Rolling Stone Readers Pick the Top 10 Greatest Cover Songs
Jimi Hendrix's cover of 'All Along The Watchtower' tops the list; Nirvana is only group to land two songs in top 10
1. Jimi Hendrix – ‘All Along The Watchtower’
Last weekend we asked our readers to pick for their favorite cover song of all time. Unlike previous readers' polls, the top vote getter won by a gigantic margin. Your favorite cover (with no close second) is Jimi Hendrix's take on Bob Dylan's "All Along The Watchtower." Released six months after Dylan's original appeared on John Wesley Harding in December 1967, Hendrix's version radically re-arranged Dylan's acoustic original. Dylan didn't play the song live until 1974, and said Hendrix's rendition made him reconsider how to approach the song.
"[Hendrix] could find things inside a song and vigorously develop them," Dylan told the Fort-Lauderdale Sun Sentinel in 1995. "He found things that other people wouldn't think of finding in there. He probably improved upon it by the spaces he was using. I took license with the song from his version, actually, and continue to do it to this day."
By Andy Greene
2. Johnny Cash – ‘Hurt’
Trent Reznor remembers the first time he saw the video for Johnny Cash's cover of his 1994 song "Hurt." "Tears started welling up," he said. "I realized it wasn't really my song anymore. It just gave me goose bumps up and down my spine. It's an unbelievably powerful piece of work. After he passed away I remember feeling saddened, but being honored to have framed the end of his life in something that is very tasteful."
3. Jeff Buckley – ‘Hallelujah’
Leonard Cohen's career was at a low point when he wrote "Hallelujah" in the early Eighties, and his record label had no interest in even releasing the track or the rest of the songs that eventually came out on 1984's Various Positions. The track was a fan favorite, but it didn't receive much love until the Velvet Underground's John Cale created a stripped-down piano version for a 1991 Leonard Cohen tribute album.
Jeff Buckley used Cale's version as the basis for his stunningly beautiful version of the song on his 1994 LP Grace. The track wasn't a single, but after Buckley's tragic death in 1997 the song slowly started to become recognized as a classic.
4. Joe Cocker – ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’
It's one of the most indelible images from Woodstock: Joe Cocker, looking so stoned he can barely stand upright, belting out The Beatles classic "With A Little Help From Friends" like it was an old soul standard. The performance became a key part of 1971's Woodstock documentary, instantly turning the radical re-imagining of the tune into Cocker's signature song. In the late Eighties, when the producers of The Wonder Years needed a single song to represent the Sixties, they went with this.
5. Nirvana – ‘The Man Who Sold The World’
Until Nirvana taped their MTV Unplugged special in late 1993, "The Man Who Sold The World" was known only as one of David Bowie's earliest hits. After Kurt Cobain's suicide the song became his, and the tale of a man who had the world and gave it away seemed eerily prophetic. When Bowie revived the song on his 1995 tour with Nine Inch Nails many of the young fans in the audience had no idea it was his song, assuming he was doing a special Nirvana tribute.
6. The Beatles – ‘Twist and Shout’
The Beatles cut their 1963 LP Please Please Me in a single day, so when it came time for John Lennon to sing a cover of the Isley Brothers' "Twist And Shout" near the end of the session his voice was shredded. He rallied by gargling milk and swallowing cough drops before nailing the song in just two takes. He was unhappy with how his voice sounded, but the raw sound is part of what makes the track so memorable.
7. The White Stripes – ‘Jolene’
Dolly Parton's 1973 classic song "Jolene" is hardly a feminist anthem. Inspired by a true story, the song is in the voice of desperate woman begging a more attractive woman to not steal her man. Not a single word is reserved for the man in the love triangle. The White Stripes recorded a snarling, feedback-laden cover of it in 2000, and it was a highlight of their live show through their last tour in 2007.
8. Nirvana – ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night’
Unlike most Unplugged specials, Nirvana did very few of their hits at the TV taping. They opted mainly for deep cuts and covers of songs by the Vaselines, David Bowie and the Meat Puppets – as well as this 19th-century folk standard that was popularized by folk legend Lead Belly. A 1990 home demo of the song appears on Nirvana's 2004 box set With The Lights Out, but the definitive version (with the screaming final verse) is on Unplugged.
9. Guns N’ Roses – ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”
Originally written for the soundtrack to Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid, "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" gave Bob Dylan a much-needed hit after years of being written off as a washed-up Sixties relic. The song was covered by everybody from Eric Clapton to U2, but in 1990 Guns N' Roses recorded it for the Days of Thunder soundtrack and introduced it to an entirely new generation. It's been a staple of their live show ever since.
10. Muse – ‘Feeling Good’
Written for the widely forgotten 1965 Broadway musical The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd, "Feeling Good" has been covered by Nina Simone, Bobby Darin, Frank Sinatra, George Michael and countless others. Muse recorded a popular version for their 2001 LP Origin of Symmetry, which has recently gotten a lot of play in America in a commercial for Virgin Airlines.