Overshadowed: Covers that Trump the Original

Image via Alex Payne
Words by Harvey Palmer, Abi Edwards, Meg Davies and Alex Payne

Covers are a classic way of breathing new life into an existing song. We’ve chosen some of our favourites that have experienced renewed success once covered, and listed them below!

Nirvana – The Man Who Sold the World (originally by David Bowie)

On December 16, 1993, Nirvana’s iconic “MTV Unplugged” session was broadcast for the first time, and secured its place in indie, grunge, and rock music history. Central to this understated yet powerful set was a cover of David Bowie’s ‘The Man Who Sold the World’, which would go on to be a mainstay on the Nirvana setlist for their final few months together. But what made this cover so great? With the performance being broadcast less than 4 months before the sad passing of front-man Kurt Cobain, many saw this performance as a raw, angst-riddled display of the demise of Cobain’s mental health, and his cover of this Bowie classic is perhaps most notable in seeing that. The song focuses on a man who no longer recognizes himself in the mirror, and alludes to suicidal thoughts, encapsulating the mindset of Cobain at the time. Aside from this, the song is immaculately performed, stripped back to basics and focusing on the legendary voice of one of rock’s greatest performers. It received global praise, bringing Bowie’s music to a newer, younger, wider audience in the 1990s, establishing Nirvana’s greatness and continuing Bowie’s legacy. Bowie even said of the performance that he was “blown away” that Cobain liked his music, and that “it was a good straightforward rendition and sounded somehow very honest.” This perfectly displays that Cobain’s cover became iconic in its own right, with the utmost approval from the song’s creator, and remains one of the all-time greatest rock covers. Harvey Palmer.

Pet Shop Boys – Always on My Mind (originally by Elvis Presley)

This song has been covered by over 300 artists and has charted in both the country and western and pop categories. It was famously recorded by Elvis Presley in 1972; however it is probably better known for being a Pet Shop Boys synth-pop anthem. The band first performed the song in 1987 on the ITV special Love Me Tender to commemorate the ten year anniversary of Elvis’ death. It became extremely popular following its release, and the song made it to Christmas Number One in that same year, spending four weeks on top of the chart. While Elvis’ version is slow, melodic and wistful, the Pet Shop Boys version has everything you want from a 80s hit. The opening is instantly recognizable with an unmistakable drum beat, and a catchy rhythmic synth ostinato is repeated throughout the song, which makes it distinctive from the Elvis version. The band joined The Killers in June 2019 to perform this song at Glastonbury, which shows the influence 1980s synth has on popular artists today. The song has since remained well-loved within popular music culture, and is a true 1980s jukebox classic. Abi Edwards.

Florence and the Machine – You’ve Got the Love (originally by Candi Staton and The Source)

Originally sung by The Source featuring Candi Station in 1989, ‘You’ve Got the Love’ was a simple, club classic. Although slightly repetitive, the song is fun and easy to listen to. However, once the band Florence and the Machine got their hands on the tune in 2009, our whole perception of the song changed. Suddenly, we are listening to something close to a divine experience.  Reaching number 1 on the UK charts with their album ‘Lungs’, Florence and the Machine brought ‘You’ve Got the Love’ to many people’s attention, going on to play it on huge stages around the world, including Glastonbury. By adding a band with guitars, drums and even a harp, Florence and the Machine have provided audiences with a euphoric experience. The band had turned a house tune that was nothing particularly special into a song that could be at the end of a Coming of Age movie. Whether you like the song or not, Florence and the Machine have made sure ‘You’ve Got the Love’ is a hugely famous song. Meg Davies.

Alien Ant Farm – Smooth Criminal (originally by Michael Jackson) 

Alien Ant Farm’s origin story is largely unimpressive – a handful of plucky musicians from California formed yet another rock band. Like many other similar acts, they’d supplement their live sets with a handful of covers, but thanks to their eclectic influences they’d often go further afield, covering the likes of Weezer, The Police and Phil Collins. Upon covering ‘Smooth Criminal’ however, the four-piece were propelled to a place of moderate stardom, landing themselves a tour with nu-metal titans Papa Roach and a record deal. Their inspiration for choosing the song appears earnest, with lead singer Dryden Mitchell saying that they didn’t try to put their own spin on it, and that “we tried to emulate the song as much as we could. We love Michael Jackson’s music”. Clearly many in the scene did too, with the cover topping several regional charts, even during the decline of Michael Mania. The cover’s inclusion in American Pie 2 and a WWE series – talk about capturing the noughties Zeitgeist in a sentence! – cemented its legacy. Unfortunately, the same can’t really be said for the band, who have been rendered one-hit-wonders. Alex Payne.

For more covers content, check out our article on Bardcore here.