Eight Modern Covers That Might Just Top the Original

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Finding incredible songs is hard. Finding incredible covers is way harder.

The original recordings of songs are almost always better than any cover could possibly be, but occasionally an artist covers a song and, by some amazing twist of fate, is able to do the original justice. This begs the question: what takes a cover from fine to fantastic? The best covers come to fruition when an artist takes the song at hand and molds it into something that fits their personal style or brings out an aspect of the song you might not notice in the original upon first listen. This type of alteration is secondary, but emotion is nonnegotiable. What makes many covers fall flat is an artist’s inability to bring genuine emotion to a song that they didn't pen themselves – see every YouTuber ever try to cover John Lennon’s “Imagine” for reference.

Dancing on My Own – Kings of Leon

This song, written by Robyn and popularized by Calum Scott, has never sounded better than when Kings of Leon performed it. Unlike the original version by Robyn, KOL strip any trace of danceability and optimism from the track, instead opting for something that comes across as gravelly and bitter and brooding. Unlike Scotts’s well-known rendition, KOL’s guitar-driven take isn’t cloying, nor does it sound like it’s trying too hard to be heartbreaking.




Out of the Woods – Ryan Adams

Taylor Swift was (and still very much is) a songwriter before she became a full-blown popstar, and Ryan Adams’s cover of her album “1989” only further solidifies that notion. Adams’s recording isn’t necessarily an improvement on Swift’s single, but it’s strikingly different. Adams turns Swift’s 1980s inspired, synth-driven pop track into a slow-burning waltz. “Out of the Woods” becomes significantly more moody and introspective in his hands. If you’re into this, check out the rest of his “1989” covers.




Wrecking Ball – London Grammar

London Grammar soak Miley Cyrus’s 2013 single in sadness and add an air of vulnerability. While Cyrus’s version feels angry and upfront, London Grammar’s atmospheric performance is hauntingly dark. The sparseness of London Grammar’s recording does the track a huge favor.




Hozier – Problem

Hozier and his band bring soul to an overproduced song that originally lacked one. Hozier keeps the groovy beat of Ariana Grande’s hit and drops Iggy Azalea’s inane rap verse, obviously, to replace it with a bluesy bridge taken straight from Warren G’s “Regulate.” While listening to Hozier’s performance, you’re able to forget that “Problem’s” lyrics are pretty lackluster and just have fun.




Karma Police – Panic! at the Disco

This cover is back from when Panic! at the Disco was still wonderfully bizarre and hadn’t yet transformed into the pop-leaning Brendon Urie Show. With “Karma Police” being one of Radiohead’s most notable songs, it’s not possible to say that P!ATD’s version tops it, but they do manage to bring something new to the song. Their live performance of the Radiohead track is wildly dramatic and theatrical (think face paint, xylophones, a few dancers running about the already overcrowded stage). Where Radiohead’s Thom Yorke mellows out, Urie packs a punch.




Hallelujah – Matthew Healy

This Leonard Cohen classic has been covered countless times – and the attempts are usually laughable. People rarely seem to be able to convey the emotion and message of the song through their voice alone. A teenage Healy, sitting alone on a stage with nothing but an acoustic guitar, croaks every lyric with undeniable authenticity and never tries to sound perfect, like so many artists do when covering a song. The song never feels bigger than he is – during his brief take on “Hallelujah,” it’s easy to forget that Leonard Cohen is the man who penned it.




Tash Sultana – Electric Feel

Tash Sultana’s performance of MGMT’s “Electric Feel” is something out of a dream. If you’ve never heard her music, you’ll be surprised not only by her voice, but by the sheer talent she possesses. Her cover maintains the original’s beachy vibe and adds an extra four minutes of driving beats, funky guitar licks, and mesmerizing vocals.




Daughter – Get Lucky

Daughter take “Get Lucky” from funky to sultry, from giddy to cool. With minimalistic beats and cascading guitars, the song gains a new sophistication and complexity in Daughter’s hands. You’d think that the pulsing hook is all that kept “Get Lucky” on a loop in your head in 2013, but Daughter’s version, though quite the opposite, manages to lodge itself in your brain as well. You won’t be mad about it this time around.




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I'm a junior at Appalachian State University majoring in public relations and journalism.