Discussion: Favorite Cover Songs?

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March 21, 2008

After recently being both amused and impressed by Carrie Underwood’s performance of Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child Of Mine”, I started to think of the place of cover songs in country music. There are many people who love to hear cover songs. They are excited about the prospect of their old favorite songs being revived by new artists. Conversely, there are many others who feel that well enough should be left alone. They are doubtful that their favorite songs can be improved upon. I suspect, however, that most people fit in the third category and judge a cover song on an individual basis.

I suppose I fit in all three categories. Of course, I base a song on its individual merit, but I also feel both excited and reticent when I recognize a title on a new album that I buy. Likewise, there are times when I am disappointed by the reinterpretation of a song and then there are other cover songs that I end up thoroughly enjoying and find myself gravitating toward them more than the originals.

So, my questions to you are: What songs do you find that you like better than the originals? What cover songs just make you cringe?

Here are just a few of mine:

Cover songs I enjoy:

  • Gary Allan, “Best I Ever Had” (Vertical Horizon)
  • Rosanne Cash, “Tennessee Flat-Top Box” (Johnny Cash)
  • Reba McEntire, “The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia” (Vicki Lawrence)
  • Travis Tritt, “Take It Easy” (The Eagles)
  • George Jones’ cover of his own “White Lightning” from the Bradley Barn Sessions
  • Dwight Yoakam, “Understand Your Man” (Johnny Cash)
  • Charlie Daniels & Gretchen Wilson, “Jackson” (Johnny & June Carter Cash) I only like it because it’s different, not because it’s better than the original.
  • Alan Jackson, “The Blues Man” (Hank Williams, Jr.)

Cover Songs that make me cringe:

  • Jack Ingram, “Lips Of An Angel” (though I could live without either version)
  • Rascal Flatts, “Life Is A Highway”
  • Mark Chesnutt, “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” (Aerosmith’s version was bad enough, but Chesnutt’s version?)
  • Olivia Newton-John, “Ring Of Fire”
  • Faith Hill, “Piece Of My Heart”
  • Travis Tritt, “I Walk The Line”
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39 Comments

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  1. MattoBNo Gravatar says:

    Hey Kevin,

    Y’know, I’m someone who loves cover versions, (tis why I can stand American Idol or Nashville Star). I also feel that a cover per record for artists isn’t such a bad idea. Labels in the UK practically demand such things. However, as much as I love covers (and I discussed this very topic on my blog), there are some that truly are ‘stinkers.’

  2. Peter KohanNo Gravatar says:

    Considering how many songs by Country artists are written by third-party writers I guees you could, in theory, consider a ton of those songs as “cover songs” per se.

  3. LeeannNo Gravatar says:

    Peter, I actually thought of that. I guess I just meant for us to focus on comparing established versions of songs.

  4. KevinNo Gravatar says:

    Matt,

    I like that idea, and wish more artists would do it! But FYI, this isn’t my post, it’s Leeann’s. Credit where due!

  5. DanNo Gravatar says:

    I love a good cover, and Keith Urban is constantly turning out good covers (and often fairly obscure ones), so there’s a lot of him on my good list:

    (In no particular order)

    1) Alison Krauss, “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You” (The Foundations)
    2) Ryan Adams, “Wonderwall” (Oasis)
    3) Mindy Smith, “Jolene” (Dolly Parton)
    4) Elizabeth Cook, “Sunday Morning” (The Velvet Underground)
    5) Glen Campbell, “Reason to Believe” (Rod Stewart)
    6) Johnny Cash, “Hurt” (Nine Inch Nails)…sorry, I know it’s not an original choice , but it has to be said.
    7) Nickel Creek, “Toxic” (Britney Spears) – It’s a novelty, but a fun one.
    8) Lonestar, “Walking in Memphis” (Marc Cohn)
    9) Lee Ann Womack, “She’s Got You” (Patsy Cline) – This is from her iTunes Originals set, and is definitely worth checking out.
    10) Waylon Jennings, “MacArthur Park” (Richard Harris or Donna Summer or whoever else you consider to have the definitive version)
    11) Keith Urban, “Country Comfort” (Elton John)
    12) Keith Urban, “Most People I Know Think I’m Crazy” (Billy Thorpe)
    13) Keith Urban, “Slow Turning” (John Hiatt)
    14) Keith Urban, “I Can’t Stop Loving You” (Phil Collins)
    15) Keith Urban, “Romeo’s Tune” (Steve Fobert)

  6. LeeannNo Gravatar says:

    Dan, that’s a great list! How could I have forgotten to include “Hurt?” The Nine Inch Nails version is unsettling, which is probably the point. Even Trent Resner has said that Cash’s version is and should be the essential version.
    Nickel Creek’s version of “Toxic” is simply hillarious!

