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List ‘Em Carefully: The Top 10 Cover Songs of All Time

on February 17, 2010, 3:15pm
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List 'Em CarefullyFor one reason or another, cover songs tend to catch a bad rap. Even when our favorite artists record a cover, our interest usually lasts all of two or three listens before we are ready to move on to something else, something original.  In this age of “green” living, why are we so put off by the idea of recycling a song? Perhaps, over the years, we have been lured to and held hostage in far too many garages and basements and forced to listen to our friends’ high school bands-complete with the lead guitarist’s eight-year-old kid sister on drums-try and fail miserably at harnessing the power of “Smoke on the Water”. (I’m still haunted to this day by an evening spent listening to a particularly terrible tribute trio of female classmates of mine who billed themselves as Nerve Anna; I walked out during “Rape Me”, feeling both an uneasiness at having a girl I took physics with screaming that phrase at me and also a strong sense of irony because I was inarguably the one who had been violated.) Or maybe it’s just that for every cover song that holds up and warrants our admiration, there have been hundreds, if not thousands, that have stolen several minutes of our lives.

Despite the cover song’s negative associations, rock and roll has greatly benefitted from and was largely built upon the practice of borrowing material and recording alternative versions. As a result, the rock and roll canon is absolutely loaded with cover songs. Case in point, Rolling Stone‘s infamous countdown of the 500 greatest rock songs of all time features 13 songs in its top 100 that had been previously recorded by other artists. Without these classic re-recordings, and others included here on our list, our world would be a much poorer place. And that’s what this list is all about. (You won’t find that killer version of “Free Bird” you heard back in the summer of 1984 in Key West on open-mic night in that dive bar at that time in your life when you were wearing headbands, dabbling in glassblowing, and carrying a pocket-size copy of the Kama Sutra around. So don’t get worked up when you don’t find it here.) These are the very best of the redos-songs that reached their true potential on the second, or even seventh, go around. Consequence of Sound gives you our top ten cover songs of all time.

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