Musicians have been covering other musicians since the invention of music itself, ever since humans have learned to gather inspiration from each other. These covers take many shapes and forms. Sometimes the artist in question will perform the song in question in the same style as the original artist, modifying it only to fit their own vocals. Sometimes they put their own small twist on the song, making it their own but still paying respects to the vision of the song’s creator. Sometimes, however, they will change the song almost completely, stripping it down or dressing it up. Most of the songs in this list fall into the last category, but there is definitely merit in all three. That being said, there is something wonderful about each one of these covers and they all are deserving of attention and respect.
“Cornflake Girl” (Covered by Florence and the Machine, Original by Tori Amos) - When Florence recorded her version of this song, everyone agreed that it was the product of a true fan of Amos’ original song. Indeed, she leaves almost everything untouched, from the way she hits the notes to the similarity of the instrumentals. Her loyalty to the original may have been a risky decision if not for the fact that her voice fits the song so well. By being able to add the appropriate drama and intensity, she more than does the original justice.
“All the Things She Said” (Covered by Poppy, original by t.A.T.u.) - Similar to Florence covering “Cornflake Girl”, Poppy sticks pretty closely to the original. The most notable differences are that while the song was originally constructed for a duo, Poppy performs it solo. Additionally, she uses more subdued vocals but harsher instrumentals. Whereas the original sounds like the angry confused plea of two girls, these changes evoke feelings of fear and isolation. The difference is subtle, but notable enough to set Poppy’s version apart.
“Skinny Love” (Covered by Birdy, original by Bon Iver) - Just when it seemed it was impossible for Bon Iver’s song to get any sadder, Birdy sat down at her piano and recorded this heartbreaking rendition. By pacing and only using a piano as opposed to using guitar and percussion, isolated vocals rather than blended harmonies, she seems to simplify, not only the song, but the song’s emotion. The original is a blend of emotion, regret, confusion and sadness. Birdy’s, however, is just pure sorrow.
“Smalltown Boy” (Covered by Orville Peck, original by Bronski Beat) - When covering songs that have an emotional attachment to the original singer, there is a risk of sounding insincere. However it is clear with this version that this song has emotional significance to Orville Peck as well. He changes it, to be sure; abandoning the falsetto vocals for his trademark low voice and giving the song a western feel. His new take doesn’t feel unnecessary, though. It instead just feels like he is telling his own story rather than that of the original singer. He understands what it is to “cry into your soul”, careful to keep the tears hidden.
“Video Games” (Covered by Trixie Mattel, original by Trixie Mattel) - Like Orville Peck’s “Smalltown Boy”, Trixie Mattel gives “Video Games” a more Western Style. However, rather than simply giving Lana del Ray’s doom pop style a western style, she revamps it entirely. Mattel trades the melancholy slow pace for a more upbeat and optimistic tone. However, despite the change in style, the trademark drama found in Lana del Rey’s music is very much still there.
“Instant Crush” (Covered by Cage the Elephant, original by Daft Punk ft Julian Casablancas) - While Daft Punk’s version is very electronic, autotuning Casablanca’s vocals until he sounds almost robotic; Cage the Elephant breaks from that entirely. By using orchestral instruments, raw vocals, and no trace of digital enhancement, they produce a brutally emotional take on the song. That being said, the original contains feelings of distinct angst and desperation that Cage the Elephant manages to preserve. Despite all the modifications, it still manages to be a faithful adaptation.
“Dear Prudence” (Covered by Siouxsie and the Banshees, original by the Beatles) - Lots of covers strip down original songs, but Siouxsie takes the Beatles version and dresses it up in the best way possible. Instead of dooming itself to failure by copying the Beatles, it gives it a certain psychedelic flair that almost seems to pay tribute to the Beatles’ earlier works. It’s upbeat, trippy, and redefines the playful tone set by the original. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, by simply trying to have a good time, it thoroughly succeeds.
“The Man Who Sold the World” (Covered by Nirvana, original by David Bowie ) - When Kurt performed his rendition of this Bowie song in the Nirvana MTV unplugged concert, he made music history. Bowie himself applauded the cover, saying it was very good and “somehow very honest”. Bowie of course, was right. Cobain’s vocals and acoustic instrumentals stripped away the mysterious quality of the original, instead replacing it with an unyielding sincerity. By adding emotion and vulnerability where it wasn’t before, he makes it his own. Afterwards, he asks the audience if he “screwed it up”. The answer was then, and shall always be, a very vehement no.