I’m a big fan of heavy, modern rock groups that can take an old song and breathe life back into it. For example, I’d probably never listen to “Word Up” voluntarily, were it not for Korn’s awesome rendition on seven-string guitars.
To me, it’s like trading in an old, worn-out cell phone for something brand new and interesting.
So I’m rounding up some of my favorite—dare I say “the greatest”—rock covers I’ve come across spanning the last couple of decades. This means the cover was released after 1990 and that the original might or might not precede that date.
And to give more weight to my selection, this isn’t an article I decided to write and then rushed to cobble together a bunch of rock covers for the first time. Honest to Pete, I’ve been collecting these on my playlists for years, and I’ve picked through those to make a decent roundup.
Here’s a quick look at some of the music on my iPhone that I’ll offer up as proof.
I guess this isn’t really “proof,” but you get my point. I’ve listened to this stuff a lot, and now I’m sharing my thoughtful, carefully collected playlist for all ya’ll to enjoy and jam to.
Before we get started: This is not a ranking. The order I’ve chosen isn’t significant. I think all these songs are great, and I'm not compelled to order them by some subjective measure of greatness. Let’s just enjoy some good music.
For those interested in full video song lessons and tutorials, check out Guitar Tricks’ song list. They’ve got a little bit of everything for those of you who want to do your own covers. They’ll even let you try it for free.
1. “Can’t You See,” covered by Black Stone Cherry
The original was good, but I don’t think I ever found myself particularly motivated by the flowery little flute intro. Chris Robertson and the fellas from Black Stone Cherry beef this one up considerably with heavy lead licks and a slew of drop-tune power chords.
2. “Saturday Night’s Alright,” covered by Nickelback
Wasn’t there a version of this song released between the Elton John and Nickelback renditions? I guess it doesn’t matter.
Yes, of course; I respect the original and what Elton John has done for music, blah blah blah. But I also must respect the fact that Chad Kroger and Ryan Peake absolutely blow the doors off the older versions, with a little help from Dimebag Darrell (God rest his soul).
3. “Cherub Rock,” covered by Stutterfly
With all due respect, Billy Corgan looks (and sings) like a sad baby. In fact, I loved everything about the original “Cherub Rock” track, except him. However, a little-known cover of the song does exist, from a band called Stutterfly. It’s far more metal and, in my humble opinion, more vocally palatable than Corgan’s take. Thanks Stutterfly; you guys absolutely killed this cover.
4. “Renegades of Funk,” covered by Rage Against the Machine
If you go back and listen to the original version of this song by Afrika Bambaataa and Soulsonic Force, you start to really appreciate the innovation and brilliance behind Rage’s cover. It’s just incredible how they were able to morph this track into something completely different, yet true to the original tune.
To be honest, you could put the entire Renegades album on here (it was entirely made up of cover songs). We might revisit said album once or twice in our list.
5. “Man of Constant Sorrow,” covered by Charm City Devils
What I find impressive about this cover is that the original “Man of Constant Sorrow” doesn’t really have a chorus. The fellers from Charm City Devils just had to make one up. They did, and it fits pretty well. Also, hats off to these guys for pulling it all off without a banjo in the mix.
6. “Rocky Mountain Way,” covered by Godsmack
Few bands achieve the same level of tightness and power that we get from Godsmack’s music. Thus, anyone who loves heavy, modern rock guitar can’t listen to this and miss the original version (by Joe Walsh) at all. Moreover, I can’t go back to the original after being exposed to the power of the cover. You’ve been warned.
7. “Love Runs Out,” covered by Black Stone Cherry
Black Stone Cherry just seem to nail it every time. Off their 2016 release, Kentucky, their cover of “Love Runs Out” does a great job of injecting some heavy riffing into OneRepublic’s hit tune. It starts out pretty similar, with the piano intro, but just give ‘em time for the guitars to heat up.
8. “Got my Mojo Workin’,” covered by Needtobreathe
As far as I know (and at the time of writing this) Needtobreathe haven’t actually recorded a studio version of this song. They just play it live in a medley with a “Folsom Prison Blues” cover and one of their originals. However, Bear Rinehart absolutely belts the vocals and it all sounds fantastic. For future albums, I’m hoping this one makes an appearance.
9. “How I Could Just Kill a Man,” covered by Rage Against the Machine
I promised it would happen, and it did. We’ve once again found ourselves at Rage Against the Machine’s Renegades album. This song, originally by Cypress Hill, is yet another great example of the original Rage group’s talent and the amount of work that went into this album. The guitar, bass, drums and the vocals—it’s all perfect.
10. “War,” covered by Black Stone Cherry
OK, I know we’re backtracking a lot, but bear with me. Some bands are better at this cover song thing than others. Again, this one is off the Kentucky album and takes a well-known classic, turning it into a much heavier guitar-driven track. Like RATM, Black Stone Cherry have a lot of noteworthy covers, but I’ll stop with this one.
Check out the rest of the Kentucky album if you want to hear a few more, including “Mississippi Queen.”
11. “Word Up,” covered by Korn
If you want an easy guitar cover song, this one is painfully simple at three power chords on repeat. It’s also a big improvement over the original track for those who like a little fight in their music.
12. “Africa,” covered by Relient K
I don’t normally get into Relient K, but I always thought Toto’s “Africa” was a decent song. Relient K injects plenty of guitar and makes this track far more “jam-worthy.” I especially dig the buildup at the bridge.
13. “Kiss from a Rose,” covered by No Fair Fights
Like “Africa,” I’ve always thought this was a catchy song, just not very metal. No Fair Fights, a band I had never heard of before, took care of that problem quite nicely, as it doesn’t get much heavier than their rendition. 12 Stones did a version of this song too, but I don’t like it nearly as much. Grab the NFF version.
14. “Folsom Prison Blues,” covered by Everlast
Maybe this isn’t the heaviest of rock covers, but Whitey Ford does his part to inject some serious groove, thus improving an already famed track. That’s a seriously tall order, but I think the man in black would be proud.
What did I miss/neglect?
I’m picky, so I left a lot out. What would you include? Perhaps there’s something you think I should have omitted? I’m always open to checking out great rock covers, so leave it in the comments section and we’ll talk.
Flickr Commons Image Courtesy of Rarvesen