Honourable Mention: Caninus- Victim in Pain (Agnostic Front Cover)
Far and away the weirdest cover I've ever encountered has to be goregrind band Caninus covering Agnostic Front's "Victim in Pain" for their 2005 split with Cattle Decapitation. Does using pit bulls as lead singers make your cover unconventional and original? Absolutely. Does it make it good? That's a different story.
10: Alexisonfire- Passing Out in America (Moneen Cover)
For their Switcheroo Series contribution, Alexisonfire added an extra dimension to their splitmate's signature song, "Passing of America". By increasing the tempo and adding screams, Alexisonfire brought a level of intensity to the song that seems sorely missing from the Moneen version. Dallas Green's superior vocal abilities don't hurt Alexis's case either. Neither does the fact that they're instrumentally more talented than Moneen. Bonus points for the A Capella section in the middle of the song.
9: A Day to Remember- Since U Been Gone (Kelly Clarkson Cover)
I'll admit that the whole "cheesy pop-punk band covering a cheesy pop song" concept is passe, fundamentally lame, and sometimes, downright repulsive, but there's something about A Day to Remember's Kelly Clarkson cover that separates it from the large pool of complete garbage surrounding it. When other bands try to pull this off, they either get condescending or just don't get the joke. ATDR rip through this cheesy pop song with tongue-firmly-planted-in-cheek, but at the same time aren't "too cool" to have a little fun doing it. It becomes painfully apparent during the bridge that Jeremy McKinnon doesn't have Kelly's pipes, but by that time you're having too much fun to care. Flame me as much as you want, I love both versions of this song, and I refuse to apologize.
8: Quicksand- How Soon is Now (The Smiths Cover)
To be honest, I had no idea this song was a cover of the Smiths song until I looked up the lyrics. Can you blame me? Aside from the intro, the songs couldn't be less different- Morrissey's deep, drawn out wails follow a completely different rhythm than Schreifels' high pitched bark, and Quicksand turns the Smiths glum brand of post-punk into a punchy, slithering "pre-Limp-Bizkit-nu-metal" stomper. When the palm mutes come in at the start of the first verse it's almost impossible to not start bobbing along in approval. I'm not sure which version I like more, but I am sure that Quicksand put a fresh post-hardcore take on one of post-hardcore's most influential precursors.
7: Pearl Jam- Last Kiss (J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers Cover)
If there's a prettier song about watching the love of your life die in your arms, I've yet to hear it. For this little ditty, Pearl Jam took a staple of that weird car-crash melodrama music that was somehow popular in the sixties and put enough raw emotion behind it to kill a small animal. The band sounds like they're trying to play a grunge version of the tune from your grandmother's treasured music box, while Eddie Vedder sounds more and more ready to burst into tears with every note. Listening intently to the lyrics will put a lump in your throat on a good day, and might just leave you in tears on a bad one... wait what? What did you just say? Pussy...
Seriously though, great song.
6: Johnny Cash- Rusty Cage (Soundgarden Cover)
Anyone in a hardcore band, metal band, or any other kind of band that wants to sound "heavy as fuck" needs to wait until 1:24 of the above video and take a very important lesson from the Man in Black. It doesn't matter how many strings you have on your Ibanez, or what kind of pedals you have, or the number of piercings on your face, or how long your vocalist can hold a gutteral squeal. Heavy isn't a tone, brother. Nor is it a look. It's a fucking attitude. Who would've thought one of the heaviest breakdowns of all time would be provided by a 90-year-old man singing over a blues riff. Granted, we're talking about one of the most badass and pissed off 90-year-old men ever singing over a pretty grimy blues riff, but I digress. Lightning fast blast-beats and brutal caveman riffs are cool and all, but until you have the passion and aggression to back that up, it's child's play. Johnny Cash is the original hardcore musician-- and this song is all the proof you need.
