As of late, music has seemed to be relegated to that ill-fated choice of paths? covering another musician’s work of art (or paying tribute as some bands would say). For the most part, many of these cover songs are paltry in comparison while some just outright blow. Take for instance Gene Simmons’ cover of The Prodigy’s Firestarter, which is laughable at best and just makes a mockery of rock in general.

There are however a few instances where the cover song completely trumps the original and transcends into a new form of art itself. This list is but a few of those great tributes.

Now, I know that there are other bands or artists who should have made the list, but I have purposely not included those who have come out with entire albums of cover songs. In that particular respect, I have not included great musicians such as Richard Cheese, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, Metallica, and Jimi Hendrix (yes, even Hendrix played a ton of covers).

Without further ado then, here is the list:

10. Pearl Jam – Sonic Reducer (Original: The Dead Boys)

I first heard this song played by a local band and then I saw live performance on DVD by Pearl Jam. When comparing the cover to the original, it just felt that Eddie Vedder and Co. put much more energy into the song than the punk rockers did. Add to that a wall of guitars and bass that make your skin feel fuzzy and a punch to the lyrics that make you want to relive your years of teen angst and you have a truly explosive song.

9. Frente! – Bizarre Love Triangle (Original: New Order)

OK, I admit that this one is more or less for the girls, but play this song and you can get almost any woman to fall instantly in love.

Angie Hart’s girlish vocals and the simple guitar chords give the song a new meaning as a love lorn ballad rather than the synth heavy pop song that it originally was.

Had it come out at the right time, this song would have lent itself nicely to Lilith Fair.

8. Lazlo Bane – Overkill (Original: Men at Work)

The band that played the theme song for Scrubs, was first known for their cover of Men at Work’s Overkill in 1997. What made this song so great is that halfway through the song, Men at Work frontman, Colin Hay, makes an appearance and adds that familiar reverberating tone that flows and harmonizes awesomely with Chad Fischer’s vocals. This song made it to MTV2′s top ten of that year.

7. Gary Jules – Mad World (Original: Tears for Fears)

Anyone who has seen the movie Donnie Darko can tell you that perhaps the one defining moment of the film was the final retrospective. As campy and cliche as it was, the finale, a montage of slowly panned scenes of each character’s antithesis, was complimented with a downbeat tune that brought a mournful and gloomy touch to end the hero’s plight.

6. Obadiah Parker – Hey Ya (Original: Outkast)

A hippie in Arizona plays a cover song at a local open-mic night which is video taped and put online, and through word of mouth becomes an instant success almost overnight. That pretty much sums up this unbelievable acoustic rendition of Outkast’s smash hit Hey Ya. Nowadays, I can’t go a day or two without hearing this rendition on the radio. What makes this even more surprising is that the song that the radio uses is still that same recording from the live show; Matt Weddle’s performance and the audio quality is so good, that it passes the radio test.

5. Godhead – Eleanor Rigby (Original: The Beatles)

1966: The original song, a sad and somber perspective on the bitterness of old age and dying and featured on The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, was symphony-driven and frilled with drab vocal harmonies.
2001: Although many musicians would come to cover what some say is one of the Beatles’ most recognizable songs, only one band would take it into a dark, depressing void and fill it with an angst that only industrial rock could do. That band: Godhead.

4. Ben Folds – Bitches Ain’t Shit (Original: Dr. Dre)

It had been done before, some white boys comes together and puts a melodic pop twist on gangsta rap. The difference here is that Ben Folds dives in head first with a dead pan style all his own. His almost perfect enunciation of cusses make this sound like Bill Maher translating rap songs for white people.

{Side Note: I just happened to catch this version on YouTube and was even more impressed than before}

3. Reel Big Fish – Take On Me (Original: a-ha)

With so many ska/punk bands out there covering other musicians’ songs, it was kind of hard to pick one that stood out above the rest. Reel Big Fish succesfully add campy hooks and a blaring horn section to an already great song and make it much more fun to listen to.
Or as my friend would say: “um, hippy-dippy hooks that only a stoner can truly appreciate”

2. Quiet Riot – Cum on Feel The Noise (Original: Slade)

The funny thing about this song, is that apparently the band never wanted to play it in the first place. In the days when Heavy Metal was just making a mark in the US, Quiet Riot was told to cover what was seen by record execs as a great pop song with sexuality.

While in the recording process, lead singer Kevin Dubrow would sneer at the rest of the band to hopefully get them to mess up and kill the song. He in turn recorded the song in one take and tried purposely to make it sound as horrible as possible. What came out was the first heavy metal song to break into the Top 100 charts by taking the hit to #5.

1. Johnny Cash – Hurt (Original: Nine Inch Nails)

Many Nine Inch Nails fans first cringed at the thought of a country star messing around with what was most definitely one of the most poignant and depressing songs that the band released. But the Man in Black proved many of them wrong, taking the words and molding them into the story of his life; it seemed as though the each and every word was written about him. Add to that the haunting vocals and an emptiness that was disguised by the music and you have a fitting eulogy for a man who’s career spanned nearly half a century. It was only fitting that this song be his epitaph.