Many music fans shy away from song remakes and cover songs, even by the most distinguished of artists. Sometimes, though, it pays to listen...
In some ways, cover songs are considered somehow less in the shadow of a good original and there are very few that have managed to rival their originals. These are five cover versions of great original songs which have equaled or surpassed their originals either in quality and popularity.
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts - "Crimson and Clover"
Joan Jett, the guitarist for the short-lived, hard-living all-girl band, The Runaways, struck out on her own in 1979, pursuing a solo career and recording her first album, Joan Jett. When she formed her new band Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, she released I Love Rock 'n Roll.
This album featured a brilliant, bad-girl cover of Tommy James and the Shondell's "Crimson and Clover" - a version which was heavier on guitar and lighter on vocal effects and spent 16 weeks on the U.S. charts, selling at least five and a half million copies.
Jeff Buckley - "Hallelujah"
A heartily and repeatedly covered song by Leonard Cohen, "Hallelujah" has been covered by everyone from Rufus Wainwright to Bono. It was Jeff Buckley's version from his 1994 album Grace that seemed to garner the most attention.
Longer than most versions at almost seven minutes, it features an extended guitar introduction which makes one think of Blue Rodeo. His vocals, certainly not the low, almost monotone of Leonard Cohen, rock between joy and pain and, in the end, excruciating heartache.
Johnny Cash - "Hurt"
Perhaps one of the most unexpected remakes in history, Johnny Cash recorded this award-winning version in 2003, the year of his death. Even Trent Reznor became a fan after seeing the video, citing welling tears and goosebumps.
The song has the same strong build up as Reznor's version, but Cash's vocals expressed far more anguish - an emotion that he, no doubt, had earned. While some of the lyrics were cleaned up, his voice was not and it's the grit and pain that make this version worth owning.
Whitney Houston - "I Will Always Love You"
There's merit in the original version of this song by Dolly Parton, but there's no arguing with the fact that when Whitney sang it, it sky-rocketed to the top of the charts, winning countless awards and leaving the original more or less forgotten. As in most Whitney Houston songs, her vocals are flawless and her range is unimaginable. Dolly Parton's version is much more soft-spoken, restrained, while Whitney's is a blast of passion.
Michael Andrews and Gary Jules - "Mad World"
With all due respect to Tears for Fears, the new wave synthesizer movement couldn't last forever. Michael Andrews and Gary Jules took a song which could arguably have been forgotten in the pop mess of the eighties and not only re-invented it in all its haunting and disturbing glory, but this version is probably one of the best and most appropriate uses of a song in a movie soundtrack ever.
Movie audiences are forced, perhaps kicking and screaming, into the mind of Donnie Darko and are given lyrics to his thoughts. It's uncomfortable, but it's a discomfort we long to feel.