Same but different: Favorite Song Remakes (Ten on Tuesday)

Ten on Tuesday can usually snag me with pop-culture prompts. This week, Yano asked for “10 Favorite Movie/Song Remakes” – I went with songs, and over on Blogenstein, Tall Paul took the movie route. That’s pretty much in character for us. He’s more of a cinemaphile than I am, although “cinemaphile” is probably too highbrow a word for his tastes; better to say “movie maven,” perhaps. On the other hand, he recently asked me – as I started singing along with the radio yet again – “Don’t take this the wrong way, but is there any song you don’t know?”

I went through my entire iTunes library (presently at over 6400 songs) looking for songs that I knew were cover versions. I found some instances where I had more than two different versions of a song, and others where the remake is probably better-known than the original. I have multiple versions of several Christmas songs, and chose to leave them all out of consideration.

I used to be a purist – or snob, really – about preferring the original version of a song, particularly if it was recorded by the songwriter. Who could do it better, after all? As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve come to appreciate different interpretations (and, sometimes, better voices) and how they let me hear a song in a new way. Sometimes a cover version is actually my introduction to a song, and it turns out to be the one I like best.

It was a bit tricky to narrow it down, but here are ten song remakes I really like, in no particular order:

Jeff Buckley, “Hallelujah” – I wavered a little on this one, because it’s a Leonard Cohen song and I’ve never heard Leonard Cohen sing it, but I decided to count it anyway, and for this reason: No offense to Leonard Cohen fans, but his songs tend to sound better when sung by other people’s voices. I’ve also heard other people sing it besides Jeff Buckley – k.d. lang does a good interpretation too – but Buckley’s version seems to have become the definitive one over the last decade. You’ve probably heard it on TV and movie soundtracks. I love it – it can still give me chills sometimes.

The Beatles, “Twist and Shout” – Like “Hallelujah,” a cover version that stands as the definitive. I think that the fact it isn’t a Beatles original (it was first recorded by the Isley Brothers) may have been lost over time to most people who aren’t Beatles trivia nuts like me.

Aretha Franklin, “Respect” – By a fluke, I actually have both Aretha’s remake and Otis Redding’s original in my iTunes library. Aretha’s rules. It’s an anthem for very good reason.

Annie Lennox, “Train in Vain” – This was an extremely tough call. Annie Lennox’s album Medusa is mostly covers, and most of them are extremely well done, so I had a hard time singling out just one. I settled on this one because her take on the song just sounds so different from the Clash’s original, which I also happen to love. Still, her interpretations of “Can’t Get Next to You,” “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” and “Take Me to the River” from the same album could fill this slot just as well.

Scissor Sisters, “Comfortably Numb” – My husband will not be impressed with this choice, but I’m nowhere near as big a fan of Pink Floyd as he is, so I don’t consider their music sacred territory. A disco-influenced version of one of the best-known songs from The Wall? Audacious, a bit bizarre, and certainly an unexpected creative choice, it’s probably not to everyone’s taste, but I like it.

Cake, “I Will Survive” – This remake goes in the opposite direction from Scissor Sisters, taking the disco completely out of the Gloria Gaynor classic. Cake’s sound is pretty much all their own, and it’s not very likely to be the kind of music you’ll hear on the dance floor. Another one that probably doesn’t have mass appeal, but again…I like it.

Fountains of Wayne, “Trains and Boats and Planes” – My favorite modern-day power-pop band proudly wears its 1960’s influences, and this song was originally recorded in the 1960’s (by Dionne Warwick, as written by Burt Bacharach). It’s one of several covers on their Out-of-State Plates collection of B-sides and previously unreleased material, and it’s just a good piece of classic pop. However, their remake of a far inferior bit of pop history – “…Baby One More Time” – might actually be more memorable.

Clint Black, “Galaxy Song” – My husband introduced me to this highly unlikely cover: one of country music’s biggest stars performing Monty Python? I loved it when I first heard it on his iPod, because I’ve always enjoyed the song itself…and when he told me who was singing it, my jaw dropped. Clint Black does a little editing on the lyrics, but the fact that he recorded this at all is probably one of the things that helped soften my anti-country-music stance (and pave the way for using one of his songs as the first dance at our wedding).

The Fray, “Heartless” – I have to be honest; I’ve managed to avoid Kanye West’s original of this, and I’m fine with keeping it that way. Even so, I can safely assume that The Fray’s mostly-acoustic take on it sounds very different, and it managed to turn the song into an earworm that’s still lodged in my head.

David Cook (via Chris Cornell), “Billie Jean” – David Cook is my favorite American Idol winner, largely because of the way he put his own stamp on everything he did during the competition, taking it far away from the high-level karaoke show it sometimes is (and I say that as someone who mostly likes AI and has watched it pretty consistently since Season 2). He’s acknowledged that sometimes his takes weren’t entirely original, though, and his performance of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” was based on a version recorded by Chris Cornell. Still, it was probably new to most of AI’s audience, and it got far more exposure thanks to Cook. It’s a very different spin on a song very closely associated with its original performer – and again, I love it.

