 1993 for MTV Unplugged.)
Johnny Cash, Hurt
First done by Nine Inch Nails in 1995, Johnny Cash covered this song for his album American IV: The Man Comes Around in 2002 and made the song of bleakness and desperation into one of personal loss.
Disturbed, The Sound of Silence
Simon & Garfunkel recorded this classic folk rock song in 1964 but it was a commercial failure upon its release. Surprisingly, the single made a comeback in US radio stations the following year on its own and brought the duo stardom. Disturbed made a haunting rock version of this song in 2015.
Beck & St. Vincent, Never Tear Us Apart
Vocalist Michael Hutchence of the band INXS owned this ballad when it was first released in 1988 and made it sexy. Beck—with St. Vincent on vocals—created this heart-aching rendition for his Record Club in 2010.
Trent Reznor & Karen O, Immigrant Song
A single created by the iconic rock band Led Zeppelin in 1970, this song about Vikings and Old Norse mythology was re-envisioned by Trent Reznor of the industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails and Karen O in 2011 for the movie soundtrack of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Jeff Buckley, Hallelujah
First sung by Leonard Cohen in 1984, the melancholic song with its biblical references gained prominence when Jeff Buckley gave an even more sorrowful version in 1994 for his only album, Grace. Though Buckley died in 1997, it was released posthumously as a single in 2007.
Bon Iver, I Can’t Make You Love Me
Bonnie Rait first sang this moving song about love lost between couples in 1991. Since then, a number of artists—from George Michael to Prince and Adele—have covered the song. Bon Iver made his own rendition in 2011 mashed up with another Raitt song, Nick of Time, and completely in his signature style.
Regina Spektor, While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Written by George Harrison, this song was included in The Beatles’ self-titled double album in 1969. But Regina Spektor’s cover of this song for the soundtrack of the 2016 movie Kubo and the Two Strings includes the use of the shamisen, a Japanese three-stringed musical instrument.
Of course, your mileage may vary when it comes to this list of best cover songs. What are your choices? Leave your recommendations in the comments below!