Tributing other bands through covers has been always a tradition in rock and pop music since the early years, and there have always been basically two ways to approach to it:
There are copy-cut bands who cover their favourite artist’s track making it sound exactly as it was and there are others who completely changes the song’s formula and make their own one. Personally i usually prefer the second category, which is sometimes also the same case of a band that covers an unexpected song from an artist we didn’t even image they could like.
In this list there are some of my absolute favourite covers ever, usually different versions of songs i already use to enjoy very much.
Chris Brokaw “Drink the Poetry of the Celtic Disciple (Vlad Tepes cover)” (2008 – original 1994)
Deconstucting and tributing an already existing musical piece may be a hard challenge sometimes and, above all, a non certain success, but this is for sure an impressive case.
Chris Brokaw is well known as the founder of cult band Codeine, a band that during 90’s contributed to create the foundamental elements that compose slowcore and early post-rock; as a solo artist he released different types of music from slowcore/indie rock to acoustic and experimental music. This cover is taken from his album Canaris and it is an acoustic guitar instrumental version of a long epic song by raw black metal band Vlad Tepes, an act part of Les Legiones Noires collective, which was a cricle of very underground french dark ambient and raw black metal projects that released only limited demo tapes.
The original version is of course one of the most lo-fi things you could ever hear (and it’s the same for the rest of the demo where it comes from), but in the same time it shows a very impressive songwriting and use of melody taking inspiration from classic heavy metal and the most interesting black metal around at the time. The demo is also a very rare cult release for people into underground black metal, and it is a very good surprise to see someone apparently with a completely different musical background making a such interesting version.
The cover is basically the opposite of the original: minimal, soft, elegant, but even if it’s totally revolutioned, it preserve its mysterious and magic vibes showing a very impressive and beautiful take on a track that was already inspiring.
Green Day “Working Class Hero (John Lennon cover)” (2007 – original 1970)
Back in 2007 a John Lennon tribute album entitled Instant Karma: The Amnesty Internation Campaign to Save Darfur was released, with the goal of supporting the cause of the aforementioned Sudan’s region devasted by conflicts, poverty and lack of resources. A lot of very famous acts partecipated (U2, R.E.M., Christing Aguilera and Duran Duran are just a few names), providing several good tributes to Lennon; this version of Working Class Hero in particular has been considerably boosted by the band showing a very strong interest for the cause.
Beside their punk roots Green Day have never hided their passion for classic rock, by showing some strong influences in some albums such as American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown and by playing various covers during their shows.
Working Class Hero is a difficult song to cover in a memorable way, on first because the original is played with just vocals and guitar and moreover because tons of famous artists have already covered it (Ozzy Osbourne and Marilyn Manson are just a few example), but beside that Green Day provided a massive and well crafted full band version of this classic, giving it even more passion and anger while showing also a strong respect and inspiration for the original version. There are some evident american folk vibes that are absolutely lovely and also the addition of some stunning lead guitar parts and solos that fits perfectly with the song. An excellent take on a classic.
Marc Ribot & Tom Waits “Bella Ciao (Italian folk song cover)” (2018)
As an italian i can’t be more happy to listen to this cover of a folk song from my country played by two magnificent artists like Marc Ribot and Tom Waits together.
This is also a very particular and delicate chant since it has been created during the struggle between partisans and nazi-fascist oppressors in Italy; it is a song about freedom, love and it stands against the brutality and tyranny of fascism.
This fantastic duo re-interpreted this song adding some english verses and making a beautiful music video that shows images from american manifestations against Donald Trump’s recently ended government and his nationalist propaganda.
This version of the song is absolutely fantastic, with a strong emotional component and a very intimate vibe; the perfect soundtrack for a personal reflection about a certain type of modern politics, that even if have certainly left behind the atrocities of the past, sometimes still endangers the personal freedom of several communities through the weapon of ignorance.
This track is part of Marc Ribot’s album Songs of Resistance 1942-2018, which as the titles says, is a record composed by covers of protest songs.