    I, however, prefer Elton John’s version of “Country Comfort”, from the Earl Scruggs & Friends album, to Urban’s.

  7. Matt F. says:

    I think there are songs that can be covered by artists of different genres and then there are songs that can’t. For example, Gary Allan’s cover of “Best I Ever Had” was good. I also thought that Mark Chesnutt did a good job on “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing,” even though I know some people didn’t like it. These were songs that were written in a way that allowed for them to be transformed into Country Music.

    For anyone who is watching American Idol right now, you probably got to see a good example of a song that couldn’t be turned Country in the Lennon/McCartney song “Eight Days a Week” (I don’t know if one of them wrote it or if them both did it). The song was just awful, and it wasn’t because Kristy Lee Cook sang it horribly. It was awful because the song itself was written so uniquely that it was “stuck” in one genre.

    In my opinion, for a country artist to do a good cover, they have to do a song that can be “countrified” and still sound good BEFORE they add their vocals. See Dan’s list of Keith Urban covers for examples of songs that sound good before adding vocals (and some good vocals at that).

  8. SamNo Gravatar says:

    I actually really like Faith Hill’s Piece of My Heart, and, talking about American Idol, I thought Chikizie’s arrangement of I Just Saw a Face was cool, not dissimilar to the arrangement Carmen Rasmusen used on her version on her EP.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Covers that I like:

    Gary Allan – Best I Ever Had
    Emerson Drive – The Devil Went Down to Georgia (Charlie Daniels)
    Jack Ingram – Lips of an Angel (I like this, but I like the original better)
    Tim McGraw – Suspicions (I don’t love this, and I haven’t even heard the original, but I do enjoy it)
    Jonas Brothers – Kids of the Future (to the tune of Kids of America)
    Emerson Drive – You Still Own Me (Johnny Reid)

    Covers that I don’t like:

    George Canyon – Ring of Fire (Johnny Cash)

  10. gabyNo Gravatar says:

    in general i like covers, i hate covers that murder the orginial song….i don’t mind if artsits change it up to suit their personal style as long as there is an underlying respect for the original (at least for good songs, if a crappy song gets a crappy cover i really could care less)

    here is a new one i found
    keith and carrie doing “stop dragging my heart around”

    http://youtube.com/watch?v=X61aWyATcFE

  11. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar says:

    I liked Webb Pierce’s version of “Bye Bye Love” and Johnny Carver’s version of “Tie A Yellow Ribbon” but technically they weren’t covers since they were recorded at the same time as the pop versions, simply released a week later .

    Billy “Crash Craddock” did several good covers:
    Knock Three Times (Dawn)
    Dream Lover (Bobby Darin)
    You’d Better Move On (Arthur Alexander)
    Ruby Baby (The Drifters / Dion)
    I’m Gonna Knock On Your Door (Eddie Hodges)

    Sonny James unquestionably was the king of covers with about 1/3 of his biggest hits coming off pop or R&B covers:

    A World of Our Own (The Seekers”)
    I’ll Never Find Another You (The Seekers)
    My Love (Petula Clark)
    Take Good Care of Her (Adam Wade)
    It’s Just A Matter of Time (Brook Benton)
    Since I Met You Baby (Ivory Joe Hunter)
    Running Bear (Johnny Preston)
    OnlyThe Lonely (Roy Orbison)
    Bright Lights, Big City (Jimmy Reed)
    Endlessly (Brook Benton)
    Empty Arms (Ivory Joe Hunter)
    Traces (Classics IV)

