Mental Health Break

by Chris Bodenner

One of the top nominees from our cover-song contest that hasn’t been aired yet is José Gonzalez’s acoustic rendition of “Heartbeats” by the Swedish synth-pop band The Knife. Gonzalez’s austere video is here, but the Sony Bravia version is far more visually stunning:

The Knife’s version – with its vintage footage of suburban kids on skateboards and trippy digital crows – is probably even better. And for another great video from the Swedes, don’t miss their drag queen-led performance for “Pass This On”:

Best Cover Song Ever?

The Dish staff provides a lot of great fodder for the popular reader thread. Dish editor Matt writes:

What do you get when a country legend hits the studio with an aging punk star to record a Bob Marley song? You get this version of “Redemption Song” by Johnny Cash and The Clash’s Joe Strummer, found on the former’s posthumously-released collection of rarities, alternative takes, and covers, Unearthed:

While not as famous as Cash’s cover of “Hurt,” I’ve always loved this recording’s spiritual power, made all the more striking by the fact that both men would be dead by the time the world would hear it. It’s also a fitting song for these low-down times, a kind of protest song marked by Marley’s prophetic religion – and who better to sing about deliverance by “the hand of the Almighty” than a man with the voice of God?

Dish editor Tracy writes:

I nominate Cibo Matto’s very ’90s bossa nova cover of Nirvana’s “About A Girl” and the Talking Heads’ classic cover of Al Green’s “Take Me To The River”:

Dish editor Chas, a former DJ, writes:

If we’re going to talk about great cover songs, then we have to talk about jazz trio The Bad Plus. They include at least one cover on every album, using brilliant arrangements that are often distant departures from the source material. Notable examples include Black Sabbath’s Iron Man, Rush’s Tom Sawyer and Blondie’s Heart of Glass, but my favorite is their version of Vangelis’ Chariots Of Fire Theme (and I don’t even like the original song):

And while we’re on jazz, be sure to check out Brad Mehldau’s freakin’ incredible cover of Radiohead’s Paranoid Android.

Also, on the off chance anyone hasn’t mentioned it yet, this really popular podcast only plays covers and the few times I’ve listened to it I’ve been pretty impressed.

Here’s Dishtern Phoebe:

I nominate Rufus Wainwright covering “Everybody Knows” by Leonard Cohen:

Wainwright and Cohen are now family, which is part of what makes the cover special, but it’s also a great song and cover. And Wainwright’s sparkly shirt in the video, also great.

And from Dish staffer Brian, a talented banjo player who performs around Brooklyn:

The overwhelming support for Jimi’s version of All Along the Watchtower provides an opportunity to point out that Hendrix had some of his own work reinvented in the bluegrass world. While we’ll never see the likes of Hendrix again, it could be argued that Jerry Douglas has done for the dobro what Jimi did for the Stratocaster:

Tony Rice’s cover of Norman Blake’s Church Street Blues speaks for itself. It’s probably my favorite thing on the internet, aside from the Dish:

And while we’re on the subject of bluegrass guitar covers, here’s Doc Watson shredding House of the Rising Sun:

Dish editor Jonah writes:

The piano reduction was the original cover song. It’s how Franz Liszt, the greatest pop star of the 19th century, covered Beethoven’s symphonies, and it’s how this anonymous YouTuber covers Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android”:

I stumbled across this video while searching for the better-known rendition by jazz pianist Brad Mehldau, but found that in some ways, I liked this one better. It’s a shorter, more approachable spin on Mehldau’s interpretation, albeit not quite as polished, and adds some flourishes that classical piano fans will appreciate. Plus, the bird’s eye view of the hands is a great way to watch a talented pianist in action.

Dish editor Jessie offers several great ones:

Ok, not exactly deep cuts here, but surprised no one’s mentioned: Tina & Ike covering CCR’s “Proud Mary”, Otis Redding covering the Rolling Stones “Satisfaction”, Devo doing the same, Aretha Franklin covering Otis Redding’s “Respect”:

… more Aretha Franklin covering “The Weight” by The Band, and Marvin Gaye covering Gladys Knight & the Pips’ “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.” And this guy:

And lastly, Dish editor Chris writes:

I’ve been responsible for curating the cover thread, so many of my own favorites are already mentioned. (And you can blame me for the bias towards Girl Talk and Cartman – though the Christopher Walken twist is even better.) But one great cover that I haven’t seen among the thousands of emails is Antony Hegarty’s tribute to Leonard Cohen’s “If It Be Your Will”:

I first heard that song in the Film Forum premiere of the Leonard Cohen documentary, I’m Your Man, whose soundtrack is a font of great covers, including the Wainwright one Phoebe mentions above. (Teddy Thompson’s take on “Tonight Will Be Fine” is another.) But circling back to Antony, if the goal is to jump genres, don’t miss his warbling rendition of Beyonce’s “Crazy In Love”:

Best Cover Song Ever?

