Un-Cover-ing New Entries for Your Playlist: Give These a Chance
by Erik R. Slagle
Cover songs can be a controversial topic as far as music conversations go. When an artist or group decides to reimagine someone else’s work, the results can be hit or miss. Done right, a cover song can propel an unknown act into the spotlight (think The Ataris’ version of “Boys of Summer”). They can also become punchlines (a la Steve and Eydie covering “Black Hole Sun”). Landmark acts like the Beatles have spawned whole cottage industries of covers, and that includes the good (“Come Together” as done by Aerosmith or Soundgarden – take your pick), the bad (Tiffany’s “I Saw Him Standing There”), and the bizarre (“Money” from the Flying Lizards).
If you want to expand your playlist with new takes on old hits, here’s a half-dozen that even the staunchest anti-cover listener would approve:
“Sabbra Cadabra,” Metallica. The 1998 “Garage Inc.” compilation from Metallica offers up a two-disc collection of largely serviceable covers. Much of the airplay and attention went to their takes on “Whiskey in the Jar” and “Turn the Page,” and folks who saw the 1991 Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert loved seeing “Stone Cold Crazy” – which Metallica absolutely killed at Wembley – show up here as well. They take on bands from Blue Oyster Cult to Diamondhead, but one of the best must be their reading of “Sabbra.” Originally cut by Black Sabbath for their 1973 “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” album, “Sabbra” here gets a heavier, crushing treatment that’s an excellent fit for James Hetfield’s burly vocals.
“Iron Man,” The Cardigans. Speaking of Black Sabbath, for something truly odd check out the Cardigans’ 1996 album “First Band on the Moon.” The same record that delivered the infectious “Lovefool” and fluffy pop like “Your New Cuckoo,” “Losers” and “Great Divide” offers a version of “Iron Man” that borders on a lullaby. Is it good? You be the judge. Is it an interesting choice for the biggest thing to come out of Sweden since Abba (sorry, Ace of Bass)? You betcha.
“Mississippi Queen,” Ozzy Osbourne. I swear this wasn’t planned to be an all-Sabbath/Ozzy article when I started it. But here we are. In 2005 The Ozzman released the “Prince of Darkness” boxed set, and one disc featured a collection of covers that allowed Ozzy to pay tribute to some of his favorite artists. He performs tracks from David Bowie, King Crimson, Jimi Hendrix, Buffalo Springfield … the list goes on (including a reading of “Born to Be Wild” with Miss Piggy of the Muppets – true story.) His take on the smash hit from Mountain is, in my opinion, the best of the bunch.
“Suffragette City,” Red Hot Chili Peppers. Ozzy does Bowie’s “All the Young Dudes” on the aforementioned set, but the Chili Peppers’ cover of another Bowie classic deserves to make this list too. Taken from the “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Covers” EP (where the Peppers also take on the doo wop classic “Teenager in Love” and the Beach Boys’ “In My Room”), this version scores just slightly higher than Alice in Chains’ take from the 1989 “Sweet Alice” demo.
“Daydream Believer,” Shonen Knife. Here’s one that isn’t about Sabbath, Ozzie or Bowie. Shonen Knife blasted their way through this light, breezy and beloved Monkees’ hit as only a trio of Japanese punk-rock girls can. You won’t find it on iTunes but picking up a used copy of their 1998 CD Happy Hour for this cover is worth it.
“I Can’t Get Next to You,” Al Green: Let’s slide off the rock tracks for one last addition here. The Temptations’ chart-topping favorite from 1969 got a soul-injected makeover for 1971’s “Al Green Gets Next to You.” (An album that also features Green covering the Doors’ “Light MY Fire”.) One of those incredible interpretations that gives its original an entirely new feel and sounds just as good in the process.