5. Hard to Handle by The Black Crowes (Otis Redding) - I remember watching this video as a kid and not knowing what the heck the lyrics were. I will say that I only recently found out that this was a cover song at all (I suppose I'm not a huge Otis Redding fan- and no, I'm not insinuating that I don't like him.) Anyway, the Black Crows sped up the tempo just a bit and used a solid cleanly distorted guitar (didn't that even make sense?) to make their version the most known version of the song. They also change the lyrics a tad going from "Pretty little thing..." to "Hey, little thing..." which actually changes the phrasing more than one would think. Overall, great song no matter who is singing it.
4. Hurt (or Personal Jesus, Father and Son, or Redemption Song) by Johnny Cash (Nine Inch Nails) - We're going to stick with Nine Inch Nails, but I want to mention that Johnny Cash did a lot of great cover songs later in life. He took songs by Depeche Mode, Cat Stevens, Bob Marly, and Soundgarden and made them his own. As far as "Hurt" goes, it may actually be more emotionally charged than the NIN version. Cash sings in his classic baritone range over a soft arrangement that really grabs the listener. Helped by the video that came out for the song that showed him as an old man while mixing in clips of his younger days- it is just an emotionally fantastic cover song all the way around.
3. All Along The Watchtower by Jimi Hendrix (Bob Dylan) - This could be the most covered song ever. I get so bored when bands decide to cover this song nowadays, but if we go back to the beginning we'll see that Jimi Hendrix made this song his own. I'd argue that Jimi's version (while it may or may not be better) is more popular than that Bobby D's. The addition of Hendrix's wizard-like (do wizards even play guitars?) electric guitar with a more organized/listenable vocal line make this an excellent version of the poetic Dylan song. Side note: I'm not sure I've ever had the urge to light a guitar on fire- don't you think smashing one would be a lot more fun?
2. Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley (Leonard Cohen) - This version is better than the original. I don't care what Leonard Cohen fans say. Jeff Buckley really tapped into the heart of this song and made it better. The etherial way he sings the song to go along with the ultra clean guitar still amazes me. It is an absolute shame that Buckley drowned because that guy was one impressive musician. If this song is an example of where his music was going, then the world missed out on a lot more great tunes.
1. Wonderwall by Ryan Adams (Oasis) - I don't even have to say this song is better than the original- the writer of the song, Noel Gallagher, heard this version and told Ryan Adams, "The song is all yours." Not to mention that Adams opened for Oasis this past year on tour in large part because of his version of "Wonderwall." The tempo is slowed down, the arrangement is stripped to an acoustic guitar, stand up bass, and some ambient sounds for a great effect. Adams subtly changed the vocal phrasing and this version is absolutely stellar. If you haven't heard it- go check it out!
So what have we learned? Great cover tunes most likely do something original to give a different take on an older song. They have to keep the emotional value of the original song in tact, while hopefully adding a new dimension. It is a very difficult thing to pull off, but these ten songs do it very well. Let me know your favorite cover songs- or tell me some that I should've included.