The contest keeps going and going:

I hope I’m not too late for this one. My nomination is Wilson Pickett‘s cover (with Duane Allman) of the Beatles’ “Hey Jude”:

Normally, I’m a Beatles purist – the idea of a cover simply offended me. Why mess with perfection? Then I heard the Pickett cover on the radio a few months ago and I’ve been totally hooked. Dare I say he “made it better” by speeding up the tempo and getting rid of the “na-na-na-na’s,” which can get tiresome. The horn section that replaces the latter section along with Allman’s guitar riffs transport the song to another dimension.

Another points out, “The Pickett/Allman cover is merely great until about the 2:40 mark, when the two of them decide to put the accelerator to the floor.” Several more submissions after the jump:

The Clash did some amazing reggae covers, especially “Police and Thieves“:

Another throws a curveball:

Miley Cyrus cover of Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go“. She might be batshit crazy, but man if she isn’t an incredibly talented and versatile singer:

Another panders:

You can go ahead and end the contest now (I’ll take a white polo, size small), because I have by far the best cover song of all time.  I nominate Pet Shop Boys’ “Always On My Mind”, a song previously covered by Elvis Presley and Willie Nelson, among many others:

I have to say though, the Pet Shop Boys version is definitely the best one out there and there is no way you won’t declare this one a winner. Plus, this music video is just wonderful with a hilarious performance by Joss Ackland.

It’s hard to beat that Willie version.

Best Cover Song Ever?

No surprise about this hugely popular choice in the in-tray:

I nominate Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah”:

The Leonard Cohen version was beautiful, no doubt, but Buckley’s version made it gorgeous!

How another reader puts it:

It’s a revelatory interpretation that takes a poetic, if unremarkably performed, slow dirge and turns it into a soul-incinerating prayer. It’s an amazing example of a good song finding its most powerful expression in the hands of another artist.

Another notes, “I don’t even think ‘Watchtower’ has a whole book written about it.” Another piles on the praise:

To date, Cohen’s song has been covered over some 2,000 times according to leonardcohen.com.  It has been covered professionally by the likes of everyone from Willie Nelson, K.D. Lang, Bono, and Justin Timberlake just to name a few. Buckley voice brings harmony and soars to the hauntingly beautiful words of Cohen.  No matter whatever mood I am in, this is one song that’s on all my playlists. It is truly the best cover ever.

But the contest isn’t over yet.

Best Cover Song Ever?

From the latest round of nominees:

Faith No More’s “Easy”, a Lionel Richie cover. The deadpan, the guitar solo, the bored drag queens … Love it:

Another adds:

The ironic thing about this cover? It’s not really that ironic. A little tongue-in-cheek perhaps, but it really is a tribute from a band as far removed from the R&B/soul genre as could possibly be.

The next nominee also avoids irony:

If you’ve never heard this before, prepare yourself. Israel Kamakawiwoʻole’s version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is so beautiful that it gives me chills. I’m not a fan of re-imagined versions of childhood favorites, but this is transcendent:

Another adds, “There’s no way a 500 pound Hawaiian dude should have the voice of an angel.” Another elaborates a bit:

It may certainly seem cliche’ at this point to put in this entry, especially nearly a decade after his death and this song’s exposure in a few Hollywood films, but the song still resonates something very beautiful. First off, Bruddah Iz was not exactly your typical “American Idol” wannabe pop icon.  He lacked the looks – indeed, he had an untimely death due to his health problems related to his obesity – YET he remained true to his very smooth and mellow style, that was still able to capture the hearts and minds of so many people in the world … and in turn introducing much of us to a then largely unknown and small aspect of local/regional music in our country.

