I Gotcha Covered: Top 20 Cover Songs of All Times, Part II

10. “Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)” (Original By: Kate Bush) (Cover By: Placebo)

Originally titled, “A Deal with God”, Kate Bush’s record company was leary of releasing the song for fear that us Bible-beating Americans wouldn’t play it on the radio.  Frankly, I never heard this song on mainstream radio even with its altered title, so perhaps it had less to do with title and more to do with a lack of taste in popular culture. Anyway, because her previous album, The Dreaming, had done so poorly in the charts, Bush relented and changed the title. Even then, the tools at Capitol/EMI didn’t want to release it, but Bush successfully convinced them to release “Running Up That Hill” first, citing that it was the first song to be written for the album, and felt that it better represented the broader feel for Hounds of Love.  Well, thank God she did, because it may have gotten lost if she hadn’t been so insistent.

Ironically, the song itself has often been misinterpreted. Kate Bush herself has said,

I was trying to say that, really, a man and a woman, can’t understand each other because we are a man and a woman. And if we could actually swap each other’s roles, if we could actually be in each others place for a while, I think we’d both be very surprised! [Laughs] And I think it would be lead to a greater understanding. And really the only way I could think it could be done was either… you know, I thought a deal with the devil, you know. And I thought, ‘well, no, why not a deal with God!’ You know, because in a way it’s so much more powerful the whole idea of asking God to make a deal with you. You see, for me it is still called “Deal With God”, that was its title. But we were told that if we kept this title that it wouldn’t be played in any of the religious countries, Italy wouldn’t play it, France wouldn’t play it, and Australia wouldn’t play it! Ireland wouldn’t play it, and that generally we might get it blacked purely because it had ‘God’ in the title.[1]

So I guess that means all of North American AND Western Europe are a bunch of religious, idiotic zealots, right? I always thought of the song as an argument between lovers who couldn’t see the other’s point of view, but then again, I have a master’s degree in Gender Studies. So pat on the back for me for getting it – right?

So onwards – alternative-rock band, Placebo, covered “Running Up That Hill”, releasing it originally on the bonus disc of their 2003 album Sleeping with Ghosts (one of my favorites of all time). The song had a fairly low profile for some time before attracting further attention in 2006, after Placebo began to include it in their set whilst touring to promote Meds. Placebo’s take on the song is more downbeat than the original, and focuses more on instrumentation. It has been described by Q Magazine as ‘sound[ing] more like a pact with the Devil’ than the original ‘deal with God’. I concur wholeheartedly.

9. “Hurt” (Original By: Nine Inch Nails) (Cover By: Johnny Cash)

Now I do realize that having two songs by the same cover artist may seem irresponsible with so many excellent choices and so few slots in this countdown, but Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, they’re both too exceptional not to have their own places in on the list.I know for a fact that MANY will take issue with the following statement, but fuck ’em: I think Cash’s version is even better than ol’ Trent Reznor’s original. There, I said it. And I’m sticking to it.

8. “Toxic” (Original By: Britney Spears) (Cover By: Yael Naim)

Just when we were all ready to write Ms. Naim off as another sugar coated pop star with her Apple hit “New Soul,” you explore a little deeper down her album’s playlist to discover this unexpected mind-warp of a song.  I swear, Naim’s version is this Alice-in-Wonderland, creepy lullaby-ese number, sung more by the strange girl voyeur rather than by the can’t-get-enough sex kitten who actually gets to fuck the guy in the end.  It kinda freaks me out – and makes me completely forget about Brit’s original, which is the sign of a successful cover to me. I still think Ms. Spear’s version rocks hard (in fact, I think it’s the only song of hers that I like, even though my daughter keeps torturing me with her other diddys as well. Can a mom call Protective Services on her kid, with the charge of abuse by baaad music tastes? No? Shitballs…).

