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Another "Best Covers" Poll

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I know we recently had our own SF "Best Covers" poll. It was held at about the same time as The Observer Music Monthly launched its Reader's Poll to determine the nation's favourite covers.

The Observer published its results this weekend, and I found them sufficiently interesting to share them with you, comrades.

The Observer is a Sunday newspaper, (broadsheet rather than tabloid), having a predominantly adult, middle-class/leftish readership. It has a monthly "music supplement", which is usually a pretty good read actually.


"The top 50 greatest covers as voted by you"

The Observer

1. Kate Bush, Rocket Man (I Think it's Going to Be a Long, Long Time) (1991) (orig. Elton John, 1972)

Numerous artists have retooled 'Rocket Man', among them William Shatner, Star Trek's Captain Kirk. At the Science Fiction Film Awards in 1978, in front of an audience of greying, bemused 'suits', he performed a 'spoken word' version of the song while smoking, self-consciously, an untipped cigarette and enacting a Method masterclass in which he dramatised the Rocket Man's displeasure as he prepares to journey through the clouds.

Nothing, you may well think, could possibly top that. Except Kate Bush's version does - especially when heard in conjunction with the footage of her on the Wogan show in 1991. Detached and coquettish, ukulele clutched just so, she transforms the soft rock of the original into a funereal, starry-eyed ska tune that sounds, magically, like no one else but her. (And on the Wogan clip, she seems involved in some strange sexual relationship with the concertina played by square-jawed Gordon Brown lookalike Alistair Anderson.)

This cover is swathed in mystery, adding yet more layers to a song that is, depending on your interpretation, either about an astronaut pining for his wife or a wealthy rock star whose life is one big lie ('I'm not the man they think I am at home'), obligating him to get as 'high as a kite'.

Then again, the kooky queen has never been easy, and here, on the only 'reggae' cover in her canon, which she sings from the perspective of a bloke, Bush is, unquestionably, more other than ever. What Terry Wogan made of her is anybody's guess.Paul Mardles

2. Soft Cell, Tainted Love (1981) (orig. Gloria Jones, 1964)

The original of Ed Cobb's classic soul stomper was recorded by Gloria Jones in 1964. Ms Jones later became Marc Bolan's girlfriend. Tragically, it was she who was driving the car that killed her partner in 1977. Tainted love indeed. Four years later, another androgynous boy who spelled Mark 'Marc' took a stripped down, quintessentially synthetic and gleefully sleazy version of the northern soul floor-filler to No. 1 in 17 countries and a 43-week stay on the US singles charts. Marc Almond and Dave Ball's version, with its overload of percussive, insistent electronic and vocal hooks, has never dated. Much of this comes down to Mike Thorne's sparse, stark production and Almond's beautifully ragged, first-take vocal. But it's largely about the way Soft Cell transform the original's soul angst into a joyous celebration of the pain of love, and a pervy, yet cuddly, masochist's anthem. 'Tainted Love' was also reworked for TT Remastered by Coco Electrik. Garry Mulholland

3. The Clash, Police and Thieves (1977) (orig. Junior Murvin, 1976)

The Junior Murvin original was a bigger hit in Britain in 1976 than in Jamaica and the Clash enjoyed playing it so much in rehearsal that they squeezed it onto their debut album at the last minute. Lee 'Scratch' Perry's shimmering production was speeded up, extended to six minutes and given the spiky Clash treatment, and Joe Strummer's sneer felt more appropriate to the subject matter than Murvin's falsetto. This was very clearly a reggae cover, however, which made it all the more distinctive in 1977, when fusions between punk and Jamaican music were only beginning to occur. Killian Fox

4. Jeff Buckley, Hallelujah (1994) (orig. Leonard Cohen, 1984)

John Cale's fine 1991 cover of Leonard Cohen's multi-layered epic (later used in Shrek) provided direct inspiration for Buckley's version, but it's the latter that's now widely acknowledged as one of the great re-imaginings of modern times. Cohen's 1984 original is a strange beast, beautifully written but poorly executed, lumbered with the worst excesses of 1980s production values.

Visiting the song a decade later for his landmark debut album Grace, Buckley added some minor chord-play at the top, cherry-picked from the dozens of verses Cohen wrote for the song, and simply let his heart sing out. It was recorded solo with reverbed electric guitar, and nothing is allowed to come between the singer and his song. A near-perfect marriage of words, voice and melody, neither the fact that 'Hallelujah' has been granted dubious hymnal status since Buckley's death in 1997, nor its co-option by the cultural carpetbaggers at The O.C., can diminish its immense beauty, clarity and power. Graeme Thomson

5. Johnny Cash, Hurt (2002) (orig. Nine Inch Nails, 1994)

In which, courtesy of Mark Romanek's extraordinary video, watched over by his quietly distraught wife and surrounded by the memorabilia his dear departed mother had gathered in a small Tennessee museum, Johnny Cash says goodbye. Unlike the motivation behind many a cover version, The Man in Black wasn't cashing in. He was checking out.

'Hurt' was one of many covers that Cash and producer Rick Rubin recorded together between 1994 and Cash's death on 12 September 2003. In this late-flowering creative rebirth captured in the American Recordings album series, he'd already cut versions of songs that sat oddly with his career and background: 'Personal Jesus' by Depeche Mode, Soundgarden's 'Rusty Cage', 'I Won't Back Down' by Tom Petty. But Trent Reznor's junkie's lament was the biggest leap of all.

'It's a strange song,' admitted Rubin in Vanity Fair in October 2004. 'I mean, the opening line is, "I hurt myself today..." And then the next line is, "To see if I still feel." So it's self-inflicted. It's such a strange thought to open a song with.'