How?  Not by any real big commercial push from the local Hawaiian music producers, but rather appearing in a few popular films and TV shows during some of their most memorable moments. Who does not remember hearing this song during Dr. Mark Greene’s final moments in “ER?”  The song hit the top 40 in 10 countries around the world, and the album itself went double to triple platinum in 3 – not through any creative use of an autotune, a sexy/controversial music video, nor even by showing any cool/slick dance moves.  All it took was a very humble man, with a voice and heart that was bigger than the island from which he was raised, and accompanying himself with an instrument that was shorter than one of his upper limbs.

Finally, his message still has a lot of meaning for us today, especially in light of the recent international crises we are facing; It helps us believe that despite all this, there are still many people and aspects about our world that will always be “wonderful.”

One more fan concedes:

Yes, it’s overly sentimental, but, in times like these, I need this.

Best Cover Song Ever?

The submissions keep pouring in:

Manfred Mann’s “Blinded by the Light.” Very few people actually realize this song was originally written and recorded by Bruce Springsteen. Manfred‘s version is dramatically different:

Another:

I would like to nominate The Beatles cover of “Twist and Shout”, which was originally recorded by the Top Notes in 1961 and the by The Isley Brothers in 1962. The Beatles version changed the form of the original and John Lennon gives us one of the greatest vocal performances. The Beatles version has become the standard:

The Boys had the savvy to not only repeat the bridge and buildup but to parlay the latter into a slow-triplet-bound complete ending. This gives the overall thrust of the song a much greater sense of teleology, of having “arrived” somewhere; the Isleys sounds in comparison more like just static vamping.

(Alan W. Pollack’s Notes on Series)

Another huffs:

Girl Talk? Alien Ant Farm? Give me a break. Everybody knows that the greatest cover ever is Joe Cocker’s awesome rendition of “With a Little Help from My Friends,” delivered, among other places, at Woodstock:

I think Cocker gets extra points for doing a Beatles cover, given how brutal the competition is.

Check out the growing number of nominees here. Update from a reader:

My friends and I enjoy passing around this “subtitled” version of Cocker singing that song at Woodstock:

Best Cover Song Ever?

A reader recommends an extreme genre-bender:

Great contest. Let me nominate an unconventional, but brilliant, submission by Girl Talk. You want genre mixing?  How about something that includes parts of Black Sabbath, Ludacris, Dorrough, the Ramones and Missy Elliot, among others (plus equally amazing video):

Is it a traditional cover song? No, but if this is the future of the cover song, we are in extremely good hands …

Previous coverage of the Dish’s favorite mashup DJ here. Another reader:

I can’t be the first to submit Cowboy Junkies covering Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane”. This version is so good Reed himself changed the way he performed the song live:

Another:

How could I forget this one?!  Another example of the cover being better than the original. This time it’s Sheryl Crow covering Cat Stevens’ “The First Cut is the Deepest”:

Another:

Please consider the Fine Young Cannibal’s cover of “Suspicious Minds”. Both Elvis and FYC had a hit with this one:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibx5-nTLIns

Check out all the nominees here. Update from a reader:

Might I advocate for keeping the covers contest limited to “clean” covers and saving mashups for, possibly, a later contest? You’ll be hard pressed to beat Girl Talk at his own game, but you’ve got stuff like Pogo (with gardyn being among my faves there, and this boosh remix) competing for the “repurposed splicing” title (though let’s be honest. Girl Talk is in a league of his own with the breadth and depth of his mashups). Hell, you could have individual Girl Talk and Pogo contests (I would put “Minute by Minute” up against “Oh No” for Girl Talk)

But then beyond that, you’ve got other more focused, less all-over-the-place mashups:

DJ Danger Mouse’s Grey Album (Jay-Z’s Black Album vs. the Beatles’ White Album) [probably the gold standard as an album, but individual tracks out there can at least compete]
Sham Sham’s 99 Hearts (Jay-Z’s 99 Problems v. Architecture in Helsinki’s Heart It Races)
Psycosis’ In da G4 Over the Sea (Neutral Milk Hotel vs. various rappers)
Amerigo Gazaway’s Yasiin Gaye (Mos Def [Yasiin Bey] vs. Marvin Gaye)
the Notorious XX, Wait What (Notorious B.I.G v. the XX)

I find all of these, in their own way, to be amazing examples of how someone can make something completely new out of two songs that seem wildly different. Or maybe I’m just hoping you’ll crowdsource my efforts to find more mashups like this.