7. Tie Between “Everybody Knows” and “Little Wing” (Originals By: Leonard Cohen and Jimi Hendrix) (Covers By: Concrete Blonde and Johnette Napolitano)

If God or the Devil themselves appeared before me and said they would grant me one wish, I’d blow off world peace and other such Miss America answers and ask to sing like Johnette Napolitano. It would totally be worth burning in Hell for eternity. Better parties anyways…

My first encounter with Concrete Blonde came through my days as a DJ for my college radio station, WVUM 90.5 The Voice in Coral Gables, Florida.  Later I saw them live at the Miami Arena when they opened up for Sting (feel free to scratch head at this juncture) for their “Bloodletting” album. But most of you will probably remember their cover of Leonard Cohen’s happy-days-are-here-again classic (kidding) off the movie soundtrack “Pump Up the Volume” with Christian Slater trying to play humble and not-Jack-Nicholson at the same time.  If you haven’t seen the flick, trust me when I tell you that the cover was the highlight of the movie. Really.

As for “Little Wing” by the God-of-all-that-was-pure-in-60s-rock, Jimi Hendrix, I probably can’t begin to name all the artists that have covered this song, but here it goes anyway:

Derek and the Dominos (a.k.a. Eric Clapton)

Stevie Ray Vaughn

Pearl Jam


South Austin Jug Band (I swear this version almost made the list. It’s really good).

John Mayer/Toto – kinda the same thing, no?

Joe Satriani

The Corrs

Elizabeth Mitchell

Chaka Khan

Johnette’s rules them all and is just a hairs-breath away from being as good as Jimi’s. He first recorded the song on the 1967 album, “Axis: Bold as Love.”  “Little Wing” is played using the unique chord/melody guitar style that Hendrix developed during his early career stints in R&B bands. In this style, the guitar sounds as though it is playing two parts. This is done by simultaneously playing multiple complementary notes, often parts of chords, and then changing a note within the chord to create a melodic effect. The unusual flanging sound of the lead guitar part is a result of the Doppler effect which is created using a rotating speaker cabinet, or Leslie speaker. Cool, eh?

BTW, thank you Wikipedia for that tasty tidbit. Trust me, folks. I may love music, but I wouldn’t know what a flanging was if my life depended on it.  But I’m a research freak and like to share the wealth. So there.

6. “Proud Mary” (Original By: Creedence Clearwater Revival) (Cover By: Ike and Tina Turner)

This song is one of those covers that way exceeds the original in my opinion. Ms. Turner’s performance of “Proud Mary” is as raw and fierce as an open, festering wound.  Who knew that part of her fury eminated from the back of Ike’s fist. What an asshole…

Leave it to Tina to nam-myo-ho-renge-kyo her talented self away from the “pimp” (Keith Richards’ words, not mine) and onto superstardom. And along the way, she didn’t lose an ounce of kinetic energy or sex appeal (although I’m admittedly not so much into the pop stuff.) She doesn’t really cover this song in her live shows like she used to – at least to my knowledge – but it’s still a classic worthy of the Top Ten.

5. “Gimme Shelter” (Original By; The Rolling Stones) (Cover By: Patti Smith)

Known as the “Godmother of Punk,” Smith was part of the 70s, post punk, CBGB’s scene and is actually best known for her song co-written with Bruce Springsteen, “Because the Night,” –  a song beautifully covered by Natalie Merchant of 10,000 Maniacs (but sadly not on this list. Sorry kitten.) and is also well known for “Gloria,” which is actually about being raised as a (wait for it….wait for it) Jehovah’s Witness by her plant worker father and jazz singing mother (because, yeah, nothing spells out jazz singer to me than the The Church of Latter Day Saints). She’s a most able songwriter in her own right, and is also a poet, teacher, and activist.

Smith was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 12, 2007 (’bout time) and she dedicated her award to the memory of her late husband, Fred, and aptly sang “Gimme Shelter.”