The White Stripes “Jolene (Dolly Parton cover)” (2000 – original 1974)
Guitar player, singer and multi instrumentalist Jack White is certainly one of the greatest musicians active nowadays with its unique blend of blues rock inspirations and psychedelic explosions perfectly transposed in a modern rock context.
The White Stripes is probably the most famous of his bands and this cover, released by now more than 20 years ago, is still remembered as one of the highest live moments of the band’s shows.
This cover is actually pretty different from the original, especially beacue of a few choices that makes this version incredibly good, like the slower tempo change and the more melancholic and intimate mood that can be felt here. it’s also alwyas nice to see how Jack White’s style is influenced by american country (and of course the original version of the song was as well), without losing the ability of tranforming a very beautiful folk song into a rock ballad with a Led Zeppelin flavour. So, Mr White never disappoints, also his voice seems to be made for singing this song. Even if this cover has been originally released in 2000 as a b-side of the single Hello Operator, the live version released as a single in 2004 is probably more famous.
A Perfect Circle “Imagine (John Lennon cover)” (2004 – original 1971)
Yes, John Lennon again, and, spoiler, this is not even his last apparition on this list.
Well, i suppose we all know Imagine and it dosen’t need a particular introduction, i mean, maybe there are people living on this world that dosen’t, but it’s almost impossible to find them on a blog like this.
The main point that makes this cover so interesting is the overall atmosphere, which is completely opposite than the original version. I’m not only refering to the major chords transposed into minor chords, but to the fact that this is the perfect 30 years later counterpart of a song released in 1970 with a strong message of hope for humanity’s awareness on the evil made by war, diversity acceptance and the danger of the exploitation of our world. This version’s shows no hope, 30 years have passed and humanity is even worse compared to then, people are still doing the same brutal things and showing no respect for the others and for the world they live in. There’s also a very suggestive music video that shows all human’s cruelty and frivolity with many reflective and shocking images, most of them taken from real reportages.
Lantlôs/Lìam “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (Ryuchi Sakamoto cover)” (2012 – original 1983)
Like the Chris Brokaw case this is another cover that completely revolutioned the sound of the original, but since the Brokaw one was a guitar only version of a full band track, this is the opposite case (with piano instead of guitar).
From the homonime Nagisa Oshima movie (also known as Furyo), the original piece by Ryuchi Sakamoto is an incredibly beautiful and famous piano only track, written with the unique style of the multi awarded japanese composer, made of classical music references, japanese traditional music and contemporary composition. This cover have never been officially released, but only posted on Soundcloud back in 2012 (now it is available on YouTube only) and it is performed by members of both Lantlôs and Lìam. It’s incredible to see how certain beautiful melodies can perfectly arrive to the heart in the same emotional way, even if they are playd with a completely different style. Of course Markus Siegenhort and the others have an incredible taste in writing music and the heavy and slow post-rock of this musical piece has for sure an incredibly brethtaking impact. If you guys may ever read this article, please, consider to release this as an official single, it’s something the world definitely needs. Fantastic.
Meeks “Norwegian Wood (The Beatles cover)” (2013 – original 1965)
The Beatles’ music and shoegaze are not apparently two very distant universes, of course they are part of different periods, but they both have a certain songwriting sensitivity and come from the UK; even if this band, called Meeks, is actually a side project of members from Broken Little Sister from Yokohama, Japan.
Under this name, the ensemble have only released an album of The Beatles covers in shoegaze variant (entitled Beatless, as tribute to My Bloody Valentine’s Lovess already entirely covered on several compilations), which is par se a very original and interesting idea. The curiosity generated by the album’s idea is definitely worth to satisfy and all the 10 songs choosen by the band are perfectly re-arranged in a dreamy and ethereal way that fits so well to The Beatles’ classics.
Norwegian Wood is in particular one of the best episodes, preserving the psychedelic vibes of the original song, drowning the main melody in an ocean of reverbered guitars walls. It sounds like listening the actual song, but into a dream.
