- A Motown Tribute to Nickelback – Rockstar (originally Nickelback) – this is the standout track on a frankly hilarious EP of covers, by the wildly originally named band. Does exactly what it says on the tin – a band not exactly known for their light-hearted music gets a sly treatment. MTtN might not have gone toe to toe with the MGs, but they could have come close.
- The Nice – America (originally Bernstein/Sondheim) – a weird proggy/post-psychedelic version of a vicious social satire from one of my favourite musicals (and one of the best films ever made). Emerson (then to be of Emerson, Lake and Palmer) manages to incorporate some Dvorak into what was already a semi-rip of an aria from Carmen. As I say, bonkers.
- Nirvana – Where Did You Sleep Last Night? (originally trad, arr Leadbelly) – one of the great bluesmen, Leadbelly, took this lament and made it darker, like all of his oeuvre. Cobain, on the hand, makes it sound haunted – he has an almost country inflection to his vocals which rarely gets a mention when talking about Nirvana, and here, it works on a bitter and tortured version of this blues classic. Recorded less than six months before he killed himself/was killed/ascended to heaven (delete as applicable to your particular theory), it could be read as a cry for help to Courtney Love, or a barbed comment. Who knows? No-one ever will, now.
- Patti Smith – Gloria (part II originally Van Morrison) – I had no idea (because I stupidly ignored that bit of the liner notes) that one of the songs I’ve been most intrigued by (see here) was a partial cover of a Van Morrison tune. This doesn’t minimise the impact of it, in fact, I think now that it’s even more bonkers – let’s face it, Van the Man was pretty crazy as well, and this is about as far from Van’s vocals as you’re going to get. Norn Ireland this ain’t.
- The Presidents of the United States of America – Kick Out The Jams (originally MC5) – they take the lyrics, make them funnier and less revolutionary, and make the sound even more punky and heavy. Yet, somehow, this leaves me cold – the original had probably the first recorded “Motherfucker” in pop music, and had to be sold from under the counter. It’s remarkable to think of that now, when swearing is now like punctuation across genres; even so, without hindsight, without context, this still sounds shocking and bracing. POTUSA don’t at all – a good example of a sub-par cover.
- The Puppini Sisters – Heart Of Glass (originally Blondie) – they aren’t a patch on the original teams of girl groups from the 40s, but the Puppini Sisters do the same thing as Richard Cheese: take modern music, filter it through a ridiculous filter and see what happens. Heart of Glass is a more successful experiment than some of the pretty straight readings of swing classics they attempt on their debut. As Debbie Harry didn’t exactly sing things deadly seriously, this works well as both cover and pastiche.
- Rage Against The Machine – Maggie’s Farm (originally Bob Dylan) – the second Dylan cover on this list, and a difficult choice from a whole album of pretty solid covers. RATM took their influences (stylistic, historic and political) and churned them through one of metal’s most innovative guitarists and the tightest rhythm section in rock music, gave Zach De La Rocha the opportunity to inhabit his heroes, and went for it. Of course, some things don’t work so well, but choosing one cover from a set with high points such as Eric-B and Rakim’s ‘Microphone Fiend’ (the riff was then used by Muse, on their live album H.A.A.R.P.) or Minor Threat’s ‘In My Eyes’ was difficult. Cypress Hill’s ‘How I Could Just Kill A Man’ nearly got my pick, but in the end, it’s this epic cover of a pretty angry song that swayed me. Simple lyrics (always the best bet for a polemicist like ZDLR) and a haunting siren-like riff take this to another plane – I heartily recommend playing this when feeling disenfranchised.