Friday Discussion: The Best Cover Songs

by Zack Zarrillo - Apr 26, 2013

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We’ve been having more fun than ever with our PropertyOfZack Friday Discussions lately with The Best Album Openers and Closers, so we thought we’d throw one more rad category out there with The Best Cover Songs. Covers can be tough; Some fans like the covering band to spice up the original’s song in their own way, and some fans don’t. To each their own. We put a list of covers from bands in our scene that we love in an Rdio Playlist to listen to as you read the Discussion as well (though not all covers were present). Check out our list below and feel free to reblog with some of your favorite covers!

The Ataris - “The Boys of Summer (Don Henley)”
Okay: raise your hand if upon hearing The Ataris’ cover of “The Boys of Summer” back in 2003, you thought it was actually their own song. You can’t see me, but my hand is definitely up. In fact, I had no idea it was a cover for a whole two years, until one fine morning when I was in eighth grade and my mom made a comment about how much better it was than the original. Without question, it absolutely is. 

Everything from the sped-up tempo, to the progressive, much-improved instrumentals, to Kris Roe’s smooth-to-rough vocals, sounds like this is an Ataris original. Even though So Long, Astoria also boasted “In This Diary,” another mega-hit, this cover certainly did the album and band an entire world of good, receiving oodles of radio air-time and even making it to the top of the ever-infamous MTV music video countdown TRL (R.I.P. childhood). This song is a pop-punk classic, and by far outdoes its original not-so-pop-punk predecessor’s classic status. It’s hard to even think that someone before this band uttered, “My love for you will still be strong/after the boys of summer have gone” into a microphone. No offense, Don Henley, but this cover is so good that it pretty much puts the original out of existence. - Brittany Oblak

All Time Low - “Umbrella (Rihanna)”
It can be a little hard to remember nowadays, but there was a time when All Time Low brought the pop and the punk in equal measure, and they never did it better than on this cover of Rihanna’s mega-hit “Umbrella”. Marrying snarling guitars with sticky-sweet vocal harmonies that only soar bigger and brighter as the song progresses, “Umbrella” is such a natural fit for All Time Low’s strengths that you’d be forgiven for thinking Terius Nash helped pen it with the clown princes of pop-punk in mind. It’s a prime example of what can happen when a great song finds its way to a band at the peak of their creative powers. - Jesse Richman

Bayside - “Be My Baby (The Ronettes)”
Bayside has always produced good covers – so good, in fact, that the songs are sometimes mistaken for originals by less knowledgeable fans (see: “Megan” by The Smoking Popes). With their first covers EP, the band stepped into new territory, choosing to cover songs they had grown up listening to, and perhaps introducing a whole new generation to the likes of The Ronettes, Elvis Costello, Del Shannon, Van Morrison, and Billy Joel. 

Of the five tracks on the EP, “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes, is the only one originally performed by a female band. However, between Anthony Raneri’s distinctive vocals and Jack O’Shea’s gripping guitar solo, the transition into a Bayside song is all but impeccable. Though Bayside has never been particularly known for love songs, the harmonies and vocal overlays that give this track its old school, swoon-worthy feel suggest that maybe the band should try it more often. - Becky Kovach

The Early November - “The Power Of Love (Huey Lewis & The News)”
I’m a sucker for cover versions that are truly transformative, and I’m not sure I can think of one that flips the script as radically as The Early November does on their cover of Huey Lewis & The News’ bombastic pop-cheese classic, “The Power Of Love.”  By trading the skronking synths and pulsing drums of the original for laconic, hypnotically repetitive acoustic arpeggios and whisper-thin vocals, Ace Enders and company gingerly excavate the love that’s long been buried underneath all that power. I’ve written about it before, and I’m sure I’ll write about it again; it’s an obscure gem that deserves to be heard. - Jesse Richman

Kevin Devine – “Holland, 1945 (Neutral Milk Hotel)”
“The only girl I’ve ever loved was born with roses in her eyes / But then they buried her alive.” If I didn’t know any better, the cinematic lyrics to “Holland, 1945” could have been written by Kevin Devine. It’s no surprise that Devine chose to cover this Neutral Milk Hotel song, but what is slightly surprising is how he could change so little about the arrangement and still offer a completely different spin on the tune. Devine has a knack for making woeful songs sound like a celebration, and this cover is far from being an exception. - Alyssa McKinley 

