Ten of the Best Song Covers and Remakes
When talking about remakes, many of us immediately think of films and complain that Hollywood has run out of original ideas. But in the music industry, a remake or cover of an original song is a great way for an artist to pay homage to those who influenced their musical style and put their own stamp on a classic. Several things can go into making a cover/remake a success, but the main factors are that the new version is able to set itself apart from the original without completely abandoning what made it great in the first place. This is not meant to be a Top 10 list, just a collection of some of the best songs that fall into the category of cover or remake. Also, I wanted to feature some songs that some may not realize are covers or may not realize even exist.
To check out the original version of the song, just click the link under each entry’s title.
Originally recorded in 1971 by the band Argent while working on the album ‘All Together Now’, the song didn’t show up on an Argent record until 1973’s ‘In Deep’. KISS would rewrite the lyrics, making their version a remake as opposed to a cover, and release it in 1991 on the soundtrack to ‘Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey’, used in the movie as the song Wyld Stallyns plays to win the Battle of the Bands. A world-wide hit for KISS reaching Top Ten in England and Germany and peaking a 21 in America, KISS included the song the following year on their album ‘Revenge’, considered their best work in their non-make up era. The song and video would be the band’s last work with drummer Eric Carr before he passed away from cancer. Though Carr was too ill to record the drums track for the song, he provided background vocals and appeared in the video. Argent remade the song that same year, calling it ‘God Gave Rock and Roll To You III’.
Fountains of Wayne released their version of ‘Stacy’s Mom’ in 2003 on their third album, ‘Welcome Interstate Managers’. A hit for the band, the music video garnered a great deal off attention, parodying ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ with a boy fantasizing about his girlfriend Stacy’s mother, played by supermodel Rachel Hunter. The Grammy-nominated song was one of the first songs to hit #1 on iTunes and is regularly cited as one of the best of the decade.
Funny enough, the song was regularly attributed to Bowling For Soup on YouTube and other video sites. During an NIN interview several years ago, I asked Jaret if he and the rest of the band ever dealt with that confusion directly which he said they did and they found it amusing since the two bands are actually friends. I asked Jaret if he had any plans to remake the song, which he kinda laughed off. A short time later Bowling For Soup released a three track single including a remake of their classic ‘The Bitch Song’, and their cover of ‘Stacy’s Mom’ with the tagline,
“Everyone thought they did it anyway… so they freakin’ did it. Finally you can say this is your favorite song by BFS and not look like an idiot.”
I’m not sure if they already had the idea to do the song before I brought it up in the interview, but I’ll go ahead and take credit for the idea anyway. (I’m kidding! Kinda.)
Released in 1973 by the British band Slade, ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’ was the 4th #1 single for the band in the UK. The song, praised for lead singer Noddy Holder’s unique voice, did exceptionally well in the UK and Europe, but barely cracked into the Top 100 in the United States.
10 years later, Slade was approached by Quiet Riot for permission to cover ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’ and ‘Mama Weer All Crazee Now,’ which some say Quiet Riot had already recorded before asking for permission. Both songs were featured on their album ‘Metal Health’, with ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’ being a major hit for the album, peaking at #5 and helping to make the album itself reach #1. Quiet Riot’s rendition of the song helped draw attention to Slade’s original version, increasing its popularity in America.
The seventh single from Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ in 1987, ‘Smooth Criminal’ has carved out its own legacy not only as a hit song, but also Michael’s iconic anti-gravity lean performed in the video. While wires were used to create the effect in the video, Michael designed and patented a hitching system for shoes to create the same effect on stage.
Alien Ant Farm covered the song as the debut track for their album ‘Anthology’. According to the band, they would use riffs from Michael Jackson songs to warm up before live performances, with the audience asking them to sing the entire song. The song hit #1 on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks, and #23 on the Hot 100. Their video is notorious for spoofing Michael Jackson, some would argue to a disrespectful level.
This song has shown up on several lists of the worst cover songs, but I think its hard to deny that Alien Ant Farm did a great job taking a very recognizable song, reworking it for another musical genre, but keeping the original tone and feel.
In 1976, KISS front-man Paul Stanley wrote ‘Hard Luck Woman’ with the intention of it going to Rod Stewart, but after the band’s success with the ballad ‘Beth’, they decided to keep the song for themselves and have drummer Peter Criss return to the mic in an attempt to recapture the success of ‘Beth’. The song was released as the first single from ‘Rock and Roll Over’, peaking at #15 on the charts.