4. “Love Rollercoaster” (Original By: The Ohio Players) (Cover By: Red Hot Chili Peppers)

This song is hot. I love the original and I adore RHCP’s version too. It’s the kind of song that everyone knows only after they hear it (and who of you has heard of The Ohio Players).  I betcha didn’t know that there are some long-standing urban myths about this musical number. Here it goes:

During an instrumental portion of the song, a high-pitched scream is heard (between 2:32 and 2:36 on the single version); this is the scream of Billy Beck, but according to the most common legend, the victim’s identity varies greatly depending on the version. The supposed sources of the scream have included an individual who was killed at some prior time, his scream inexplicably recorded and looped into the track, or a rabbit being killed outside the studio whose scream was accidentally picked up by the band’s recording equipment (of all the explanations, this is the least plausible — professional recording studios are soundproof).

The most widespread version of the myth, however, tells that Ester Cordet, who appeared nude on the Honey album cover, had suffered permanent disfigurement due to the substance used to replicate honey for the photo; she interrupted the band’s recording session, so the story says, at which point she was stabbed to death. Another version is that she was in the booth next door doing the photo shoot for the cover and was on top of fibre glass, when she poured the honey on herself the honey fused with the fibre glass and her legs sticking her to the floor, as she tried to get up the skin got ripped off her legs, thus the scream, this put an end to her modeling career she then said that she would sue the band for everything they had, and,at this point, the band manager stabbed her to death. However this is also highly improbable as Ester Cordet is still alive and has never confirmed nor denied the myth.

Casey Kasem reported the urban myth of the girl being killed in the studio recording booth while the song was being reported on his radio show, American Top 40, when the song was on the charts in 1976.

Jimmy “Diamond” Williams explained that the scream was nothing eerie or disturbing:

There is a part in the song where there’s a breakdown. It’s guitars and it’s right before the second verse and Billy Beck does one of those inhaling-type screeches like Minnie Ripperton did to reach her high note or Mariah Carey does to go octaves above. The DJ made this crack and it swept the country. People were asking us, ‘Did you kill this girl in the studio?’ The band took a vow of silence because that makes you sell more records.”

So there it is people…stupid is as stupid does.


3. Tie Between “Landslide” (Original By: Stevie Nicks) (Covers By: Smashing Pumpkins and Stacey Kent)

 I think Stevie Nicks is absolute, pure perfection. Period. Plus, she’s been wearing that whole witchy woman/girl, femme fatale Halloween costume for more than three decades now, and I’m still diggin’ it. So to actually claim that anyone else can come close to Ms. Stevie’s original is a tall order, let me tell ya.

That said, I think both Smashing Pumpkins and Stacey Kent’s versions are amazingly close.

I won’t rattle on and on about SP because I assume you all know enough due to their popularity. Stacey Kent, however, is not yet known and deserves to be. She’s a Jersey girl by birth, but moved to England to attend London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and then married tenor saxophonist, Jim Tomlinson. During this whole period, she decided to become a jazz singer and the duo have been at it ever since.  While well known in bloody ol’ England, she has yet to crack American consciousness. Hopefully, this will help a bit 🙂

2. “Easy” (Original By: The Commodores) (Cover By: Faith No More)

You knew I would need to put a San Francisco-based band on the list, now didn’t you?

Originally coined Faith No Man, the band went through a litany of characters in its line-up (including Courtney Love for, like, four gigs before she was fired) before settling in enough to release We Care a Lot in 1985 and became MTV darlings. However, in-fighting ensued to the point where the industry wasn’t betting if they would break-up, rather on when they would part ways.  Eventually, they found Mike Patton while he was attending Humboldt State University, which led to him dropping out, and to the band’s Grammy-nominated release The Real Thing and other such successes. 

