My Top Ten Cover Versions Of All Time

Not everyone likes a cover version, but when done properly, they can become a brilliant song in their own right. Here are 10 of the best.
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10.  Sid Vicious ‘My Way’ (1978) 

[written by Paul Anka, popularized by Frank Sinatra in 1969]

Look at poor tragic loveable Sex Pistol Sid, thumping down those stage stairs like a hormonal man-child ready to smash your window with a stone from his catapult.  He couldn’t play bass, he couldn’t sing, or act, or even manage to stay alive, but he was easily one of the most recognisable and loved punk symbols of the seventies as the sneering, biker-jacket-wearing, spikey haired charismatic disaster. Another cover of Eddie Cochran’s ‘Somethin’ Else’ was released just after his death, but it’s this punk with strings version of ‘My Way’ (Sid’s way) that remains his rock n roll epitaph.

9.  Blondie ‘The Tide Is High’ (1980)

[written by John Holt, released by The Paragons in 1967]

Her voice slowly melts then hardens like wax right through this ska/reggae track with the accompanying shruggish video mirroring her appeal.  One minute she’s seducing the soft focus lens through a gap in the fluffy blonde fringe, next she’s mopping a floor with a rag, then she’s strutting the streets of NYC in white stilettos.  Whatever she’s doing, she is the girl who can’t help it and the slurry, slow tempo of ‘The Tide Is High’ fits with her hypnotic attraction. Apparently three videos were made for this massive ‘number one’, as pop fans couldn’t get enough of her in 1980.  Sorry Paragons, it took Blondie plus one bare shoulder to make reggae sexy.

8.  The Mission ‘Like a Hurricane’ (1986)

[written and released by Neil Young in 1977]

The Mission weren’t 100% jet black goth, they were kind of purple fringy hippie goth edging on pop.  Dark enough to be cool, but pop enough to be danceable, and a very good covers band, notably for ‘Like A Hurricane’ and Patti Smith’s ‘Dancing Barefoot’.  This version of ‘Like a Hurricane’ is probably their best.  It fattens out out the Neil Young classic with big drum drama around ‘blown away’ and that deep dark Hussey register. Watch out for the eighties echo on his voice that sounds like he’s swallowed a magical potion that’s going to take him off into a foggy trip.  Far out, Wayne.

7. Japan ‘I second that emotion’ (1982)

[written by Smokey Robinson/Al Cleveland, released by The Miracles in 1967]

It’s hard to beat the soul legend’s gloriously boppy original but I confess to loving David Sylvian’s blocked nose voice and Japan as a whole.  This slightly slowed down version with a bit of synth and some dry ice brings it right in line with my 80s flavour for new romance and big hair.  Flop the fringe, look down to the floor and shuffle.  Anything David Sylvian does is cool.

6. The Fall ‘Lost In Music’ (1993)

[written by Nile Rodgers & Bernard Edwards, released by Sister Sledge in 1979]

A vastly improved disco classic.

‘Cretin, va te faire foutre!’


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5.  Madness ‘It Must be Love’ (1981) 

[written and released by Labi Siffre in 1971]

Mike Barson’s ‘chink-a chink’ piano could soften the hardest of pub jukebox hearts as Madness give ‘It Must Be Love’ their naughty grin, cuppa tea and bunch of clown flowers treatment.  Lahvelee.

4.  The Damned ‘Eloise’ (1986) 

[written by Paul Ryan, released by his brother Barry Ryan in 1968]

The Damned’s version of ‘Eloise’ has the pounding beats and a dramatic, exaggerated flair that suits Vanian’s phantom of the opera energy.  The listener is taken on a musical trip that leads to an uplifting, punchy and punky dancefloor filler… to then calm down just in time for the fights stop at the slow bits.  It’s quite close to the original, but on the latter faster version Eloise benefits by being played VERY LOUD in order to fully appreciate the thrilling ride of The Damned.  Enjoy Dave’s tight white trousers too.

3.  Billy Bragg ‘Never Had No-one Ever’ (1996)

[written by Morrissey/Marr, released by The Smiths in 1986]

Want your heart ripped out?  Listen to the Smiths’ Never Had No-one Ever.  Want your heart ripped out and served back to you in a martini glass?  Listen to the Billy Bragg version.  This is a cover where we hear and believe Billy’s got the blues and truly never did have no-one ever for twenty years, seven months and twenty seven days.  Delivered so well, this dark, sultry bar-stool style rendition is fully believable as Bragg’s own story.

2.  The Sisters Of Mercy ‘Emma’ [1988]

[written by Errol Brown and Tony Wilson, released by Hot Chocolate in 1974]

Prince-of-Goth Eldritch took a popular song by a popular act and transformed it into PURE DELICIOUS GOTH.  An inspired choice for the Sisters, ‘Emma’ was already a slower, darker release for Hot Chocolate that contained suicidal themes and a heavy hearted riff - showing that Brown was a contender way beyond ‘You Sexy Thing’.  The Sisters got hold of it and amplified its tragedy, making it rattly, shaky, deep and darker than the black hole where the devil’s heart should be. Blackness peaks at the desperate scream near the end, then it drops. down. dead.  Brilliance.

1.  The Stranglers ‘Walk On By’[1978]

[written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, released by Dionne Warwick in 1964]

Six minutes and nineteen seconds of absorbing, hypnotic raw rock.  ‘Just go for a stroll in the trees’ says Hugh Cornwell, in his most tortured and yet nonchalant way.  It is, in every sense of the word, a new ‘version’ the Warwick/Bacharach/David classic.  Cornwell sings like he’s angry, but it’s a shrug, he’s claiming to be indifferent; unlike Warwick who seemed to be truly heartbroken.  It’s gritty and slimy, and there’s an awe-inspiring extended organ solo leading in to a ripping guitar in the long instrumental break that will stick in your teeth like grit.  All of this packed in with vocal and musical tangents and The Stranglers own brand of deep, distinctive thundering bass makes ‘Walk On By’ the untouchable winner in my top ten cover versions of all time.

Now I really gotta go, I really gotta go-oh…

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