As ‘Hard Luck Woman’ didn’t feature KISS’ usual hard rock style, this left the song open for various types of singers to make it their own. In 1994, KISS fan and country superstar Garth Brooks recorded a cover of the song for the tribute album ‘Kiss My Ass: Classic Kiss Regrooved’, with KISS providing musical accompaniment and background vocals. Though a country singer, Brooks was always known for incorporating a rock n’ roll flair to his songs, making him a great fit to work with KISS. Brooks and KISS performed the song on ‘The Tonight Show’ to promote the record and the single peaked at #26 in the Billboard Mainstream Top 40.
The break-out debut single for Britney Spears, ‘…Baby One More Time’ is one of the most popular pop songs ever recorded, with Spears’ rendition hitting #1 in every country it trended in and was recently voted the best pop song of the modern era by readers on Screen Crush.
Covered by a multitude of bands, including Bowling For Soup, with varying degrees of success, one of the most underrated covers came from sons of controversial singer Frank Zappa, Ahmet and Dweezil. While popular as Spears is, her work has never been able to cross musical genres, a feat the Zappa brothers were able to pull off with their hard-rock/punk interpretation of Spears’ hit.
Recorded by B.W. Stevenson in 1973, ‘My Maria’ was a tremendous hit, peaking at #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the Easy Listening chart, and remained a Top 40 hit for three months.
23-years-later, country superstars Brooks & Dunn released their cover of ‘My Maria’, becoming a staple of the duo’s career. While the cover version reached #1 on the Billboard Country chart, it didn’t reach the same success as the original on the Hot 100, only peaking at #79. However, the song earned the group a great deal of critical praise, winning them their second Grammy for Best Country Performance by a Vocal Duo or Group. As a testament to the song’s impact on their career, ‘My Maria’ was the last song Brooks & Dunn performed as a duo, on the 2010 ACM Awards.
The best known song of the 80s Hard Rock band Twisted Sister, ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ is not only the band’s only Top 40 hit, its also the song that brought Dee Snider to Washington. Twisted Sister lead singer and song writer Dee Snider testified before Congress along with Frank Zappa and John Denver to speak on censorship of music. Snider’s lyrics and video for ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ were criticized for invoking youth rebellion against parents and other authority figures.
In 2000, Canadian singer Bif Naked covered ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ for the wrestling film ‘Ready To Rumble’, even creating the video with stars David Arquette, Scott Caan, and Steve “Sting” Borden. This isn’t necessarily the best cover of the Twisted Sister hit, but is a highly underappreciated cover in the grand scheme of things. Most mainstream audiences are so unfamiliar with Bif Naked that they probably don’t even know Bif is a she, and her cover few under the radar due to the financial and critical failure of ‘Ready to Rumble’.
Recorded in 1972 for the James Bond film of the same name, ‘Live and Let Die’ was written by former Beatle Paul McCartney, thought the original intention of producer Harry Saltzman was to have the song sung by regular Bond singer Shirley Bassey. McCartney maintained that he would only write the song if he and his band Wings could be the ones to perform it on the soundtrack. As Saltzman had once missed out on an opportunity to work with McCartney on ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, he decided to not make that mistake twice and agreed to McCartney’s conditions. The song hit #2 on the American charts, and earned McCartney a Grammy and Oscar nomination. Clear Channel Broadcasting added the song to their list of inappropriate song titles following the 9/11 attacks. And in 2012 McCartney was awarded the Million-Air Award by BMI for 4 million performances of the song.
Guns N’ Roses released a cover of the song in 1991 as the second single from ‘Use Your Illusion I’. Their music video featured the band performing the song live in combination with old pictures of the group. It also marked the last video Izzy Stradlin appeared in before leaving the band. Apart from Axel’s unique vocals and Slash’s epic guitar solo, the greatness of this song extends to the fact that is achieved similar critical praise as the original, earning GNR a Grammy nomination in 1993.
Released in 1970 as part of ‘Led Zeppelin III’, the Viking-inspired track from Jimmy Page and Robert Plant was a Top 40 hit across the world, peaking at #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 and hitting it highest position at #2 in Canada.
Working at the composer for the soundtrack to remake of ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’, Nine Inch Nails front-man Trent Reznor chose ‘The Immigrant Song’ as the opening credits song, working on the cover with Karen O from The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The electric/hard rock take on the song, combined with the impressive visuals, has helped place this credit sequence on many Top 10 lists with other great openings like ‘Casino Royale’ and ‘The Watchmen’.