Some cover songs are dreadful. They don't add anything new to the original and frequently even ruin what was once a classic. The A-Teens remakes of the ABBA hits is one good example of this. It pains me to hear good songs being remade into bad ones.
Then there is that rare breed of cover song that improves on the original. These are remakes that add flavor and sometimes provide a different angle on a popular song. A great remake has the magic of the original, while at the same time adding an edge to it. These are cover songs that end up surpassing and eventually supplanting the original. Here is a list of better-than-original remakes:
Don't Make Me Over - Sybil
(original song by Dionne Warwick)
Here's one cover I enjoy listening to. It adds an emotional punch to the original through Sybil's melodic voice that lingers on the chorus. It ventures into unfamiliar territory by blending slightly off key vocals to produce a totally unique sound. It moves an established R&B hit into smooth jazz territory.
Wooden Heart - The Lizards Convention
(original song by Elvis Presley)
I'm amazed at the creativity that this small Singaporean band displayed in totally revising and remaking an Elvis original. They sound like different songs altogether. In my opinion, the original was kind of lackluster, but I guess The Lizards saw something in it, and revised the tempo, gave it a female voice, and made it into a kickass ballad worth remembering.
I Will Survive - CAKE
(original by Gloria Gaynor)
Most people think this is CAKE's way of mocking the original Gloria Gaynor rendition. But John McCrea actually said in an interview that he liked the original 'I Will Survive' and this was his way of paying tribute. There are several key differences between the two. The original was a song about positive resolve and liberation, while the remake is actually kind of down, sarcastic and even angry. The original was a disco hit that closely matched its fancy tempo, while CAKE's doesn't even try to match the vocals to the music, lagging by half a step the entire song. The original had nice clean lyrics. While CAKE modified it slightly with the line "I should have changed my fucking lock" which I felt was more appropriate. CAKE's version added an edge to a 70's classic, and succeeded in creating something totally new.
Don't Leave Me This Way - The Communards
(original by Thelma Houston)
OK, the original Thelma Houston version is pretty good too. I enjoy them both. In fact, this is one of my favorite songs of all time in any form, whether sung disco-style like the original, 80's new wave style like The Communards, or even karaoke-style sung by complete strangers. The Communards added their own twist to it by singing falsetto the entire way while at the same time upping the feel-good energy factor by a couple of notches. The music video is good too.
Tainted Love - Soft Cell
(original by Gloria Jones)
Bet you didn't know this was a remake. I didn't know either. In fact, I confess I haven't heard the original version. But I'm still 100% sure that Soft Cell's Tainted Love rendition will be better. Why? Because this stands as one of the best new wave songs ever made. It also contains the best synthesized riffs in music history - a killer intro followed by 'Sometimes I feel I've got to....
When You Say Nothing At All - Ronan Keating/Alison Krauss
(original by Keith Whitley)
This is debatable because there are times when I think the Keith Whitley country original is superior to its remakes. But I do like the Ronan Keating and Alison Krauss versions. Keating punctuates it with a slightly off-key, irish accented chorus which adds emotion and depth to the song (plus it sounded great in the movie Notting Hill). Alison Krauss had the sweeter all around melodic vocals that is easy to fall in love to.
I'll Always Love You - Vina Morales
(original by Michael Johnson)
I'm going to commit sacrilege and and say that I liked Vina Morales version of this timeless classic better than the original. OK, OK, I know in the grand scheme of things, Michael Johnson's original will probably be judged better by almost everyone. In fact I know some people who feverently detest the Vina Morales remake, calling it an insult to the original tune, and I understand their viewpoint. Johnson's version was more heartfelt, emotional, sad, matching the mood of the lyrics more accurately. In contrast, Vina's version was happy, cheerful, cute, and in no way matched the lyrics. In fact it made no sense to sing it this way because this was a song about a breakup. It just doesn't match up. However, I like irony and contrasts in my music, and this gave a good vibe, so I'm picking it.
Have I missed any other good cover songs?