Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash

We kicked off our countdown of the greatest cover songs out there yesterday, make sure you check that out right here, but now it’s time to count down the five best covers in music.

So, without further ado, let the adulation begin.

5) The White Stripes – Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself

Who would ever have thought that Jack and Meg White could take a 1960s Dusty Springfield song and make it fresh, new and totally their own?

Back in 2006 though, exactly that happened, with the rock duo including a version of the classic track onto their second album Elephant. What makes it one of the best covers recorded though is the complete tone shift from Springfield’s original, while still wonderfully weaving elements of the original in throughout.

Replacing the big band strings with rip snorting guitar riffs give the track a wonderfully black and white nature, half of the time all aggression, the other quiet meditation. Also featuring one of the most stunning music videos of recent memory, The White Stripes took a classic and imbued it with their own brand of magic.

4) Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah

It may not have strayed too far away from the original song by Leonard Cohen, but perfected it. The execution is far cleaner, far simpler and far more emotional in Buckley’s version of the track and makes what was a rough diamond into the crown jewels.

Over the years it’s become the default version of the classic song, the one cited by musicians when they take on the challenge to this day or good reason, as Buckley’s vocal is a well of barely contained emotion, with his occasion vocal cracks and breaks just adding to the track.

3) Jimi Hendricks – All Along The Watchtower

Dylan is proving a rather good source of covers so far, as this is the second song of his to make the list. Of all the covers though, this sensational version of All Along The Watchtower is easily the most comprehensive and game-changing.

Transforming Dylan’s small folk number into a giant mass of psychedelic guitars, giant riffs and pounding drums that would become synonymous with the Vietnam War, Hendricks’ completely made the song his own. The magical thing is that Hendricks still manages to not only keep the power of Dylan’s original lyrics, but hugely enhance it with his increased instrumentation.

Even Dylan himself was pleased with the cover, tending to play Hendricks’ version of the song live as tribute to the guitarist. Higher praise there is not.

2) Aretha Franklin – Respect

Best you didn’t know it was a cover at all right? Don’t worry, we won’t judge you because despite being one of the most famous Aretha tracks, it’s Otis Redding original is often swept under the rug.

Simply the switch in gender changed the song from a personal cry to an anthemic track for generations to come, a declaration of pride and strength that would stand as the defining track for the feminist movement gripping America. This new arrangement was also a whole heap more fun than the original, changing the big band to a swinging soul backing and upping the tempo considerably.

Adding in the iconic ‘spelling chorus’ that would single-handedly give it an edge over its forebear, Aretha Franklin’s is rightfully the one that everyone remember, with it winning two Grammys that year and standing out as one of the best R&B songs of all time.

1) Johnny Cash – Hurt

It was always going to be really. This is perhaps the track that most people now know The Man In Black for, and it only came at the very end of his illustrious career.

Filling a song already filled with pain and emotion to the point of bursting, this is a sublime re-imagining of the Nine Inch Nails track that would cement the great country musical in musical folk-lore for eternity.

Recorded soon before his death, Cash’s version of the song is sobering tale of regret and humility, all made the more poignant by Cash’s famous history. Cash’s voice is at its most sensitive, a tone fuelled by bourbon and perfectly matched to the track. Hurt’s sparse instrumentation is also a masterstroke, stripping back the song to its basics and letting Cash’s vocal do the heavy lifting.

It all adds to a combination that can change the steeliest of hearts into a quivering heap within a single verse. When combined with its tear-jerking video, it’s a true test for waterproof mascara.

It’s the watermark for any cover version, and completely wipes all existence of the Nine Inch Nails original out of your head upon hearing it.


That brings our list of covers to an end, but what do you think? Any favourites of yours that didn’t make the mix? Let us know in the comments section.

FemaleFirst Cameron Smith

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