The Foo Fighters recently went on Letterman and did a cover of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” with country legend Zac Brown, and it was beyond awesome. This was the opening performance in a week-long rock session on Letterman to promote their new album Sonic Highways, available in November, and made me wonder about the best covers in the history of rock music. While it’s impossible to really nail down what the absolute best covers of famous songs are, one can uncover a great many re-imagined live and recorded hits to enjoy.
First off, the Foo Fighters themselves have in their infinite roster of performances one of my favorite covers of any song ever. In 2008, Dave Grohl and his merry band invited rock legends John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page to play “Rock & Roll,” to the disbelief and cheers of fans at Wembley Stadium. To make it even better, Grohl himself helmed the drums, while Taylor Hawkins sang the tune. Headbang to this live brilliance, why don’t you:
Another cover I infinitely enjoy is more a weird and awesome remix. In 1986, Run D.M.C. released a version of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way,” boosting the rock band’s popularity on the one hand, but also most likely diminishing the amount the original was remembered. The hip hop/hard rock convergence will likely be remembered for as long as rock & roll remains even slightly in existence. If you haven’t even heard this, feast on it now:
Even stranger than this cover is Johnny Cash’s sweepingly gorgeous cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt.” Arguably better than the original, it turns the industrial rock ballad into something without genre and without equal, a perfect work of art that can be enjoyed a thousand repeats at a time. I saw Trent Reznor sing this song a few months back, and could only imagine Cash crooning in his place. YouTube will help you sob a little:
If you love classic rock like I do, there’s always Jimi Hendrix’s thunderous version of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.” No matter how awesome Bob Dylan tunes still are, the Hendrix version of this song has all but eclipsed the original; I’ve had to use the Internet to prove to many an individual that Dylan in fact wrote the first incarnation of the tune. That’s how emblematic and awesome Hendrix’s version is.
Also, I’d be tremendously sad if I didn’t shove a Beatles cover into this list. Pulling from my weird background in prog rock, I’ve unearthed the supergroup (?) Yellow Matter Custard, a Beatles tribute band that included the likes of Neal Morse, the prog genius behind Spock’s Beard, and of course, Mike Portnoy, the mammoth drummer who quit Dream Theater. Anything with Mike Portnoy in it makes me happy, unless it’s Dream Theater after the mid-nineties. They pretty much nail “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”
By the way, what’s a covers list if it doesn’t include some Radiohead? For anyone who’s ever seen The Zero Theorem or Filth, two wildly different movies, you know that the tune “Creep” has returned to public consciousness. The version from the first of these films is the beautifully haunting rendition by Karen Souza, taking the tune and morphing it into a sultry lounge jazz piece. It’s just lovely. Soundcloud has your tune right here:
And finally, to add some melancholy to your day, check out Jeff Buckley’s phenomenal cover of Leonard Cohen’s gorgeous, gorgeous track, “Hallelujah.’ This one in particular may not be able to top the original (nothing quite can), but it’s still relentlessly wonderful. Buckley will make you want to sit atop a grassy hill and watch the clouds languidly stroll through the sky while the world ceases for just five minutes.
But wait! As a bonus prize, did you know The Roots did a live rendition of U2 once? “Pride (In the Name of Love)” has never sounded so awesome. The video here is not the bestest, but it depicts fully how versatile the Roots are, and then there’s Bono speaking for a while, because it’s a tribute ceremony of some type (Tyra Banks is there). And if that doesn’t satisfy you, the Roots did an entire cover album with John Legend called Wake Up!, so there’s that.