Dustin Kensrue - “Round Here (Counting Crows)”
A remnant from the former Thrice frontman’s early solo project, Ursus Veritas and a staple in his solo sets, it almost feels like “Round Here” was written for Dustin Kensrue to sing. The linchpin opener of Counting Crows’ 90s masterpiece August and Everything After, with its brooding declaration, “Step out the front door like a ghost / Into the fog where no one notices the contrast of white on white,” demands subtlety and nuance. And Kensrue easily does it poetic justice.

Kensrue gives “Round Here” plenty of space to breathe, delivering the tune with airy vocals and plaintively-plucked acoustic guitar. He tinges his voice with just enough grit to give the track its drive, and even though its never really gotten an official release, this is one cover that’s definitely worth finding a bootleg for. Of his plethora of covers (highlights include Elvis Costello’s “Radio, Radio” and Radiohead’s “Creep”), this is easily Kensrue’s finest. - Erik van Rheenen

Reel Big Fish - “Hungry Like The Wolf (Duran Duran)”
Reel Big Fish has been as well known for its cover songs as for its witty, wacky originals since the moment they hit the scene more than a decade and a half ago. Back then, it was their take on “Take On Me” that generated most of the buzz, but I’ve always thought their rendition of Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like The Wolf,” which dates back to the same period, was the better track. I remember downloading this song off some random music FTP server in the pre-Napster file-sharing days. It took half an hour to transfer, was encoded at 96kbps or some similar shitty bitrate, had no tags or anything to indicate where the track came from, and sounded like it was being played through a blown-out boombox at the bottom of a swimming pool. Which is to say: it was fucking awesome! That being what it is, “Hungry Like The Wolf” doesn’t lose any of its smarmy, goofy greatness in high fidelity, I promise. - Jesse Richman

Streetlight Manifesto - “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard (Paul Simon)”
Paul Simon’s songbook is nearly untouchable. “Graceland,” an album I spent most of my youth listening to (try finding a better pop song than “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes”), is Rhymin’ Simon’s most accessible work sans Garfunkel, but it’s still kind of embarrassing that I wasn’t introduced to one of his biggest hits until I heard Streetlight Manifesto’s ska’d-up reimagining of it.

Simon’s “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” is a clever, jangly little ditty with infectious acoustic guitar riffs and — no joke — a whistle solo, but Streetlight spins the song on its head for the first, and probably last, installation of 99 Songs of Revolution. Streetlight’s cover is a rollicking ska-punk romp, coming out horns blazing. Tomas Kalnoky’s gruff vocals give the song a surprisingly fitting edge. It’s lighthearted and a blast to sing along to, just like the spirit of the original.- Erik van Rheenen

Clem Snide - Beautiful “(Christina Aguilera)”
Today, you can proclaim your love for both Title Fight and Taylor Swift without getting so much as a sideways glance, but at the beginning of the 2000s, the battle lines were much more firmly drawn. It was rare for underground acts to dabble in pop covers; those that did almost always took the tongue-in-cheek approach, attacking the material with aloof disdain and ironic distance. But indie-poppers Clem Snide were having none of that when they cut this astonishingly empathetic take on “Beautiful,” Christina Aguilera’s TRL-dominating ode to self-worth. On a number that could have been oh-so-easy to mock, frontman Eef Barzelay instead approached the material with delicate fragility and a warmth that drills down to the song’s core and amplifies all its best parts — the pain, the sweetness, the spark of life at its center. “Beautiful” is the rare cover of a hit that gets things even more right than the original; it’s one of my favorite recordings of all time, cover or no. Monumentally moving. - Jesse Richman

Nirvana – “The Man Who Sold The World (David Bowie)”
There are a handful of artists who should remain untouched, classic catalogues that should not be tampered with. It is safe to say that David Bowie is one of them. If ever there were a band that could make a Bowie song (dare I say it?) better, it was Nirvana. Where Bowie is metallic and processed, Nirvana is gritty and honest. “The Man Who Sold The World” just seems to be a song that lends itself much better to that honest grit. This is one of the few covers in history that became something much greater than its original, and that’s saying a hell of a lot in this case. - Alyssa McKinley