    On the flip side of the coin, there was Johnny Darrell, a great singer of the 60s and 70s who recorded for United Artists, a non-factor in the world of Country Music. Johnny had the original hit recordings on the following songs (Who it was covered by in ( ):

    The Green Green Grass of Home (Porter Wagoner/ Tom Jones)
    Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town (Kenny Rogers & The First Edition)
    The Son of Hickory Holler’s Tramp (O.C.Smith)
    With Pen In Hand (Billy Vera / Vickie Carr)
    My Elusive Dreams (David Houston & Tammy Wynette / Bobby Vinton)

  12. BrodyNo Gravatar says:

    I don’t think any of these gems have been mentioned, yet, although a couple of them are well-known.

    “Big In Vegas” – The Derailers (Buck Owens)
    “Close Up the Honky Tonks” – Dwight Yoakam (Buck Owens)
    “Pancho & Lefty” – Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard (Townes Van Zandt)
    “Sunday Morning Coming Down” – Johnny Cash (Kris Kristofferson)
    “Highway Patrolman” – Johnny Cash (Bruce Springsteen)
    “Me and Bobby McGee” – Roger Miller (Kris Kristofferson)
    “Step Inside This House” – Lyle Lovett (Guy Clark)
    “Are You Lonesome Tonight” – Merle Haggard (Elvis Presley)

  13. bobbyNo Gravatar says:

    i was going to say all of the keith urban ones, but those have all been covered except i’ll add jeans on.
    i also really liked josh turner’s version of one woman man

  14. J.T. says:

    Leeann,

    Just wanted to point out one thing…

    “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” was by Vicki Lawrence (you know from Mama’s Family & The Carol Burnett Show)

    “Fancy” was by Bobbie Gentry

  15. LeeannNo Gravatar says:

    Oops!! Got that one mixed up! I’ll fix it. Thanks.

  16. LeeannNo Gravatar says:

    Matt,

    Bobby’s comment made me think Josh Turner must agree with you. He has a cover on each of his albums: “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” (Jim Croce), “Lord Have Mercy On A Country Boy” (Don Williams) & “One Woman Man” (George Jones).

  17. bobbyNo Gravatar says:

    i heard josh turner tried not to have a cover on his your man cd, then he couldnt help it

  18. MattoBNo Gravatar says:

    Leeann,

    Josh has done all of those covers well. However, I think he would admit that “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” wasn’t his idea.

    Ty Herndon also covered the song on his debut record.
    Franky, I’m surprised more Elton John songs HAVEN’T been covered. They practically ache for country covers.

  19. MattoBNo Gravatar says:

    Oh, sorry for not crediting you properly Leeann!

  20. LeeannNo Gravatar says:

    Actually, I think Ty’s version was a bit stronger than Josh’s.

    I think I read, somewhere, that Elton John’s co-writer (I can’t recall his name at the moment) is a very big country music fan.

  21. menachemNo Gravatar says:

    It was mentioned before, but I love Mindy Smith’s version of Jolene. She sings it with such feeling.

  22. DanNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks Leeann. :)

  23. RobbieNo Gravatar says:

    I’ll probably get hammered for this one but Mark Chesnutt’s Rolling With the Flow is pretty good. It does sound very much like the original though and perhaps that’s why i like it.

    How about Glenn Campbell’s MacArthur Park?

  24. DamionKutaeffNo Gravatar says:

    Hello everybody, my name is Damion, and I’m glad to join your conmunity,
    and wish to assit as far as possible.

  25. matt bNo Gravatar says:

    Leeann,

    I preferred Ty’s version of that song, too. He also sings “You Still Owe Me” on his new record.

    Johnny Reid (who wrote and originally recorded “You Still Owe Me”) also recorded Tom Jones’ “Darlin’” I’ve never heard Tom Jones’ version (or don’t recall hearing it) but I LOVE Johnny’s rendering of the song. It’s great. Actually I have been ‘pimping’ Johnny quite a bit recently (my blog, on other posts)…

    Matt

  26. matt bNo Gravatar says:

    Oh. I forgot to add that Josh did a killer cover of The Band’s “When I Pain’t My Masterpiece” in the Endless Highway tribute album.

