Everybody loves a good cover song; it’s often refreshing to hear a new artist take something established and put their own spin on it. It’s not for the faint of heart, however; there’s danger in expressing yourself using what is essentially someone else’s poetry. It can go horribly, horribly awry (we’d venture to say there’s more wretched covers out there than good ones), but it can also be really great to hear something familiar that’s been expressed in a new way. With that in mind, we here at Goliath have compiled a list of 10 great cover songs on YouTube that you can listen to right now. Some are done by professionals, some are done by amateurs, but they’re all awesome and well worth a listen.
10. “Stacy’s Mom” – Fountains of Wayne
This nifty little gem is brought to you by Postmodern Jukebox, a YouTube channel that specializes in taking contemporary pop tunes and transforming them into various genres from ages past. This particular cover of the popular Fountains of Wayne song “Stacy’s Mom” is both hilarious and inspired, with the rock sound replaced by a 1930s jazz sound featuring a piano, stand up bass and clarinet. It’s a breath of fresh air, and the rest of the videos on the channel are worth checking out as well, as they all follow a fairly similar formula that is very often a resounding success.
9. “Billie Jean” – Michael Jackson
The Civil Wars were a Grammy award-winning musical duo from Nashville, Tennessee, formed in 2008. They released two albums, Barton Hollow (2011) and The Civil Wars (2013) before breaking up in 2014. While both their albums were stellar and well worth a listen, they also gave us one of the most original and interesting covers to come out in recent years. Taking the classic “Billie Jean” from the King of Pop and turning into it into a slow, haunting ballad complete with intricate finger picking and eerie vocals. It’s a unique take on a song that’s historically been associated with dance-offs, and The Civil Wars do it justice by taking a great song and making it even better. Consummate entertainers, they sure look good up there, eh?
8. “Sexy and I Know It” – LMFAO
Speaking of taking songs known for dance-offs and turning them into slowed-down, smouldering ballads, take a gander at the link posted below for an absolutely jaw-dropping rendition of LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It.” A terrifically awful song that has haunted club-goers since its release in 2011, “Sexy and I Know It” seems to be the kind of radio dredge that would be impervious to honest artistry; however, Only Noah (If you’ve never seen any of his videos, look him up immediately. Dude is immensely talented.) has managed to take that dredge and turn it into something akin to Elvis in the 21st century. Great stuff, and well worth checking out for all those who love dance/hip hop covers (don’t worry, there will be more of those to come).
7. “Hurt” – Nine Inch Nails
Originally released on the Nine Inch Nails’ 1996 album The Downward Spiral, “Hurt” was covered by Johnny Cash in 2002 to universal acclaim. One of The Man in Black’s final releases before his death in 2003, Cash’s cover of “Hurt” rings true for so many reasons, not the least of which is the listener can hear the truth of the song in every word Cash sings (Cash’s tumultuous life has been documented many times over in far more detail than we ever could here, we recommend reading up on the riveting life of one of music’s true stars). Haunting is the first word that comes to mind, although many adjectives could be used to describe such a wonderful take on a very dark song.
6. “Crazy” – Gnarls Barkley
Ray LaMontagne’s take on Gnarls Barkley’s 2006 smash hit “Crazy” follows a similar pattern to many of the songs already spoken of; it takes a pop tune and strips away the niceties, resulting in an accessible song that’s full of soul, artistry and, in this case, a good deal of raspy glory. Hearing LaMontagne’s almost hoarse voice shout the all-too-familiar words of the song gives them a whole new meaning, and takes what appears on the surface to be a poppy love ballad into something much broodier, much darker and much more enticing. A master class in how to adapt a pop song for the acoustic guitar, this cover lacks some of the levity you often find in this adaptation process but makes up for it with gobs and gobs of awesomeness. Speaking of levity…
5. “Get Low” – Lil’ Jon and the Eastside Boyz
WARNING: The link below contains some adult language, but it’s well worth a listen if you’re over the appropriate age. In one of the more hilarious videos available on the internet, talented singer Dan Henig takes the vapid, crass lyrics of Lil’ Jon’s “Get Low” and unleashes them on an unsuspecting coffee shop in the form of a beautifully rendered acoustic cover. The whole video is quite a shock, as it juxtaposes the vile lyrics of this once-popular club tune against an otherwise lovely musical arrangement, in what makes for one of the more confusing and enjoyable cover songs on this list. Note the faces of the patrons while Henig is singing; some seem annoyed while others, like the man behind him, seem to be enjoying the music immensely. We’re on that guy’s side, because we think this is absolutely dynamite work (he does a similar cover of Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” that you should check out right after you watch the link below).
4. “I Fought The Law” – Bobby Fuller Four
No list of cover songs would be complete without this riotous cover by the Clash. Originally performed by the Bobby Fuller Four, the music takes on a new meaning when placed in the contentious context of the Clash, rockers who spent the majority of their adult lives making music very much oriented towards “fighting the law.” Featuring Joe Strummer’s signature mumbling/singing and the rocking Clash sound, this cover is one of several by the Clash that are now considered seminal rock and roll tracks (they also covered “Brand New Cadillac” by Vince Taylor and the Playboys and “Police and Thieves” by Junior Mulvin to much acclaim). Covers like this only further stress the widespread musical influence the Clash had on rock and roll and will continue to have in the years to come.
3. “Hey Ya” – Outkast
Outkast’s “Hey Ya” is a song that’s been covered by many folks in many places (Obadiah Parker does a lovely, soulful rendition of this song that’s well worth checking out as well), but we chose this silky-smooth cover of the 2003 hit from Australia’s The Band With No Name to feature here. Taking the upbeat original and tuning it down a notch, this version sees the song imagined as a velvety soft jazz/funk tune that makes you want to waste the day away as you melt into your couch. Retaining the original’s upbeat breakdown during the interlude, it’s an awesome cover which could use a little more love in the YouTube views section. Do yourself a favor and give it a listen, we promise you won’t regret it.
2. “Hallelujah” – Leonard Cohen
One of the most famous of all time, Jeff Buckley’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is about as heart-wrenching as it gets. Seriously, if you don’t want to take a minute and contemplate where you’re at after giving this a listen, you might want to give the “I’m Worried I’m a Robot” hotline a call (no, that doesn’t really exist). Taking the lyricism of Cohen’s original and blending it with a massive dose of musical talent, this version of the song plays a little better than Cohen’s might (he’s a poet first, singer second, after all) and it hits all the right elements of the soul when you listen. Echoing and affective, Jeff Buckley’s cover of “Hallelujah” is the legacy of a talent who died much too young (he drowned tragically at age 30).
1. “All Along The Watchtower” – Bob Dylan
Jimi Hendrix sure seems to end up at the top of a lot of these lists, doesn’t he? History’s preeminent guitarist had a knack for the spectacular, and his cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” is nothing short of spectacular. Released a mere six months after Dylan’s original, the Hendrix version has usurped the original as the definitive version of the song, so much so that many casual listeners are unaware that the song was not written by Hendrix. Dylan himself has spoken at length on the cover, stating “[The Hendrix cover] overwhelmed me, really. He had such talent, he could find things inside a song and vigorously develop them. He found things that other people wouldn’t think of finding in there. He probably improved upon it by the spaces he was using. I took license with the song from his version, actually, and continue to do it to this day.” That’s right; this version is so good, the original artist now chooses to play his own song like the cover. We’ll leave it at that, folks.