Cover songs are often musically similar to the originals.
However, every now and then, an artist or band will completely reinterpret a song, and take it to a place the songwriter never dreamed of. It’s not that the cover is better. Quite often, both the original and the cover stand alone as great songs. The five songs in this list are so good, you may have thought were originals.
Blinded by the Light. Bruce Springsteen’s original was rebuilt, note-by-note, by Manfred Mann in 1976. Whereas Springsteen relied on his often underrated word-smithing abilities to morph memories into images, Mann squeezed every measure through a sonic vibe of synthesizers, processors and atmospheric background vocals. Springsteen’s version centered around a rhythmic guitar groove; Mann’s version locked in on keyboards, going so far as to wrap the song’s bridge around Chopsticks.
Respect. Coming from the pen of Otis Redding is the not uncommon plea of a man asking a woman for something he thinks he deserves from her – respect. The Stax Records original is driven by staccato horns and repeated 1/8 note filler beats on snare drum. Aretha Franklin’s version, recorded two years later in 1967, redefined the point of view entirely. In her version, Franklin doesn’t plead for respect, she demands it. Franklin’s cover telegraphs this early on, as sustained horns from the first beat on announce this is going to be the way it is.
All Along the Watchtower. Whenever Bob Dylan’s songs are covered, the artist or band always seems inspired to take the song to wonderful places. No other songwriter’s songs are anywhere near as elastic as Dylan’s. All Along the Watchtower has been covered by many artists, including Jimi Hendrix and The Dave Mathews Band. The guitar work of Hendrix’s 1967 cover brilliantly captures the tension of Dylan’s lyrics.
Here’s a partial list of some other Dylan songs and the artists who covered, and mined gold from them…
Here Comes the Sun. Sometimes an artist puts so much of himself into a cover that the song is virtually indistinguishable from the artist. Ritchie Havens does this with his version of George Harrison’s classic Beatle’s song. Havens’ rhythmic approach redefined the groove of the song, while leaving the vibe and optimism intact.
Try a Little Tenderness. Although Aretha Franklin captured Respect, Otis Redding’s cover of this Jimmy Campbell, Reg Connelly and Harry M. Woods‘ song proved how masterful a singer Otis was. Shortly after this song was written in 1932, Bing Crosby recorded an orchestrated approach that became standard until Redding completely reinterpreted it. Redding jettisoned the original introduction and added his own climatic call at the end. It’s more than an R&B classic, it’s a transcendent piece of music that, like the singer himself, ends all too soon.