  27. LeeannNo Gravatar says:

    Matt, after reading your blog (which I love, by the way), I tried to find that Johnny Reid album digitally on amazon, but it’s not available. So, I’ll probably buy it as a regular copy later. I just like the instant grattification.:) I’ll have to check Ty’s version of “You Still Own Me.” You’ve already gotten me to buy one album/LP, Eric Durrance. I’ll also have to check out the Josh cover that you mentioned.

    Damion, Welcome! We’ll be glad to have your comments here.

  28. Jordan StaceyNo Gravatar says:

    I may be a little biased but Terri Clark’s cover of “Easy From Now On” by Emmylou Harris was great, but then it’s such a great song anyone can sing it and have it be good.

  29. Leeann's Husband says:

    So many excellent choices have already been listed; it is really hard to add much many more to the conversation in terms of country music covers. Johnny Cash, “Hurt” (Nine Inch Nails) maybe impresses me most as I feel that he really makes the song his, and it is such a change. There are also a few examples that reverse the rock/country genre crossover. Though I do not think they make the song theirs like Johnny did, they are fun as well.

    Check out a live version of The White Stripes, “Jolene”, also sung with a great deal (maybe too much) feeling, and much better than the White Stripes album version. Not better than the original like “Hurt”, but fun if you enjoy The White Stripes.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zskw3mCQFL4

    In the same vein, Live “I Walk the Line” is also a fun example of Country Songs covered by a rock group.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9_daJjRrv0A

  30. KevinNo Gravatar says:

    Leeann’s Husband -

    Good to hear from you on the comment threads! Isn’t your wife an awesome blogger?

  31. matt bNo Gravatar says:

    Leeann, Johnny’s CD isn’t available digitally in the USA. :/

    I was looking over my Collin Raye songs and I noticed he also covered some interesting songs.

    He’s done Kim Carnes “Gypsi Honeymoon,” Conway’s “It’s Only Make Believe”
    Chicago’s “The Search Is Over,” reworked “Let Your Love Flow,” Cash’s “Big River,” Journey’s “Open Arms.” He’s covered quite a few songs and while a lot of his music is ‘pop/country,’ Collin can sing any classic country song on request. He loves the stuff. I wouldn’t mind if he did a classic country covers album at this point in his career. :)

    Another artist who’s covered a few songs lately is John Berry. He’s done well with the romantic stuff on his “I Give My Heart” record.

  32. Leeann's Husband says:

    Kevin: She is that.

    Matt: Songs and Stories has some good covers by John Berry including ‘Heart of Gold’, a song that is not an easy cover to pull off, but which he nails.

  33. LeeannNo Gravatar says:

    Speaking of John Berry, I really like his cover of “Annie’s Song” (John Denver) from the Songs And Stories album. “Heart Of Gold” is great too.

    Kevin, thanks.

  34. matt bNo Gravatar says:

    Oh, I have the Songs and Stories. I love the story with “Heart of Gold.” It’s priceless. He does do a mean Neil Young too. Actually, right now, it’s the only song on my iPod from S&S CD. John Berry is one of my favorites. He was very nice when I met him years ago too.

  35. AllanLCampbellNo Gravatar says:

    A classic cover song is “Summertime Blues” by Alan Jackson is a great version. The original is by Eddie Cochrane a classic rock song from the 1950s.

  36. LeeannNo Gravatar says:

    Geez! It seems that I’ve gotten the Matt’s mixed up. So, MattB and MattOB are two different people, I think?:) So, I hope the two Matts know who I was referring to in the previous comments. I got mixed up because both like Johnny Reid. I learned that MattB likes him from this thread and that MattOB likes him from his blog (the blog I was referring to above). I hope I got it right this time. Speaking of proper credit and all.:)

  37. matt bNo Gravatar says:

    I am the same guy. MattoB and MattB sorry for the confusion. I reset settings on my computer and forgot that I posted here as ‘Mattob” :) as for my link changing, you’ll have to email me to find out why ;)

  38. LeeannNo Gravatar says:

    Oh, okay. I thought it was extremely weird that there were two Matts with the last initial of B who loved Johnny Reid.

  39. matt bNo Gravatar says:

    yep, it would be weird. :)

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