Do you have any favorite song remakes? And here’s the even more fun question: Are there any remakes you absolutely can’t stand – you know, the ones that make you wonder what anyone was even thinking to record that song again? Tell me!

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21 comments

  1. You chose a Pink Floyd remake! How dare you?! 🙂 I've never heard that version. I'll have Jenn check it out for me. 🙂

    I know they are parodies and not remakes, but I'd go with all 'Weird' Al stuff. Just for fun.

    Oh, and Manfred Mann's remakes of 'Blinded by the Light' and 'For You.' Both great songs, in my opinion.

  2. Mike – I like the Weird Al idea! It crossed my mind, actually…but then it left. And I considered including "For You," since I heard Manfred Mann's version before Springsteen's original, and I like it quite a bit (especially the piano parts). Also, both that and "Blinded By the Light" are songs that actually sound better sung by someone else (although Bruce's voice has improved a lot since 1972). Still, I decided that I just like Springsteen more and chose to leave them both off.

    I'm not sure you should check out "Comfortably Numb" – I don't want it to be my fault if your ears bleed :-D.

  3. I would have to say that I prefer the Rufus Wainwright version of "Hallelujah" even to Jeff Buckley's.

    I would have to also add the cast album version of "Can't Help Fallin' in Love from All Shook Up. They took a pretty melody and turned it into a huge choral monster…and it is amazing!

  4. Andi – That's a fun one. I still remember my "WHAT?" response when my husband (then boyfriend – it was during one of our early dates) told me that it was Clint Black :-).

    Rhonda – Oh, good. I was hoping to get a couple of quirky ones in there :-).

    Magpie – I don't have enough covers right now to give them their own playlist, but I think you may have just given me a goal!

    And I might have to check out that link, too.

    Caitie – Is the Rufus Wainwright version the one in Shrek? I've heard it a couple of times, and it's pretty good too.

    I'm not familiar with the other song you mentioned, but there have been some very good covers of Elvis songs.

    Lisa – It's certainly harder to dance to, but it's great :-D!

  5. Excellent list! Check out Cohen's version of Halleujah. I've liked almost every version I've heard, though. I'm off to check out Planes and Boats and Trains. I routinely like the originals better, but I have room for the remakes too.

  6. I knew someone would beat me to the Manfred Mann/Springsteen covers.

    I prefer Hendrix's version of "All Along the Watchtower" to Dylan's original. I am also a fan of Metallica's version of Queen's "Stone Cold Crazy," because it has a rough edge that works well with the subject matter.

    One remake I can't stand is Tesla's version of "Signs," mostly because they change the lyrics from the correct line "fine, upstanding young man," to "fine outstanding young man," which doesn't even make sense.

  7. Ohhhhhhh, David Cook is my fave Idol too. I fell in love with him when he redid Billie Jean and never looked back. Awesome the way he did it.

  8. Harriet – I'll be around to check out your list!

    Judi – I really should listen to that some time, shouldn't I? I'm just not a big fan of Cohen's voice, although I do like his songwriting.

    Average Jane – I think I prefer quite a few Dylan covers to Dylan's own versions, to be honest – again, it's the singing voice :-).

    And I agree with you that the remake of "Signs" was just not necessary.

    Kim – You and Caitie have me thinking I should watch Shrek again to hear that version. I actually should get to know Rufus Wainwright's music a little better anyway.

    Nessa – David C. is my favorite AI winner, but not necessarily my favorite AI contestant – I'll always have a soft spot for Jason Castro :-). But David C. definitely made everything he did on the show his own.

  9. I haven't heard of a lot of these!

    I'm with the other commenters, I definitely prefer the Rufus Wainwright version of Hallelujah. Worst Hallelujah cover came from the X Factor's Alexandra Burke last year. Whew, that was not necessary.

  10. I love the Scissors' version of Comfortably Numb – great fun!

    My current favorite cover is also of Billie Jean, but by a duo called The Civil Wars – I don't think its available for purchase anywhere, but you can see a video of them performing it on YouTube. Love it! (But then, I'm a sucker for a good cover song.)

  11. TexasRed – Hope you find some new-to-you music you like!

    Clover – I'm starting to think it's an age thing. Not to take anything away from Rufus Wainwright, but I think most of y'all who've said you prefer his "Hallelujah" are under 30 – that is, far younger than me :-). I do need to give that another listen, though.

    Elizabeth – I'm just glad I'm not the only one who's heard that re-interpretation of "Comfortably Numb" :-). And I don't watch YouTube all that much, but I may need to look for that video.

  12. What a great list! I used to be a huge "original song" snob myself, and can still be if a cover is done not only poorly, but by an artist that probably never even knew the original and just did it because they were told to by their label. You know what I mean? lol

    However, a well done cover, is a wonderful thing. I actually like Kris Allen's (another AI winner) version of Kanye's "Heartless", though I understand his is just a cover of Fray's cover. lol 😉

    Also, a recent favorite of mine is a cover of Wham's "Careless Whisper" done by Seether. Absolutely love that one.

  13. Karina – I first heard the Fray's version of "Heartless" when Kris Allen did it on Idol :-).

    I suspect that a lot of those "why the heck would anyone remake THAT?" covers are probably ones where the artist was told to do it.