Different artists often play around with each other’s music. Taking the lyrics, rhythms, and melodies from the tracks of other musicians, they add their own colour to produce something unique. Every now and then, these covers actually end up dwarfing the originals. To make sure that they’re not completely lost, we’ve put together a list of the best covers and the original tracks that they paid homage to (which you may or not know about).
Jimi Hendrix – Hey Joe
One of Hendrix’s most iconic songs, Hey Joe, has uncertain beginnings. It was first registered by American musician, Billy Roberts, in 1962, before being released by LA-based frat band, The Leaves, three years later. Some believe, however, that the song goes back even further; the lyrics, telling of the story of a man who shoots his wife and runs off to Mexico, are thought to come from a traditional folk song of the same name from the early 20th century.
Regardless of where it came from, Hey Joe is undoubtedly ‘owned’ now by Hendix. Whereas The Leaves original version was upbeat in tempo and had a distinct Beetles-vibe about it, Jimi’s take was slower, almost drawling, but interspersed with electrifying guitar riffs.
Jose Gonzalez – Heartbeats
The song that first brought Jose Gonzalez to the public’s attention was Heartbeats. Played as the accompanying track to one of Sony’s TV ads in 2005 (the one where thousands of multi colored bouncy balls are thrown down a hill in San Francisco), people were taken aback by its haunting, emotive tones.
The melancholic sounds of Jose’s song, however, couldn’t be further away from the original. Heartbeats was first released by Swedish tech duo, The Knives, in 2002 – combining synth with a driving, deep electric beat.
Johnny Cash – Hurt
One of Cash’s last recorded songs was Hurt, released in 2002. The original, though, was penned in 1995 by Trent Reznor, lead singer of Nine Inch Nails. Despite the lyrics being deeply personal to Reznor, with references to suicide, depression, and heroin addiction (he narrowly survived an overdose in 2000), Cash endowed them with an emotional power that few others could.
With his characteristic gravelly vocals, he made the song sound as if it was carved from a lifetime’s experience of suffering. Reznor bowed down to Cash’s rendition of his song, saying in NME that it was ‘no longer his’.
Natalie Imbruglia – Torn
A 90’s classic, ‘Torn’ had been round the block a few times before coming to Natalie Imbruglia. Its first appearance was in 1993 with Danish singer Lis Sorensen, when it was actually called ‘Burnt’. The track sounds almost identical to Imbruglia’s later version, only that it’s in Danish.
Two years later, it was first put into English by the American alt-rock band, Ednaswap. Again, it kept pretty much the same rhythm, though this time with a little more of a rock-vibe.
A cleaner sound was produced in 1996, when American-Norwegian singer, Trine Rein, saw fit to add her name to the growing list of Torn’s cover artists. Rein’s version of the track didn’t really add any significant changes, but its video is particularly entertaining (Trine’s appearance shifts from a Greek Goddess to a Black Widow as she performs tricks with two circus horses).
It’s at this point that Natalie Imbruglia decided to jump on the bandwagon and add her own version to the mix. And she did quite well out of it. Apart from selling over 4 million copies, she was nominated for a Grammy in 1999 (only losing out to Celine Dion’s ‘My Heart Will Go on’)
Sinead O’Connor – Nothing Compares 2U
It’s well known that one of Sinead O’Connor’s most famous hits, Nothing Compares 2U, was written by Prince. Perhaps lesser-known, however, is just how personal the lyrics were to the Purple One.
Prince wrote the song in 1984, during a period of relentless production. He’d taken on his own label and was churning out a song almost every day – a frantic pace by any musician’s standards. To help him manage this hectic rate of production, he was surrounded by a team of assistants, with some more important than others. One of the closest was a woman called Sandy Scipioni, a young housekeeper, who essentially ran his life for him. During the year her father died suddenly from a heart attack and she had to leave to be with her family, leaving the star to manage his own affairs.
It’s now thought the feelings of abandonment and longing refer to this young housekeeper rather than a lover. The line ‘all the flowers that you planted in my back yard went out and died’ is an explicit reference to this, as Sandy did actually plant and tend to flowers in Prince’s garden. The only reason Prince handed the song to Sinead O’Connor, according to Susan Rogers (his sound engineer at the time), was that he wanted to distance himself from the image of a lonely young man that missed his domestic helper.
There’s no doubt that covers have brought us some of the most recognised songs of the 20th Century. Without them, we wouldn’t have Hendrix’s spellbinding rendition of All Along the Watchtower, or Whitney Houston’s iconic I Will Always Love You (originally recorded by one Dolly Parton. So let’s continue to encourage fresh new takes, so artists can pay homage to their inspirations and listeners can find new ways to enjoy their favourite songs.
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