5: Uncle Tupelo/Rumbleseat- Moonshiner (Traditional)
There's no way I could pick between the two versions of this song. Uncle Tupelo's version has slightly better instrumentation and seems to be more atmospherically representative of the song's content, but I can't get over the way Samantha Jones' and Chris Wollard's vocals harmonize. Not to mention the fact that CHRIS FUCKING WOLLARD! (no grammar necessary). Either way, this song rips. It appeals to the broken-hearted, disaffected, down on his luck, borderline alcoholic in all of us. Or maybe just in me... Either way, both artists do a great job of letting us know we're not alone in being alone-- conveying comfort in hopelessness using acoustic guitars, harmonicas, and marvelous, whiskey soaked voices. Great stuff.
4: Dynamite Hack- Boyz 'N Tha Hood (Eazy E Cover)
Sorry Ben Folds, but Dynamite Hack win for "most gentrified version of a West Coast rap song". It would be easy to take this song at face value and enjoy it for the novelty or the irony, but that would be giving Dynamite Hack way less credit than they deserve. To say 'Hey, let's turn a really hardcore gangsta rap song into the whitest indie song ever' is a novel enough concept-- pulling it off this effectively takes something different altogether. If nothing else it's nice to be reminded that regardless of race, socioeconomic background and subculture affiliation, us young people all want the same thing-- to make something of ourselves and have fun doing it. Truly social commentary, whether Dynamite Hack meant it or not.
3: Metallica- Turn the Page (Bob Seger Cover)
When I listen to the intro to Bob Seger's version of "Turn the Page", I picture an 18-wheeler driving towards me in the sunset. When I listen to Metallica's I picture an F-18 fighter jet taxiing the runway for takeoff. That's really the only analogy you need to describe the difference between the two. I'm not certain which version I prefer, I guess it depends on the day. However, you can't deny that Metallica did an excellent job of taking a trucker anthem and blasting it into the consciousnesses of a new generation of nomads. Say what you will about post-Black Album Metallica (I think they've always been kinda mediocre), you can't deny that they poured themselves into this cover. At a time when they had been distanced by fans, friends and each other, they took Bob Seger's introvert anthem, turned it up to 11 and made their own.
2: Hot Water Music- Radio (Alkaline Trio Cover)
Kids in bands, take note-- this is how you cover a song. As there's no way to replicate the awesomeness of the next song on the list, "Radio" will have to be the standard-bearer for good covers. Here, Hot Water Music took a very straightforward pop-punk tune and added harmonies, dynamics, structural variation, and all the other things that turn a catchy little ditty into a great song. And the best part is, it's not even like Quicksand covering the Smiths where you have to strain your ear to hear the similarities-- It's obviously "Radio" by Alkaline Trio, but infinitely more interesting. Granted, being a 3-piece, ALK3 had some structural (and substance) limitations, but the fact that Hot Water Music can run circles around a band on their own (pretty good) song is a testament to the quality of their songwriting. This cover is a prime example of why Hot Water Music are the best punk band of all time.
1: Johnny Cash- Hurt (Nine Inch Nails Cover)
It's undisputable. Trent Reznor's biting, moving poetry about hopelessness, sung by a man who knows death is approaching; even without the context, without seeing "Walk the Line", speaks for itself. The man singing has made mistakes. We all have. The man singing has hurt the ones closest to him. We all do. The man singing is dying. We all are. Reznor's lyrics are relateable on the most basic level; the fact that an old man who made his name well before they were written chose "Hurt" as his swan song speaks to that. The instrumentation is biting, deep, and on point, there's no disputing that. However, it's Cash's voice that makes "Hurt" unforgettable; because for Johnny Cash, the song is reality. He is at "the end". There's no chance to "start again". No matter how diluted, strung out and broken Reznor was, there was still hope for him. Cash knows he'll take his regrets to the grave. And there's an honesty and longing in his voice that reminds us we all will. It's beauty in it's most hideous form-- the power of hopelessness, that makes this song truly legendary.