The influence of renowned musicians often extends beyond their own original music. They frequently pay homage to their favorite artists by covering their songs, introducing these hidden gems to new audiences. This article explores some notable covers that have left a lasting impact on the music world.
In November 1993, during Nirvana’s iconic “MTV Unplugged” performance, Kurt Cobain and his band embraced the opportunity to showcase their admiration for lesser-known artists. They performed a set filled with obscure covers, including the title track from David Bowie’s underappreciated 1970 album. Bowie, upon discovering Cobain’s appreciation for his work, expressed his regret at never having had the chance to discuss the reasons behind Cobain covering “The Man Who Sold the World.”
Gloria Jones, a soul singer-songwriter who later became the partner of T. Rex leader Marc Bolan, originally recorded a lively rendition of “Tainted Love” in 1964. Although it gained underground popularity in the U.K. during the Northern Soul scene in the 1970s, it wasn’t until the early 1980s, with the rise of new wave and synth-pop, that the British duo Soft Cell turned it into a global smash hit. Soft Cell’s version of “Tainted Love” remains the record holder for the longest consecutive run on the Billboard Hot 100 chart at 43 weeks and was even sampled on Rihanna’s chart-topping single, “SOS.”
“I Fought the Law,” a song initially recorded by a post-Buddy Holly Crickets in 1959, achieved success after the Bobby Fuller Four covered it in 1965. Tragically, just like his Texan idol Holly, Fuller died at a young age. The Clash, in 1979, reintroduced his music to a new generation by releasing a snarling, punk-inspired cover of this classic outlaw anthem, highlighting the punk elements present in early rock ‘n’ roll.
Betty Hutton, an actress and singer, recorded “It’s Oh So Quiet” in 1951, and it wasn’t until Björk released her faithful cover in 1995, with the help of an unforgettable Spike Jonze-directed music video, that the song reached its peak popularity. Björk maintains the spiritual essence of the original while showcasing the contrasting dynamics between the hushed verses and the explosive chorus.
Leonard Cohen’s 1984 song “Hallelujah” has become both the pinnacle and the saturation point for cross-generational covers. Initially overshadowed, it gained recognition through covers by John Cale and Jeff Buckley, ultimately becoming one of the most extensively covered songs in pop music history. However, despite the beauty of Buckley’s interpretation, Cohen’s original version remains unique, with its lived-in wisdom and wry humor capturing an essence that no one else can replicate.
These covers serve as testaments to the enduring influence of legendary musicians and their ability to shed light on hidden musical gems. Whether introducing audiences to lesser-known tracks or giving new life to beloved classics, these covers demonstrate the power of music to transcend time and connect generations.