There are only three possible outcomes for a cover song:
- Better than the original
- Faithful to the original
- Dumpster fire
And while dumpster fires can be fun from a distance, they’re usually not going to achieve the sort of enduring popularity that a passable cover, or those rare brilliant reimaginings would. In this semi-recurring column, we’ll be providing a list of cover songs that are at least as good, and sometimes maybe better than the originals.
This time around we’re looking at covers that are faithful to the original. Sure, some things may be changed here or there, but nobody’s made a horrible creative choice that just ruins the whole thing, and in some cases, well, maybe there’s even a little improvement.
Original by: Toto
Covered by: Weezer
Africa has probably been covered more than any other song on this list, with at least 42 covers found on the Internet. However it’s back in the spotlight these days because of the largely faithful Weezer cover, which was the result of a campaign to get the band to cover it after a fan heard it in Stranger Things. The Weezer version takes some liberties with the song’s bridge, but apart from that, is close to the original.
Original by: Weezer
Covered by: Toto
Reciprocating, Toto recently released this Weezer cover and have been playing it in concert.
Ashes To Ashes
Original by: David Bowie
Covered by: Tears For Fears
The story goes that Tears For Fears tried to do a fresh take on this, and Roland Orzabal concluded nothing they were doing sounded as good as the original, hence the faithful reproduction.
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
Original by: AC/DC
Covered by: Joan Jett
Jett brings a smoother vocal delivery than Brian Johnson’s growl, but still retains the harsh edge that makes this song a classic.
Original by: The Steve Miller Band
Covered by: Sugar Ray
Sugar Ray puts a bit more production into their version – there’s clearly a bit more going on in the background, while still maintaining the spirit of the originals.
Don’t You Forget About Me
Original by: Simple Minds
Covered by: Billy Idol
A little known fact is that this song was written by Keith Forsey and Steve Schiff who wanted Simple Minds to perform it, but the band initially declined, preferring to stick with their own material. It was shopped around to a number of artists, including Billy Idol before the band relented and recorded it. Listening to Idol’s cover, it’s pretty clear why they’d considered him in the first place.
Original by: Wilson Pickett
Covered by: The Commitments
The Commitments was a 1991 movie about an Irish soul band of the same name, where the cast were musicians first and actors second, and this comes through in the strength of the music, where Andrew Strong’s gravely voice gives the band’s cover a bit of a Joe Cocker vibe.
Original by: Donald Fagen
Covered by: Howard Jones
Howard Jones had started performing this take on 1950s future optimism in concert, and the positive reception lead it to being included in his greatest hits collection. Here the arrangement is the same, and it’s a good fit for Jones’ vocal style
I Won’t Back Down
Original by: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Covered by: Johnny Cash
The story goes that when Tom Petty heard Johnny Cash singing this, his first thought was along the lines of ‘I wish I’d written that song’ before remembering he had. Now whether this was due years of him enjoying life on the road, or the degree to which Cash had made the song his own is unclear, if indeed the story is true, but Cash’s slower, stripped down take captures the spirit of the song.
Do Wah Diddy
Original by: The Exciters
Covered by: The Fools
While most people are probably familiar with the Manfred Mann version of the song, or from hearing Bill Murray sing it in 1981’s Stripes it was first performed by The Exciters in 1963. Here, Boston area comedic rockers The Fools have an enthusiastic take that captures the spirit of whichever version you prefer.