Five Unexpected Cover Songs That Actually Worked

Frank Zappa
Covers are a tricky business. Any time a musician starts trying to do his or her own version of someone else's song, they instantly take on some pretty hefty expectations. First, they have to satisfy their own fanbase, which may not like the artist being covered to begin with. Then they may even want to satisfy fans of the original artist (or the original artist themselves), which is even more difficult because no fan of an original is ever satisfied with a remake. It's nerd law.

But kudos to those intrepid artists who not only attempt covers, but go well outside of their own genre and take on unexpected and hallowed, untouchable classics to cover. Those who try that have some serious balls, or really don't care what critics think, because they mostly always fail.

Oddly enough, these five did just that and managed to actually succeed, beating million-to-one odds of these covers being absolutely horrible.

5. Evergreen Terrace, "Maniac"
The surprising thing here isn't that this cover exists. If we've learned anything from the Punk Goes... series, it's that there's always a market for covers of pop songs with screaming. The thing is, it never works, especially when it comes to '80s hits. I had to struggle to find five that didn't suck when I wrote this article, and only one of the good ones I found was of an '80s song.

But I have to cop to loving this cover of the Flashdance classic "Maniac" by post-hardcore band Evergreen Terrace, who decided to take it on for their Writer's Block covers LP. I don't really know what sets it apart from other covers of this style. Maybe it's that they take it so seriously, and adapt it to their style with such sincerity. Regardless of the reason, though, it just works and I can't get enough of it.

4. The Blood Brothers, "Under Pressure"
In a similar vein of "post-hardcore band takes on '80s hit" as Evergreen Terrace's take on "Maniac," the Blood Brothers decided for some reason to try to approach the classic duet between David Bowie and Freddie Mercury. God knows why anyone would try that.

They did have one advantage though: a pair of singers already in the band who had very distinctive vocal ranges. Maybe that's how they actually managed to pull off this respectable cover. It may not get anywhere near the original's soaring heights, but it's awesome in its own quirky, punk way.

Plus, it actually manages to follow an original formula, rather than the typical "make everything really heavy, scream, and add a breakdown" approach favored by most heavy bands covering pop songs.

3. Miles Davis, "Time After Time"
Miles Davis took a lot of heat for his '80s comeback, mostly because he experimented with contemporary synthesized instruments and covered then-new pop songs. For what it's worth, I think the era deserves a serious reevaluation now that we're removed from synthesizers being a "newfangled" instrument.

As part of that, we should definitely look back on this cover of Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time," which is absolutely beautiful when played by Miles on his trumpet. It's a weird choice for him, especially given that he was 59 at the time and by all rights should have been going through a nostalgic classicist period so everyone could laud him for returning to his roots. Instead, the always restless, always brilliant jazzman pulls it off exceptionally.

List continues on the next page.

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Anything Greg Dulli has covered. He's the King of Covers. No one can match him.

Matthew Ashton
Matthew Ashton

Josh Weathers covering I will Always Love You. Massive Attack covering Nature Boy. Swell Season covering Into the Mystic. Gnarls Barkley covering Reckoner (Radiohead). Robert Plant covering Hey Joe. Johnny Cash covering Rusty Cage (Soundgarden).

Jay Francis
Jay Francis

The Shelby Lynne tribute album to Dusty Springfield.

Robert Robertson
Robert Robertson

tori amos covering Smells Like Teen Spirit and Chris Cornell covering Billie Jean were both good.

Joni Rodgers
Joni Rodgers

Willie Nelson "The Scientist" and Frenchy Burrito "Everything is Broken". Also loved a young music therapist doing "Stairway to Heaven" for the funeral of a chemo bud. She didn't want to do it; he requested it as a last wish. Her rendition was humble, meaningful and transcendently lovely.

Alex Botti
Alex Botti

How can you make that list and forget about Johnny Cash covering Nine Inch Nails?


Smooth Criminal by Alien Antfarm (how sucky must a band be that their only hit was a Jacko cover), Baker Street by Foo Fighters, You Really Got Me Now by Van Halen, and Turn the Page by Metallica.

MadMac topcommenter

As much as Mr. Marsalis slammed Miles--and then did an album of Charlie Brown tracks--I LOVE Miles' take on "Time After Time," and my favorite MJ song ever, "Human Nature." The live set from Montreux is magic. Good stuff, Mr. Deiterman.

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