Ulver “Magic Hollow (The Beau Brummels cover)” (2012 – original 1967)
The norwegian experimental ensemble is certainly not new to covers; their version of Black Sabbath’s Solitude from their 2007 brillant album Shadow of the Sun is already a classic. But it’s with their 2012 album Childhood’s End entirely composed of covers that they have reached their best.
The record contains only songs from the 60’s psychedelic rock period and beside this stunning version of The Beau Brummels’ Magic Hollow, there are also other tributes of amazing bands such as 13th Floor Elevator, Electric Prunes, The Byrds and many more. Every song is played with the band’s own style and the whole album is an absolutely recommended experience.
Sticking to this cover in particular that’s incredible how the folk vibes and the intensity of such beautiful melodies are completely preserved even if reproposed in a modern context. Kristoffer Rygg’s vocals are so intense and the overall mood is absolutely magic and mysterious; after all the original version was already an incredible piece of music and Ulver is an amazing band, it seems to be the perfect formula for an excellent result.
Nadja “No Cure for the Lonely (Swans cover)” (2009 – original 1992)
Like the case of Ulver and Meeks this is another song taken from an album entirely made of covers. This time the band is Nadja, true experimental drone/fuzzy rock masters from Canada and then relocated to Germany, with an interesting album made of very bizzare choices revolutioned in their personal style; My Bloody Valentine, The Cure, Codeine Slayer and Elliot Smith are just some example of the tributes you’ll find on When i See the Sun Always Shines on TV. The Swans song i picked up is one of my favourite songs ever, so it’s been pretty natural to me to think about it when the idea of a cover list came to my mind, but i have to admit that there are several equally interesting others off this record i could pick up. Here Nadja explores their most heavy, fuzzy and sludgy side, that on this song is also fused with some very intense ethereal and dreamy vibes, creating a super massive guitar wall of sounds enriched by reverbered chants, melodic ambient loops and a slow repetitive drum machine pattern.
The original version is a brief beautiful song with just vocals and acoustic guitars, one of the highest points of Michael Gira’s poetry, and indeed i’ll never understand why it’s been used as a bonus track only present on some versions of Love of Life. This is a pretty good example of a song revolutioned with a completely different approach that mantains its emotional mood. it’s also actually surprising to see Nadja choosing this song in particular from Swans’ discography, since there’s plenty of songs that are already pretty close to their noisy style, but they probably wanted to be more creative and definitely did the right choice. There is also a live version of this cover from the previously released live album Trembled (2006), which is even more ethereal and intense.
Deafheaven “Punk Rock/Cody (Mogwai cover)” (2012 – original 1999)
I have to admit i usually dislike a lot metal versions of non metal songs. Using abrasive distorted guitars and harsh vocals on classic or soft songs makes really no sense to me, and i’ll never understand why it is so common among metal bands, but this is one of the cases where i really enjoyed the operation.
Of course this is a sort of anomalous case, since Deafheaven is already a very borderline band with a style made of many different genres where metal is just one of them and their music is also probably closer to Mogwai than any traditional metal band around.
Indeed the use of guitars is definitely heavy but in a very shoegaze-y way, with a super intense loud tone and powerful noisy distortions, there are also piano, post-rock liquid arpeggios and effected loops, making screams the probably only metal element of the song.
This is actually a cover of two songs, respectively the intro and the first full track from Mogwai’s 1997 masterpiece Come on Die Young. On Punk Rock Deafheaven replaced the spoken word from Iggy Pop’s interview with William Faulkner’s nobel price aceptance while on Cody, that was a very calm song with tender vocals, they added distortions, powerful drumming and screams, but maintained perfecly the melancholic aura of the musical piece. After a short interlude with piano, clean guitar and shrieks in the background, the song explodes into an extremely emotional ending, with violent blast beats and post-rock tremolo euphoria. Even if covering any song from a masterpiece like Come on Die Young is a hard operation, Deafheaven definitely did it in the best way possible, creating an incredibly beautiful tribute, full of desperate sadness, deeply emotions and outstanding atmospheres. Impressive.