Jimi Hendrix – “All Along the Watchtower”

There’s always going to be debate about whether a cover can ever truly overmatch the original, but it’s rare that a reimagining is so effective that the creating artist disavows his version in favor of it. Jimi Hendrix’s take on “All Along the Watchtower” is such a radical but fitting response to a mid-range Dylan song that Bob has taken to using the arrangement in live performances, competing the song’s supplanting of the John Wesley Harding version in the public imagination. It’s still a great expansion of the barebones original track, even if its power has been weakened by years spent cycling in classic rock radio hell. – Jesse Cataldo


Grover Washington Jr. – “Aubrey”

Bread was a Los Angeles-based soft-rock/folk band that touched a lot of people in the ‘70s. Their most curious hit, “Aubrey,” is one of those songs where nobody seems to know its exact meaning, but absolutely can relate to it. With a somber melody dictated by the vocals, the words, while pretty, add a level of ambiguity. Smooth jazz pioneer Grover Washington Jr. takes the “it’s about feelings” vibe one step further with his incredible instrumental cover of “Aubrey.” While I first heard the song sampled in Souls of Mischief’s 93 ‘Til Infinity outtake “Step to My Girl,” tracking down the source captured a moment in my life that I revisit every time I hear it. Powerful, smooth stuff. Feelings, yo. – Chaz Kangas


Jeff Buckley – “Hallelujah”

Jeff Buckley’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is, to me, the definitive version of an incredible song. Listening to this interpretation for the first time is like having someone’s soul wrenched out through a microphone and served on a platter with lox and cream cheese. Sublimely painful, so earnest and beautiful; add to any sort-of sad and dramatic movie scene for instant waterworks. The first time I heard it was on “The West Wing,” during the season 3 finale, when the guy gets shot trying to stop the armed robbery. “Hallelujah” + Allison Janney to the power of Aaron Sorkin = so many tears. For years I thought this was the original, until hearing the Leonard Cohen version play during the Watchmen sex scene. “Who ruined Buckley’s song with this hokey bullshit?” I wanted to know. The original doesn’t even scratch the surface of the emotion Buckley mines into. Well, thank you to Cohen for writing such a melancholy masterpiece. In the over 200 recorded covers since, no one else can come close to touching the lust and disillusionment of Jeff Buckley’s version. Although those “X Factor” contestants keep on trying. – Tabitha Blankenbiller

The White Stripes – “Party of Special Things to Do”

Admittedly, Captain Beefheart’s liberal sense of rhythm and his oddball lyrics can be a little much for the average listener’s ear. To put it nicely, he’s an acquired taste. And still, Beefheart was quietly one of the most influential artists of the past 30 years, his music coloring the likes of Tom Waits to Joan Osborne with plenty in between.

In 2000, the White Stripes issued a limited edition single of three Beefheart covers, headlined by “Party of Special Things to Do,” originally from 1974’s Blue Jeans and Moonbeams. Long thought by Beefheart devotees to be one of his weakest albums, the Stripes take what was once a limp effort and give it fangs. Jack White’s fuzzed out guitar and their collective ability to render deep, hard grooves turn “Party of Special Things to Do” into a showpiece rocker with an energy that the decidedly flat original version could never touch. – Tom Volk

Crystal Castles (ft. Robert Smith)- “Not in Love”

The Crystal Castles and Robert Smith covering the Crystal Castles covering Platinum Blonde. Does it get any more meta than that? Each version of the song is an improvement on the previous, leaving Smith’s love wounded pipes to produce the ultimate version. The Cure may not be relevant any longer, but Smith can still sing with emotion, trumping Alice Glass’ distant, robotic rendition. It’s icy, chilly and danceable. Sometimes third time is the charm. – David Harris

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One Comment

  1. iembalm

    October 20, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    Pictures of Matchstick Men. Camper Van Beethoven’s version far exceeds the rather slight original.


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