Now I know there are those out there that would have picked their cover of Black Sabbath’s War Pigs over Easy, but sue me for being a closeted disco/funk child of the 70s, alright?? I love, love, love this cover, which is why it earns this most coveted position, except of course, for our #1 Cover of All Times, which is…

 1. “Such Great Heights” (Original By: The Postal Service) (Cover By: Iron & Wine)

 This song kills me everytime…and once again, this cover is so fucking good that most people don’t realize it’s a cover in the first place.

So, yes, you can find I&W’s version on our self-involved buddy, Zach Braff’s, Garden State movie soundtrack. It moves me enough to, once again, forgive its use in that M&M’s or Skittles commercial.  Many would argue that The Postal Service’s version is better…and so it be. Besides PS’ Give Up release was considered a happy fluke even to its record company, Sub Pop, who thought the collaboration between Dntel and Death Cab for Cuties’ lead singers would end up as a little pet project, and not sell millions like it did. Credit songs like Such Great Heights, along with We Will Become Sihlouettes, The District Sleeps Alone, and Clark Gable for helping that along.

And I don’t know about you, but Iron & Wine’s cover served as my gateway drug to his other musical creations, such as Our Endless Numbered Days, The Creek Drank the Cradle, and Woman King. He’s one of my favorites of all time…

So that’s it, folks. What do YOU think?

PS – My apologies in advance for the Mixwit mix. They didn’t have a lot of what I cited here. Argh….

1. Placebo – Running Up That Hill  
2. Nine Inch Nails versus Bauhaus – Hurt (Originally by Nine Inch Nails)  
3. Leonard Cohen – Everybody Knows  
4. Jimi Hendrix – Little Wing  
5. Ike & Tina Turner – Proud Mary  
6. Patti Smith – Gimme Shelter  
7. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Love Rollercoaster  
8. Smashing Pumpkins – Landslide  
9. Faith No More – Easy  
10. Iron & Wine – Such Great Heights

13 responses to “I Gotcha Covered: Top 20 Cover Songs of All Times, Part II

  1. Re: Tina Turner

    I just saw Tina Turner a few weeks ago and she can still sing the crap out of “Proud Mary!”

    Cool list and site!

  2. the iron and wine cover of such great heights was the song for our first dance at our wedding. such a beautiful song!

    great list!

  3. I love your number 1 pick. That song is so great!

  4. This is a great list. I also luuuurv the Patti Smith cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” so good.

  5. Covers are strange things. I know an inspired cover when I hear one — and then I forget which ones are my favorites during times like these.

    Sneaker Pimps doing Duran Duran’s “The Chauffeur” is incredible.

    Jose Gonzalez’s version of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop” is just unreal.

    Faster Pussycat doing “You’re So Vain.” Fucking excellent.

    The Power Station’s version of “Bang a Gong.”

    Lazlo Bane doing Men at Work’s “Overkill.”

    Metallica’s version of Killing Joke’s “The Wait.”

    I’m sure I can come up with more later. : )

  6. Oh yeah — and if you want true brilliance: Nearly’s version of the Afghan Whigs’ “Step into the Light,” with Dulli helping out on vocals. (Which is great irony, because if you’ve ever been to a Whigs or Twilight Singers show you know that nobody does a cooler cover than Greg Dulli.)

  7. Def considered some of those…and your voice was in my head cheering for “Step into the Light,” “Teardrop,” and “You’re So Vain.”

    Maybe next time…

  8. Nice choice with Placebo. Also, I’ve always been partial to The Clash’s cover of Junior Murvin’s “Police and Thieves”, as well as Nirvana doing Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World”.

  9. Part I was good, Part II was better. I was hoping you’d include Cash’s cover of Hurt which is probably one of my favorite covers ever.

  10. Pingback: Randomn3ss » Download This! v1.0

  11. Hey Mixie,

    The Placebo cover is a bit of a dealbreaker for me (I can’t stand them!), but thanks for the Kate Bush info. As far as Kate Bush covers go, a favourite of mine is the “Futureheads’ “The Hounds of Love”.

  12. Agree with (almost) all of them!

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