clock menu more-arrow no yes

Mix it up this week with a playlist of great covers

The Civil Wars perform in concert
The Civil Wars perform in concert
Shirlaine Forrest/Getty

A tried-and-true move for a young musician is to cover some big hits, ones the public will recognize, as a way of coasting atop other successes. Oftentimes, this backfires horribly because the new version does not live up to the version ingrained in public memory. But done well (or done well when covering a song that perhaps didn't get famous enough on initial release), a cover can show an artist's relevance and even creativity as well as anything.

In a few instances, a cover can become more famous than the original. Maybe your weekend feels like every other weekend you've ever had, like a cover (get it?) of every weekend before it. But can't you make your weekend iconic in its own way, a slightly different, somehow better version of things you've done before?

"Hallelujah" by Jeff Buckley

By now, Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah" is probably more famous than the original by Leonard Cohen, which was released in 1984. Buckley's version is slower, has more piano, and is deeply beloved.

"Billie Jean" by The Civil Wars

Before they broke up, The Civil Wars, known for their beautiful harmonies and the four Grammys they won for debut album Barton Hollow, created one of the best covers of Michael Jackson's pop-hit "Billie Jean."

"Hounds of Love" by The Futureheads

Kate Bush originally sang "Hounds of Love" in her moody, seductive voice, but post-punk band The Futureheads kicks it up six notches and adds much more guitar, making it less melodramatic and more fun than the original.

"Dark End of the Street" by Cat Power

Even when sung by Chan Marshall (aka Cat Power), this song still sounds like the same Memphis soul that James Carr recorded in 1967. It's breathy and powerful, and when laid over a simple guitar, the lyrics really shine.

"Spit on a Stranger" by Nickel Creek

Pavement is a band beloved for how it fit into the grunge era, but Nickel Creek takes "Spit on a Strange" puts a twangy bluegrass twist on this tune. "You're a bitter stranger," Chris Thile sings over a fiddle. Surprisingly, it works.

"Georgia on My Mind" by Willie Nelson

Ray Charles originally performed "Georgia on My Mind" in 1960, and few others have been able to do the song justice. Willie Nelson managed the feat, however, by slowing the song down and drawing out his notes over the subtle background guitar.

"Hurt" by Johnny Cash

"Hurt" was one of Cash's last hits before his death. Over the minor chords, Cash's muddled voice sounds filled with pain and frustration, a fitting tribute to the original version by rock band Nine Inch Nails.

"I Say a Little Prayer" by Aretha Franklin

Many of Aretha's most famous songs are actually covers. This one is a spin on Dionne Warwick's 1967 song, which charted at no. 4. Aretha released her version just one year later with background chorus singers and the perfect piano background.

"Sealion" by Feist

"Sealion" is a recreation of a traditional American folk song. It isn't a cover, per se, in that there is no definitive version of the song, but Feist's version not both highlights her vocal skills and manages to keep the chanting, ephemeral feeling of a song passed down from generation to generation.

"Torn" by Natalie Imbruglia

Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn" was a massive pop sensation in 1997. It hit no. 1 on the Billboard chart and earned her a Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocalist. "Torn" is a perfect pop song with heart and a catchy melody. But what you might not have known is that it's also a cover of a 1995 Los Angeles band called Ednaswap.

"I Think We're Alone Now" by Tiffany

"I Think We're Alone Now" was a hit when it was originally released in 1967 by Tommy James and the Shondells, but teenage pop sensation Tiffany rocketed the song to the top spot in the U.S. the U.K, and Australia in 1987.

"It's Oh So Quiet" by Björk

"It's Oh So Quiet" was the B-side to Betty Hutton's "Murder, He Says." When Icelandic singer Björk covered the song in 1995, it became her biggest hit, which is understandable because the song has all of Bjork's more out-there elements, but packages them in a more approachable format

Follow Voxdotcom on Spotify for every week's playlist and some mid-week jams

Sign up for the newsletter The Weeds

Understand how policy impacts people. Delivered Fridays.