Cover songs better than the original

Not the first to do it, but they did it best

Illustration: Amber Malom • The Sentry
Covers that put the originals to shame. 

 “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”

When Guns N’ Roses—hard rock superstars of the late 80s, early 90s—covered Bob Dylan’s song, they turned it into a bona fide masterpiece. Crunchy distortion, Axl Rose’s scratchy vocals, and obviously a great Slash guitar solo all make a song that’s earned its rightful place in the pantheon of rock history.

“The Man Who Sold The World” 

Nirvana’s 1993 performance on MTV’s Unplugged is considered one of the greatest acoustic albums of all time. And yet, its arguable centerpiece is an electric song. Kurt Cobain leads in with a flanged acoustic guitar hooked up to an amp and then sings with unusual restraint—his voice delicately teetering the line between world-weary fatigue and unhinged madness. Later, teenagers would go up to David Bowie and tell him they were happy he covered a Nirvana song—such was Cobain’s legacy.

“Lone Star State Of Mind” 

In 1987, Nanci Griffith achieved mainstream fame with this song from the album of the same name, but Don Williams, arguably made the song his own five years later. He ditches his usual baritone in this aching ode to Texas, which in real life was his home state. You can never tell whether he’s singing about Texas or just a woman he misses—but that’s what makes the song so good. Oh, and he name-drops Denver in the song’s chorus.

“In My Time Of Dying”  

This song shows each member of Led Zeppelin at their peak. Jimmy Page leads in with a beautiful slide guitar, and the rest of the song is dominated by John Bonham’s drums. Lead singer Robert Plant wails for Jesus to show him some mercy while the rest of the band stomps and thumps over the course of 11 minutes, but it never feels that long. It’s a far cry from Bob Dylan’s original, which was closer to a gospel song and isn’t even three minutes long.

“All Along The Watchtower” 

Bob Dylan was not a terrible artist, but in 1968 Jimi Hendrix elevated one of his songs to mythical status. Dylan expertly weaves a story throughout the song, using recognizable archetypes like the Joker and the Thief. Hendrix showed us anything can be improved with a bit of guitar. Makeshift guitar slides and a smorgasbord of effects turned this cover into one of rock’s most legendary songs.


Before Eric Clapton released doozy songs like “Wonderful Tonight,” he was one of rock’s most influential guitarists. “Crossroads”—recorded at a concert in Los Angeles—shows why. Clapton traced his music back to pre-war Mississippi Delta, in particular singer Robert Johnson. But, Clapton added his own touch – mainly two incendiary guitar solos.

“Love Is All Around” 

Did anyone even know this song was a cover? That’s how famous Wet Wet Wet’s version became. The Troggs’ original peaked at #7 in 1968, but in 1994 Wet Wet Wet was asked to re-record the song. Their cover version’s success was unprecedented, spending 15 consecutive weeks at No. 1 on the UK singles chart. In 2013, VH1 named it the greatest soundtrack song of all time.

This is a selection from the September 09 issue. To view the full issue, visit:

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