But the 'aggression and hopelessness' in the Nine Inch Nails original that Cash's son John Carter feared would be too much were turned on their head in the stately, devastating cover. Cash, racked by ill-health, his voice wavering but still rattling the windows, is at the end of the line, reflecting on a life lived fully. He's not staring into the black pit of self-obsessed druggy nihilism. As the piano and acoustic guitars climax gloriously, this devout Christian has his head held high, bloodied but unbowed.

Little over a year later, shortly after his beloved wife June, Johnny Cash died. 'Hurt' is life and death in a song, and cover versions don't come more powerful than that.Craig McLean

6. This Mortal Coil, Song to the Siren (1983) (orig. Tim Buckley, 1970)

Tim Buckley's 1970 original is a fine exercise in ethereal folk-jazz, but barely hints at the emotional and textural fathoms of this 1983 reinvention.

The first release from the 4AD label's loose, alternative 'supergroup', 'Song to the Siren' was the work of Cocteau Twins Liz Fraser and Robin Guthrie and sounds like nothing else before or since.

Gospel music for the post-punk generation, it steals over the listener like a haunting. All voice and echo, with a hint of Arabic adhan in Fraser's astounding vocal, it tinkers subtly with the melody of the original while - astonishingly - making Tim Buckley's voice sound a trifle ordinary by comparison.

A record that retains every ounce of mystery and otherness no matter how many times it's played: it is impossible not to stop and listen, rooted to the spot, each time it steals into earshot.Graeme Thomson

7. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, All Along the Watchtower (1968) (orig. Bob Dylan, 1967)

In Dylan's original, the song's apocalyptic vision is all in the lyrics. Released 10 months later, Hendrix's version is only 90 seconds longer, but packs a range of dynamics far beyond the original's scope. In effect, he turns a black-and-white novella into a widescreen, full-colour epic. The key moment is the guitar solo after the line 'the hour is getting late': the dexterity, aggression and invention show Hendrix at his best. From here on, this version overwhelms the original and Dylan himself has followed the Hendrix template when playing live. It's interesting how many Dylan songs allow such a wide range of interpretation. Bryan Ferry's 'A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall' (1973, see No 41) also hits the spot, Spirit's 1976 take on 'Like a Rolling Stone', is a guitar tour de force to rival this Hendrix cover, and Amp Fiddler revisited 'Hey Joe' for the TT Remastered series. Campbell Stevenson

8. Sinead O'Connor, Nothing Compares 2 U, (1990) (orig. The Family, 1985)

As if his prolific solo output weren't enough, Prince has created numerous franchise groups. In 1985, after the break-up of his first such act, the Time, he formed a replacement with keyboardist St Paul, named the Family. The band were short-lived, releasing a single album, but one track would for ever preserve their memory, a downbeat soul ballad called 'Nothing Compares 2 U'.

In 1990, acclaimed new Irish pop singer Sinead O'Connor included the little-known song on her second album I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got. Her stripped-down version, produced by Nellee Hooper, featured an emotional vocal delivery and was quickly seized upon as the album's lead single. Accompanied by a video featuring a single static shot of a damp-eyed Sinead (were the tears for real?), it was a worldwide hit. This summer, the song has had regular outings at Prince's 21 Nights in London shows. Jaimie Hodgson

9. The Specials, A message to you Rudy (1979) (orig. Dandy Livingstone, 1967)

Dandy Livingstone's 1967 original was a portrait of social unrest among Kingston youth in the tradition of rudeboy cautionary tales (hence the title's 'Rudy'). The Specials took it and multiplied the vocals, lending the song their mob rule quality. Keeping Livingstone's delightful skank, guitarist Roddy Radiation also added a taut and effervescent guitar, while ska trombone giant Rico Rodriguez - who had provided the original with its irresistible, undulating hook - was called upon to do the same for the Specials 12 years later, contributing a wonderfully louche solo. Here the Specials universalised the original's Jamaican context, making a poignant comment on British disaffection that pre-empted the 1981 Brixton and Toxteth riots and the rudeboy revival of the early 1980s, and paved the way for the feted 'Ghost Town'. Xpress 2 have now covered 'Rudy' for the TT Remastered series. Jeremy Pritchard

10. Happy Mondays, Step On (1990) (orig. John Kongos, 1971)

To celebrate its 40th anniversary in 1990, Elektra, Happy Mondays' American label, asked its bands to cover one of the label's old hits for a compilation album called Rubáiyá. The Mondays picked 'He's Gonna Step on You Again', a number 4 hit for John Kongos in 1971 (cited by The Guinness Book of Records as the first ever song to have used a sample). However, so happy were the Mondays with their version, they decided they wanted it as a single themselves and recorded another Kongos track, 'Tokoloshe Man', for Rubáiyá. 'Step On' became their biggest hit and a high-water mark for 'Madchester', reaching number five. 'Step On' is another of the tracks revisited by the Audi TT Remastered series, having its melons twisted this time by Swedish producer Senghore. 'Tokoloshe Man' is a hidden Mondays gem well worth seeking out: originally the B-side to 'Judge Fudge', it's now on iTunes. Luke Bainbridge

For the rest of the article, including #20 to #50: Link

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14. Richard Thompson, Oops!... I Did It Again (2003) (orig. Britney Spears, 2000)

The founding member of Fairport Convention covered this as part of his show 1000 Years of Popular Music.

I don't know Richard Thompson, but it reminds me of Max Raabe, who makes 1920s and 30s style dance music and also covered this song :stars: :P

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