Original: Claude François
Cover: Frank Sinatra
More of an adaptation than a cover, these two songs don’t share subject matter — the original is about a strained relationship, while Sinatra’s version is about a life without regrets. They do, however, have identical melodic and harmonic structure. Sinatra’s crooning voice makes it far better than the original, and “My Way” has become a staple in the repertoire of grandfathers who think they’re the sultan of swoon.
Original: Leonard Cohen
Cover: Jeff Buckley
Where Cohen murmured, Buckley belted. Stripping down the original to a lone electric guitar and coating it with smooth vocals, Buckley’s version is simultaneously beautiful to the ear and havoc on the heartstrings.
Cover: The Elwins ft. Luke Lalonde
The idea of anyone doing anything better than Beyoncé may be blasphemous to most, but this cover by one of the hippest indie bands in Toronto transforms its source material. The arrangement smoothens out transitions in the song to make it catchier and groovier.
Original: Nine Inch Nails
Cover: Johnny Cash
Trent Reznor’s spider-web voice over eerie instrumentation is commendable, but Cash’s version is deeply haunting, with his sad vocals seeping through the track. Cash passed away shortly after recording this song, making the pain and tragedy of his rendition all the more pertinent.
Original: Otis Redding
Cover: The Black Crowes
The Black Crowes took a moderate hit from the late ‘60s and made it their own, becoming a breakout single from their 1990 debut album. Their version of “Hard to Handle” has a blues-rock feel that manages to maintain the grooviness of the original, along with one of the most epic post-choruses to have ever graced these ears.
Original: Platinum Blonde
Cover: Crystal Castles ft. Robert Smith
A lot of the music from the ‘80s sounds similar, with the production style rendering this New Wave/power pop band’s “Not in Love” not all that interesting to listen to. The synth-heavy hooks of Crystal Castles and the featured vocals of Robert Smith of The Cure make the trance version of the song dynamic and hypnotic.
Original: David Bowie
Psychedelic and progressive, Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World” is a great song, but one cluttered with oddity, with its heavy vocal effects and inconsistent feel. Nirvana found the great song that lies beneath the effects, stripping it down to a raw acoustic arrangement.
Original: Wayne Cochran
Cover: Pearl Jam
Key to the grunge movement of the early ‘90s, Pearl Jam went back to basics in 1999, recording this simplistic teen tragedy song from the early ‘60s, with Eddie Vedder’s quivering vocals and a basic drum beat pleasantly driving the song forward.
Original: The Beatles
Cover: Joe Cocker
The Beatles have some of the most covered songs of all time, but Joe Cocker’s rendition of Ringo’s revolution from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is a standout cover from the Fab Four’s catalogue, with incredible arrangement, a soulful gospel choir, and a powerful, dynamic vocal delivery from Cocker himself.
Original: John Lomax
Cover: Oscar Isaac and Marcus Mumford
Like any American folk song, this song has been covered by countless performers — including Dave Van Ronk, Pete Seeger, and Jeff Buckley — but is most commonly attributed to Bob Dylan. Oscar Isaac and Marcus Mumford’s version for the soundtrack of Inside Llewyn Davis is unlike any other recording of this classic, with its lush arrangement, smooth harmonies, and a distinct musicality that makes it beautifully unrecognizable from its predecessors.