Covers That Are Better Than The Original?

linda ronstadt

Ah, the cover song.  Some embrace ‘em.  Some eschew ‘em. But we leave it to you to answer the question, “Are these covers better than the original?”

“Fast Car”

Many of us were introduced to singer/songwriter Tracy Chapman by way of her 1988 Top 10 hit “Fast Car.” The haunting lyrics tell the heartbreaking tale of a young woman who just wants to speed away with her guy from a life of despondency and disappointment.  As far as she can get.  Chapman earned three Grammy awards for her moving composition, including “Song of the Year.”

Country music superstar Luke Combs released his version of ”Fast Car” earlier this year.  Combs’ respectful rendition skyrocketed to the top of the country charts over the summer.  In an interview with Billboard in July, Chapman was magnanimous, “I’m happy for Luke and his success and grateful that new fans have found and embraced ‘Fast Car.'”

The newly acquired attention to her work has earned some serious hardware, as well.  Chapman has just become the first black woman ever to capture a Country Music Association Award, winning for “Song of the Year”  and in so doing, garnering the distinction of being the first black songwriter to win the coveted honor.

“When Will I Be Loved”

The Everly Brothers scored a #8 chart single in 1960 with the lonesome acoustic guitar-driven ballad “When Will I Be Loved.”  Written by Phil, and recorded with the pitch-perfect harmony of sibling Don, the song is a first-person parable for all those forsaken by love.

Fifteen years later, Linda Ronstadt chose to amp up the tune, belting out her version as only her powerful pipes can.  The rocking reinterpretation soared to the second spot on the Billboard charts in the summer of 1975.

Side note: Singer, songwriter, and producer Andrew Gold played electric guitar and sang backup on Ronstadt’s recording. Later in the decade, Gold would crack the Top 10 with his smash hit “Lonely Boy.”

“You Really Got Me”

Opinions vary as to which musicians can lay claim to being the first punk rock group.  It seems that by and large, the debate eventually whittles down to these three 1960s bands: The Who, The Troggs, and The Kinks.  If the 1964 raw energy assault of “You Really Got Me” is your main measuring stick, then The Kinks are your guys.  Alternately described as raucous and greasy, Ray Davies’ homage to the damsel of his dreams topped the charts in the UK and hit #7 in the USA.

Enter Van Halen.  Propulsed by the power chord-centric electric guitar virtuosity of the late Eddie Van Halen, the band’s first single busted into the Top 40 in 1978.  Though not technically part of the song, Eddie’s searing solo “Eruption” immediately precedes “You Really Got Me” on VH’s debut album.  Hard rock radio fans everywhere consider it a form of blasphemy not to play the two epic pieces back-to-back and in their explosive entireties.

“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”

What can or need be said of John Lennon’s trippy treasure “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” from The Beatles’ 1967 landmark LP Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Nothing.

So let’s talk about Lennon’s chum Elton John and his labor of love lauding “Lucy.”  Released in 1974, EJ’s take on The Fab 4 classic was #1 in America for two weeks running in January of ‘75.  In an example of genuine artist-to-artist advocacy, Lennon himself contributed guitar work and backing vocals on the track he helped to first make famous.


“Fearless” did not penetrate the popular song charts.  Still, this offbeat offering from Pink Floyd from the group’s 1971 album Meddle was critically admired.  Performed in a spacey acoustic country folk music style, “Fearless” is an evocative examination of embracing individualism and determining one’s own path.

I first heard singer/songwriter Gerald Collier’s version of “Fearless” on Seattle radio in 1996 upon the release of his self-titled debut album.  The song’s ethereally cool electrified alternative country rock vibe inspired me to buy the CD.  For his part, Collier is quoted as describing the record as “Pink Floyd as a country band.” “Fearless” serves as a most worthy tribute.

-John Smistad

Photo: Linda Ronstadt (public domain)

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20 comments on “Covers That Are Better Than The Original?

  1. carmicheals

    Beatles fans will consider this blasphemous, but I think that Jeff Healey’s cover of While My Guitar Gently Weeps absolutely blows the (backside) off of the original. The Georgia Satellites’ cover of Rod Stewart’s Every Picture Tells a Story – same! Also, check out the Yayhoos’ (“Roscoe” Ambel and Dan Baird) cover of ABBA’s Dancing Queen!

  2. John Smistad

    Must check out all of these. Thanks!

  3. Eoghan Lyng

    Beatle fans will also find this blasphemous: I much prefer Siouxsie’s rendition of Dear Prudence to The White Album original.

  4. Barry Baddams

    Doug Parkinson’s cover of Dear Prudence is worth a listen. Vanilla Fudge covered many songs in their own quirky but musically brilliant way too.

  5. Um…Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s cover of Born to Run…

  6. Barry Baddams

    The Angels’ cover of The Animals’ We Gotta Get Out Of This Place takes it to a new level. https://youtu.be/TRVuJxIRd9U

  7. Phil Bilzon

    Nazareth. And their cover of Joni’s This Flight Tonight; even Joni rates it!

  8. In my opinion Johnny Cash’s cover of NIN’s “Hurt” far eclipses the original.

  9. Willem Reese

    Depending on your tastes, Joe Cocker may have a few, like “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window”.

    The Byrds doing Dylan?

    Maybe a tossup between REM ( https://youtu.be/IxQS6lfn0yU ) and the Clique ( https://youtu.be/IyfDH0HKLjs ) on “Superman”?

    Reach WAY back: https://youtu.be/YsGjFh1ke44 for Taco.

    Who gets “original” credit for “Leave Virginia Alone”…Tom Petty or Rod Stewart?

  10. Willem Reese

    I’d give an injured rat squealing and dancing on guitar strings a higher score than Chapman’s “Fast Car”.

  11. John Smistad

    Merry Christmas, William!

  12. James Townsend

    Ray Charles cover of Don Gibsons,”I Can’t Stop Loving You,” is the first thing that comes to my mind.

  13. “All Along The Watchtower” by Jimi Hendrix. After thousands of listenings, it is still a song that makes me stop and give complete attention.

  14. Santana’s redo of Fleetwood Mac’s Black Magic Woman

  15. I had never heard the rendition of “Fearless,” but I’m blown away. That said, “Meddle” remains one of Pink Floyd’s most overlooked albums.

  16. John Smistad

    I was captivated from the first time I heard it, too, Brett. Moving, yeah?

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