Here are 15 genius contemporary cross-genre covers, from Red Hot Chili Peppers and Avril Lavigne to Sonic Youth and Johnny Cash.
“Iron Man" by Black Sabbath, covered by the Cardigans
You’ve got to have a brass pair bigger than life itself to dare cover Black Sabbath. In the case of Swedish pop-rockers, the Cardigans, you’re probably just too quirky to know better.
“Iron Man” is a classic that still rocks harder than 90 percent of the songs being released today. To her credit, lead singer Nina Persson doesn’t try to compete with Ozzy’s vocals; instead, she and her band give the track a trip-hop workover that is sensual, jazzy and let’s face it, pretty damn fun to listen to.
“Harvest Moon” by Neil Young, covered by Poolside
When Neil Young released Harvest Moon in 1992, the disc became an instant classic. Critics marveled at the subtle elegance with which Young told stories of masculinity, falling in love and being out on the open road.
Years later, electro-pop outfit Poolside offers up their version of the title track with an amazing amount of success. The cover is as breezy and refreshing as a glass of lemonade, but still honors the original’s emotion and heart.
Ringside (comprised of singer/songwriter/producer Scott Thomas and actor/beatmaster Balthazar Getty) is about as L.A. as you can get. When the duo released its pensive mid-tempo ballad “Tired of Being Sorry” in 2004, fans flocked to the tale of regret and love lost on the streets of L.A.
Three years later, Latin pop sensation Enrique Iglesias famously covered the tune and was even lucky enough to get Thomas to produce the track for his album, Insomniac.
“One” by U2, covered by Mary J. Blige
The 1990s saw the amazing rise of the Irish rock band, U2. So influential and inspirational was the group’s music that in 2005 the unimaginable happened: R&B discovered it. Grammy Award-winning recording artist Mary J. Blige took to the stage with U2 at a concert in New York and belted out the ballad, “One."
The collaboration garnered a standing ovation and led to several subsequent performances of the cover, including the 2006 Grammy Awards. Blige’s soulful vocals and strength lent a profound depth to an original that seemed impossible to top.
“Don’t Wanna Be a Player No More” by Big Pun, covered by Incubus
Incubus is known for their skillful fusion of pulse-pounding drums and absolutely masterful guitar technique. However, they showed a sense of humor and a respect for the hip-hop community when they covered late rapper Big Pun’s mid-'‘90s ode to gettin’ busy ... portly style.
Front man Brandon Boyd’s silky vocals added a unique layer to the hit and introduced the group to a new fan base.
“99 Problems” by Jay-Z, covered by Hugo
Fans of the 2011 film No Strings Attached (starring Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman) got a real treat when English singer Hugo belted out a bluesy, guitar-laden version of Jay-Z’s classic jam about looking on the bright side of things.
Hugo’s interpretation of the song gets to the heart of the original’s core sentiment by tapping into its sultry rebellion.
Indie Rock =======>Hard Rock
“Anything, Anything” by Dramarama, covered by Buck Cherry
Occasionally, a cover comes along that isn’t a huge deviation from its predecessor.
In the case of Buck Cherry’s take on Dramarama’s popular glimpse into relationship woes, it isn’t about change; it’s simply about tone. Buck Cherry infuses “Anything, Anything” with hard-driving power chords and fires up its well-known melody with a bit more aggression.
Indie Rock=======>Brit Pop
“Head On” by the Jesus and Mary Chain, covered by the Pixies
During the indie-rock-laden 1990s, the Pixies reigned supreme. The group covered the Jesus and Mary Chain’s hit, “Head On” for the album Trompe Le Monde.
Members of the band noted that they’d always loved the song and thought it warranted a cover. Good thing, too; the Pixies turned the aloof pop song into a powerful and noisy declaration of angst and exuberence.
“I Would Die 4 U” by Prince, covered by Luna Is Honey
Los Angeles art-rockers Luna Is Honey pooled their collective love of 1980s R&B and poured it into a romantic and charming cover of Prince’s 1984 hit, “I Would Die 4 U.”
The LIH version is a youthful update, placing the critically lauded band in the same league as fellow Los Angeles darlings, Best Coast.
“Higher Ground” by Stevie Wonder, covered by Red Hot Chili Peppers
The mark of a good cover song is whether or not it elevates the original, while paying homage to it. RHCP did this back in 1989 with their cover of Stevie Wonder’s funky humanitarian theme song, “Higher Ground.”
However, true to form, Anthony Kiedis and company injected their version with sex, fun and serious some amps.
“Fuel” by Metallica, covered by Avril Lavigne
This world is filled with a lot unexplained phenomena. Still, there ain’t nothing crazier than when pop princess Avril Lavigne stood before the masters, Metallica, and covered their song “Fuel” while they were being honored on MTV’s series, Icon. Lavigne belted out the tune with bravado and fire.
By the time she was finished, the crowd had erupted in applause and “mall punks" everywhere were vindicated. More importantly, the Canadian singer showed that she can truly piss with the big boys.
“Boys of Summer” by Don Henley, covered by the Ataris
Don Henley rose to fame as a founding member of the Eagles. Years later, he launched a successful solo career that spanned the 1980s and ‘90s.
One by-product of his efforts is the song “Boys of Summer.” The reflective tune has been immortalized in literature by British author Emma Forrest in her book, Namedropper. It later got its cover moment when the Ataris remade it and wound up with a bona fide radio hit.
You’ll know the remake with its audacious reworking of the lyrics: “Out on the road today, I saw a BLACK FLAG sticker on a Cadillac.”
Covering a song but making it your own? Priceless.
“The Search for Cherry Red" by Jonathan Fire*Eater, covered by the Kills
There’s nothing like the validation one gets from influential friends.
Music legend-in-the-making, Stewart Lupton (of the defunct mod-rock band Jonathan Fire*Eater) has seen a resurgence of interest in his brilliant songwriting skills after buddies Jamie Hince and Allison Mosshart (of the Kills) covered “The Search for Cherry Red.”
The tune is creepy and mysterious -- think of it as the musical equivalent of a Bret Easton Ellis novel. While other members of Jonathan Fire*Eater have gone on to success with the Walkmen, it is Lupton who is still influencing acts such as Interpol, Cat Power and the aforementioned British duo.
“Superstar” by the Carpenters, covered by Sonic Youth
Veteran rockers Sonic Youth are known for taking music and turning it on its ear. Their rebellious songs like “Cool Thing” and “Bull in the Heather” have scored them legions of fans over the years.
But it was their dreamy and ethereal interpretation of 1970s pop duo the Carpenters’ chart-topper that showed naysayers there was some real heart behind all the indie cool.
“Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails, covered by Johnny Cash
One of the most beautiful compliments I’ve ever heard one artist pay to another came from Trent Reznor when he spoke of the late Johnny Cash.
After initially expressing some trepidation about the country crooner covering his deeply personal track, “Hurt," Reznor later recanted, saying, “It was a song that sounds like one he would have written in the ‘60s and that's wonderful." You don’t get any better than that.