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Uncovering the covers

I spent a fair bit of time in my apartment this weekend.

My shifts at CFIS changed up a bit, so I don’t have much to do there on the weekends, and there were no remotes to be done for the Drive or the River.

I did a fair bit of cleaning up and was on the computer a fair bit, but it seemed like I always had some music on. Whether it was one of the local stations or one of my CDs, there was a fair bit of enjoyable music floating through the air.

As I listened to it, I was struck by how many of the songs were cover versions. I like to think I know a fair bit about music, especially older music, so when the cover versions came on, I usually knew they cover tunes and sometimes even remembered who did the original.

Sunday afternoon, I decided to take some time and look up lists of what people consider the best cover versions of all time.

I can’t say I was surprised at how many of the same songs were high on the two main lists I looked at, one from Paste Magazine and the other from Best Life Online, but I was also surprised at how high some songs were on one list without being on the other list at all.

For instance, Best Life rated All Along the Watchtower, a Jimi Hendrix cover of a Bob Dylan song, the top cover tune of all time, while Paste ranked at second. Not much argument, then, that it’s one of the best, with Dylan himself admitting it blew him away the first time he heard it.

That was sort of the same reaction the singer of the original song with a cover version Paste put at the top of its list. You wouldn’t think Johnny Cash could cover a Nine Inch Nails song and not come off closer to William Shatner covering Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds (which he did, by the way) than one of the most-respected cover versions of all time, but you would be wrong.

Trent Reznor admitted when he heard Cash was going to cover NIN’s hit Hurt, he had his doubts. After listening to Cash’s version, Reznor reportedly said, “It’s not my song anymore. Johnny made it his.”

Where did Best Life put Hurt? It came in 15th on the list, which isn’t bad, but is lower than I and a lot of other people would rank it.

By the way, the William Shatner version of Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds does make some cover-music lists. Usually near the top of the worst cover tunes ever.

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