There's a famous saying that states: "Imitation is the greatest form of
While I'm sure that many procrastinating students have tried to use this line
as an excuse for plagiarizing term papers, in this instance the imitation is both
legal and moral. And without a doubt, flattering.
Since the very beginning of American music cover tunes have made their mark.
When bands like the Beatles first got together they jammed on songs like "Twist
and Shout" and "Mr. Postman". They were plagiarizing, they were, in a way, paying
the ultimate respect to their rock and roll forefathers and at the same time
fleshing out their own abilities. Each and every decade of music has produced
influential artists whose songs have been covered by other bands. Now, the
Beatles are themselves the most covered and imitated band in the history of rock.
According to some - though the statistics are near impossible to tabulate -
"Yesterday" is easily the most frequently covered song ever.
As we near the turn of the century with music once again undergoing a major
stylist overhaul, it is extremely
interesting to delve into the influences of some of the bands from the last
decade. I have compiled a list, in no particular order, of some of the best
covers I have heard in the last few years. One word of warning for the rock
snobs, there are some bands on the list who weren't exactly trend-setting, but
who still performed wonderfully on the mentioned track.
Stone Temple Pilots - "Dancing Days"
The much maligned grunge act, recorded a version of Led Zeppelin's "Dancing Days"
on the Zeppelin tribute album "Enconium." The track is hands down the best on a
great tribute album with STP showing their varied talents as well as their
ability to understand what it takes to make a song sound good.
Mad Season - "I Don't Want to Be a Soldier"
John Lennon has been credited by many critics as being the true father of the
grunge movement. His solo work contained the same spirit and edginess as "grunge"
would 15 years later. To prove the point, the 1995 John Lennon tribute "Working
Class Hero" contained covers by many alternative acts including the Layne Staley
(Alice In Chains) led Mad Season. Mad Season captured the emotion of the track
Metallica - "Stone Cold Crazy"
At first listen, it seems strange to hear Metallica covering Queen, the art rock
band famous for "Bohemian Rhapsody." About halfway through the track all doubts
are forgotten because Metallica makes the song their own. The two bands actually
have more in common than you might think: intense, unusual lyrics and the
confidence to make the music they want to make without caving to outside
Working Man Tribute - "Analog Kid"
As a huge part of the progressive rock movement in the 1970's, Rush has
influenced an enormous number of bands, even outside of the prog rock vein. In
1996, Magna Carta records released a tribute album containing music by artists
rather than groups. "Analog Kid", featuring Jack Russell, Michael Romeo, Mike
Pinnella, Mike Portnoy, Billy Sheehan and Brendt Allman, is the best of a quality
Nirvana - "Lake of Fire"
I will freely admit that I am not a huge fan of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. I feel
that they were far too serious and too full of calculated angst. However, their
version of this Meat Puppets track from the 1994 "Unplugged in New York" album is
outstanding. For once, Cobain's whining doesn't bother me and actually fits the
tone of the song perfectly. Much like Metallica did with with "Stone Cold Crazy",
Nirvana makes this song theirs.
Mr. Big - "Wild World"
Mr. Big became known for only one song - the hit "To Be With You" - which is
unfortunate because that track doesn't really do the band justice. Most of their
music has a much harder - and thanks to bassist Billy Sheehan's influence, even
progressive - edge. They do revert back to their softer side, however, to record
this version of the Cat Stevens classic on the "Bump Ahead" album.
Ugly Kid Joe - "Cats in the Cradle"
This is one of the more unusual pairings: stereotypical rock and roll party
animals and the crooner Harry Chapin. Well, they say opposites attract. This song
is probably my favorite cover of the early 1990's. Vocalist Whitfield Crane
captures the track's emotions well, while the instrumentalists add an edge that
was missing from the original.
Filter - "One"
Another odd couple. Filter is best known for their industrial, Nine Inch Nails
influenced sound, but they produced a great adaptation of the Three Dog Night
standard for last summer's "X-Files Soundtrack".
Guns n' Roses - "Hair of the Dog"
A little known trivia question: what was the last album recorded by Guns n'
Roses? Most will say the platinum selling "Use Your Illusion" albums, but the
correct answer is their album of punk covers "The Spaghetti Incident?". GNR does
a remarkably good job on most of these tracks, but the Nazareth classic stands
out from the rest. Of course, Guns n' Roses proved their cover abilities with
earlier covers of Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney.
Jeff Healey Band - "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"
Just one of millions of the aforementioned Beatles covers. This is the best cover
of a Beatles song that I have heard, in large part because Healey doesn't try to
become George Harrison. Instead he lets his own substantial talents speak for
Van Halen - "Won't Get Fooled Again" (The Who)
Living Colour - "Talkin' Loud and Sayin' Nothing" (James Brown)
Skid Row - "What You're Doing" (Rush)
Def Leppard - "Only After Dark" (Mick Ronson)
Duran Duran - "Thank You" (Led Zeppelin)
The entire Backbeat Soundtrack