Into It. Over It. – “Don’t Let Me Cave In (The Wonder Years)”
I bought the Glamour Kills Tour Split at 3 a.m., an impulse buy inspired by a night of feeling sorry for myself and an inability to sleep. I guess it was a fitting purchase, because Evan Weiss’ (a.k.a. Into It. Over It.) cover of “Don’t Let Me Cave In” has since become the soundtrack to many a similar night. Whereas the original version is a fierce number with rollicking drums, the kind that get you up and moving, Weiss takes things in a completely different direction. He strips the song down to nothing but a static-laden guitar and his own angst-ridden vocals, breathing new life into it as he quietly pleads, “Don’t let it happen to me/No, don’t let it happen to me.” - Becky Kovach

Gatsby’s American Dream - “Just like Heaven (The Cure)”
It’s very, very rare, if ever, that I will give a nod to anyone who dares to cover The Smiths or The Cure. Yes, I’m looking at you Zooey Deschanel and that atrocious 500 Days of Summer soundtrack, mutilating my beloved Morrissey. 

However, an exception I have made, because this cover is exceptional, is Gatsby’s American Dream’s cover of “Just Like Heaven” by The Cure. This totally modernized, yet somewhat stripped-down version hits on all the right spots, especially the keyboard/synth dominated interlude after the first verse. It makes my heart melt and my hair stand on edge. Comparing it to the original is an apples-to-oranges type of situation, but for being a fairly small band, Gatsby’s knocks it out of the park and really makes it their own. They keep true to the original sound and effect, but in the coolest way ever, not to mention the spot-on, pleading vocals that still break your heart in a way that Robert Smith’s could: just differently. This cover is indeed nothing short of heaven, and the only acceptable cover of one of the best love songs of all time. - Brittany Oblak 

Midtown – “Sister Golden Hair (America)”
Okay, the original “Sister Golden Hair” will never be touched. I would probably hate just about any cover of this song, but something about Midtown’s is just plain cool. They didn’t try anything fancy or try to make it something that it’s not. They just paid homage to a classic in a pure way, and a way that made it accessible to a completely different audience. If this cover was the reason any pop-punk kids discovered America 30 years after they wrote this song, than it wasn’t just a great cover but a great deed. Besides, Gabe Saporta’s voice carries this originally folky jam surprisingly nicely. - Alyssa McKinley

Goldfinger - “99 Red Balloons (Nena)”
As far as I’m concerned, the entire Not Another Teen Movie soundtrack is an early 2000s goldmine of covers, featuring the likes of Good Charlotte, Mest, Phantom Planet, and a dare-I say it-an awesome version of  “Tainted Love” by Marilyn Manson. However, the standout track from this album, and honestly probably in the entire world, is Goldfinger’s cover of “99 Red Balloons” (originally titled “99 Luftballoons” in German) by Nena. 
This is certainly one of those covers that outdoes the original version by far. Even my mom, who had her prime in the 80s, would much rather hear this version any day. Same goes for people who have never heard any other song by Goldfinger. With the addition of quite a few instruments — especially the amazing guitar line — to really beef up and enrich the sound, along with a more upbeat tempo and perfect vocal delivery, this is a cover that goes over well for basically any listener. As long as they have ears. - Brittany Oblak 

  1. disillusionofsafety reblogged this from propertyofzack
  2. conveniently-fragile reblogged this from propertyofzack and added:
    I agree with a lot of these, but I prefer the Movin’ Out cover from that Bayside EP, but all of the covers off of it are...
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  6. myheartbeatsliketimpanidrums reblogged this from propertyofzack and added:
    I called Anthony Raneri’s vocals “swoon-worthy.” Yup.
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  11. singwho reblogged this from propertyofzack and added:
    What do you think of these cover songs?
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  14. notmyblood said: This list is questionable from the start. Saying The Ataris are better than Don Henley is laughable.