Carrie Underwood was a teenage metalhead. Hair metal, that is. Growing up in small-town Oklahoma, the future country titan developed a love for singers like Sebastian Bach and Axl Rose, whose elastic voices left a permanent impression. “It was people like [Rose] who taught me how to sing,” she said last year, tipping her hat to an artist whose songs she’s been covering since 2006. Here, we round up 11 of Underwood’s best Eighties covers, from Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home” and INXS’ “Never Tear Us Apart” to nearly half of Guns N’ Roses’ greatest hits.
"I grew up listening to all kinds of music," Underwood tells her audience in 2006, before kicking off a cover of Guns N' Roses' "Patience" with the admission that she sometimes wants to "rock out a little bit." The performance that follows doesn't rock, exactly — Underwood stays seated the whole time, strumming an acoustic guitar while her bandmates chime in on fiddle and harmonies — but it still speaks volumes, delivered by a country singer who, looking for cover songs to pad the setlist during her first headlining tour, was happy to reach beyond her own genre.
While we'd love to hear her tackle something from Slave to the Grind, "I Remember You" — Skid Row's hit combination of power-ballad drama and hair-metal muscle — is a more natural choice for Underwood, who turns the song into a punchy prom theme during this 2007 clip.
There's no topping the period-perfect, Aqua Netted hairstyle Underwood sported during an American Idol episode in early 2005, when she first took a stab at Heart's biggest hit. Even so, this 2012 performance at New York City's iHeart Radio Theater shows off a fuller range of her voice.
Justin Moore recorded this song on 2014's Nashville Outlaws: A Tribute to Mötley Crüe, but Underwood's version packs a more convincing snarl. Here, she performs "Home Sweet Home" during an outdoors gig in July 2009. Don't let the drum machine fool you — once this song gets going, it's the best "Home Sweet Home" has sounded since the Dr. Feelgood tour.
Performed at the Sydney Opera House in February 2012, "Never Tear Us Apart" doubles not only as a tribute to one of Australia's biggest bands, but also as a showcase for Underwood's super-sized pipes, whose soul and swagger would've made Michael Hutchence proud. There's a top-notch lap-steel solo halfway through the song, too, replacing Kirk Pengilly's saxophone with something more representative of Underwood's roots in Middle America.
More faithful to the original than Sheryl Crow's version, Underwood's 2012 performance of "Sweet Child O' Mine" features a rare mess-up from an otherwise unflappable singer, who struggles to nail a few of the notes before the guitar solo. The result is more endearing than condemning, though, with Underwood regaining her footing during the "Where do we go now" section.
At the request of her audience, Underwood tackled Bryan Adams' lighter-hoisting tribute to nostalgia and oral sex during a March 2010 concert at the University of Massachusetts. The song starts off slowly, with Underwood tossing enough vocal acrobatics into the first 90 seconds to qualify for the Summer Olympics, before the drums and electric guitars kick in.
Sandwiched between “So Small” and “Before He Cheats,” this Use Your Illusion power ballad helped bring most of Underwood’s shows to a close during 2008, a year largely spent on the road in support of Carnival Ride. With an acoustic guitar taking the place of Axl Rose’s upright piano, Underwood keeps the arrangement sparse until the final two minutes, where she and her band kick into a snippet of “Paradise City.”
While headlining the Delaware State Fair in July 2008, Underwood — who, with just two albums under her belt, was still a bit hard-pressed to fill long sets with nothing but her own music — turned to a young Aimee Mann for help. Her version of 'Til Tuesday's "Voices Carry" feels like a big-budget Hollywood remake of an indie film, with Underwood extending the high notes in the chorus by several seconds.
Underwood was still promoting Carnival Ride when she joined Keith Urban for a cross-country tour in early 2008. Although technically the opening act, she returned to the stage every night during the middle of Urban's set, joining the headliner for a performance of the Stevie Nicks/Tom Petty duet "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around." The pair will hit the road together later this year, too, wrapping up 2016 with a tour of Australian venues.
With a snake dance that would make Axl proud — and a spot-on whistle shriek during the song’s intro — Underwood sank her teeth into “Paradise City” during a short, four-tune set at the 2013 CMA Festival. It was one of her biggest crowds of the year, with Underwood playing to a sold-out audience inside the Tennessee Titans’ hometown stadium.