Doing a great cover version can make a career, crossing over fanbase with the covered artist or appealing to a group that otherwise wouldn’t have been predisposed to your sound. Taking something people know and giving to them in a way that lets them know your sound is a great way to get yourself known.
1. Bon Iver – I Can’t Make You Love Me / Nick of Time
This song was originally recorded by country musician Bonnie Raitt for her 11th album Luck Of The Draw. Written by Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin the song received massive critical acclaim, was named 8th on MOJO magazine’s 100 greatest songs of all time and has been covered numerous times by various different artists. In 2011 as a b-side to his release single Calgary; Bon Iver released a stripped back version of the song. A haunting piano reverberates as his beautiful falsetto sings somewhere between pleading and submission. An original twist on the cover is his incorporation of another Bonnie Raitt song, the title track of her 1989 album ‘Nick Of Time’. It serves to create something of a happy ending from a sad song, and completes a wonderful homage to the seminal country artist.
2. Jimmy Hendrix – All Along the Watchtower
Originally a Bob Dylan song it was covered in 1968 on the Jimi Hendrix album Electric Ladyland. An explosion of energy, musicianship and forward moment. One of the biggest fans of the Hendrix version of this song was Dylan himself saying, “It overwhelmed me, really. He had such talent, he could find things inside a song and vigorously develop them. He found things that other people wouldn’t think of finding in there… Ever since he died I’ve been doing it that way… Strange how when I sing it, I always feel it’s a tribute to him in some kind of way.”
3. Sinead O’connor – Nothing Compares 2 U
It’s little known that this song was written by Prince for his side project The Family in the mid eighties. It was made famous though by Sinead O’Connor in early 1990 who released as a single on her album I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got. Almost more famous than the song released was the accompanying video in which O’Connor highly emotional and personal performance made the song a worldwide hit.
4. Patti Smith / Bruce Springsteen – Because the Night
When recording the long awaited follow up to the classic album Born To Run, Bruce Springsteen recorded over 70 songs including Because The Night, though he was not happy with it and decided it would not make the album Darkness On The Edge Of Town. Meanwhile in the studio next door Patti Smith was working on her album Easter and with Jimmy Iovine working on both albums he gave a tape of the disregarded track to Smith who re-wrote, re-cut it and put it on her album. It is to this day her biggest selling single. Though it also appears on Bruce Springsteen’s live album 1975 – 1985 in which he performs the song with Patti Smith’s lyrics and lists her as a co-writer in the sleeve notes. So I will leave it up to you to decide who has covered who. Maybe it’s not a cover at all. But it’s my list so it’s here.
5. James Blake – Limit to Your Love
Originally an album track on the Feist album The Reminder James Blake burst onto the scene with this song his first offering and shocked the music world with his unique emotive yet modern sound. He took this little known track having the musical ear to hear the potential in it, released it and has never looked back. This has everything a great cover should be. An interesting and unique take on the original, sustaining a respect for it and if you can surprise people with the choice of song you cover all the better.
Image source: Bon Iver – ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me / Nick of Time’ cover art