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Top timeless cover songs

List could be endless, but these versions are the best
/ Source: contributor

When you slip under the covers, it’s a warm feeling. That’s because you’re safe, secure, cozy.

It’s much the same in music. When you get into the covers, there is a special kind of comfort. You’ve been there before. You can trust that you’ll feel good again.

Of course, some covers are more enjoyable than others. Some of our favorite songs can be turned ugly in the wrong hands, or more specifically, vocal cords. Some people who cover classics without the proper expertise to do them justice should probably be locked in a small room with Connie Chung and a piano as punishment.

But this is not about them. This is to celebrate the covers that went right, the ones that make us feel privileged to listen to people who copy other people’s songs.

Admittedly, covers are rampant, so culling a “top 10” list is a bit quixotic. There are so many that deserve inclusion. So don’t think of this as a definitive list. Think of it as a tasty sampler, which will cause you to salivate and want more.

And remember, covers aren’t necessarily better or worse than the originals. They’re unique. The best of them are versions that the cover artist has made his or her own.

So without further ado, these are the 10 covers we’re covering:

“LOTTA LOVE” by Nicolette Larson. This was penned by Neil Young, who performed it with his usual country rock flair. Larson had established her reputation in the music biz as a backup singer, mostly in country and bluegrass, for the likes of Hoyt Axton, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen. Her take on “Lotta Love,” which was her first single from her debut album in 1978, was breezier, with more energy and a fuller arrangement. The album went gold, but she could never duplicate that initial success. After forays into pure country, for which she received solid reviews and appearances on country charts but not the commercial success of “Lotta Love,” she went into semi-retirement. Larson died much too soon, in December of 1997 at the age of 45, from complications arising from a cerebral edema.

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“PERSONAL JESUS” by Johnny Cash. The original was done by techno-pop downers Depeche Mode. The group got the idea for the song from Priscilla Presley, who in a book described her relationship with Elvis as one in which he played a spiritual role. “Feeling unknown and you’re all alone, flesh and bone, by the telephone, lift up the receiver, I’ll make you a believer.”  Cash might appear to be an unlikely candidate to translate this staple of alternative airplay into his own brand of earthy country and western, but his “Personal Jesus” resonates with the Man in Black’s unique power. Cash did a series of recordings in the ‘90s with producer Rick Rubin, which helped him connect with a whole new generation of music lovers, and “Personal Jesus” appears on one of them entitled, “American IV: The Man Comes Around.”

“KILLING ME SOFTLY” by the Fugees. “Killing Me Softly With His Song” was written by Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox, who also wrote the theme song to the “Happy Days” TV show. They wrote “Killing” for Lori Lieberman after she described to them her feelings about seeing Don McLean perform at a concert. Roberta Flack heard Lieberman’s 1971  version and decided to record it herself. The result was three Grammys for Flack in 1974. In 1996, the group Fugees, with Lauryn Hill on lead vocals, did a cover mixing their special brand of hip-hop, soul and reggae, and it went to No. 1 in both the U.S. and UK. While this might be the song mainstream music lovers identify with the Fugees, it also caused somewhat of a backlash by hardcore fans of the group who felt this was a crossover sellout engineered by the record company.

“ODE TO BILLIE JOE” by Satan and Adam. This duo’s history is too rich to cram into one blurb. In a nutshell, Sterling “Mr. Satan” Magee was an African-American Mississippi blues devotee who hit on hard times and was performing in the streets of Harlem when Adam Gussow, a white Columbia grad student and part-time guitarist and harmonica player, happened by. They joined forces to re-invent modern blues in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. “Ode to Billie Joe” was a No. 1 hit by Bobbie Gentry and tells the story about a young man who commits suicide by jumping off the Tallahatchie Bridge in Greenwood, Mississippi. It caused all kinds of speculation about what Billie Joe and the song’s narrator threw off the bridge the day before he jumped. A baby? A body? Satan and Adam’s lowdown version keeps the mystery alive.

“WILD THING” by Jimi Hendrix. Chip Taylor, the younger brother of actor Jon Voight and the uncle of Angelina Jolie who went on to make a name for himself as a professional gambler, wrote this song for the English group the Troggs. Their version went to No. 1 in 1966. Jimi was known for great covers, including “All Along The Watchtower” and “Hey Joe.” His “Wild Thing” gave the song a whole new life, especially after his historic performance at the Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967, after which he lit his guitar on fire. But the Monterey version is the only one available, as he did not do a studio version.  This is not to be confused with “Wild Thing” by rapper Tone Loc, which is a completely different song with a completely different vibe.

“I HEARD IT THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, this tale about a broken relationship became Motown’s longest-running No. 1 hit when Marvin Gaye released his version, topping the U.S. chart for seven weeks in 1968. Gladys Knight actually released a version a year before Gaye, and several other artists have taken a crack at it also. But CCR’s helped the song cross over beyond R&B enthusiasts and into the realm of rock and roll. Its cover, from the 1970 “Cosmo’s Factory” album, clocks in at over 11 minutes.

“LIGHT MY FIRE” by Jose Feliciano. Of course, this was one of the signature hits of the Doors. It appeared on their debut album and became a No. 1 single in 1966. There was an infamous performance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” when they were asked to change some lyrics that might be interpreted as suggestive. After agreeing, Jim Morrison sang the offending lyrics anyway, incurring Ed’s wrath. Many have covered it, including UB40, Stevie Wonder and Nancy Sinatra. But there’s something about Feliciano’s Latin rhythms and passionate acoustic strumming that stokes this fire even more than Morrison did (legend has it that Morrison hated this song and everything its popular success represented). Blind since birth because of congenital glaucoma, Jose went on to great success in both the English- and Spanish-speaking markets.

“DEAR PRUDENCE” by Siouxsie and the Banshees. This was written by John Lennon and is about Mia Farrow’s sister Prudence, who came along to India with the Beatles when they visited the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi but stayed in her room the whole time and meditated. It appeared on the double “White Album” and was said to be one of Lennon’s favorite songs. Siouxsie and the Banshees covered it as a single in 1983. While it’s difficult to do justice to a Beatles song– some people have never forgiven Frank Sinatra not only for his swing-a-ding-ding version of “Something” but for wrongly attributing the writing of that song to Lennon and Paul McCartney rather than George Harrison – Siouxsie & Co. handle the song with respect, yet still manage to infuse it with their own post-punk irreverence.

“DANNY BOY” by Jackie Wilson. You have to assume that a song that was written in 1910 has been covered by many, especially since it is one of the most heartfelt love songs ever. It has been recorded by a veritable who’s who of the entertainment business, including Judy Garland, Cher, Diana Krall and Joan Baez. It has developed over the years into an Irish anthem, even though the man who wrote it wasn’t Irish, and is just one of over 100 songs that were made from the same tune, called “Londonderry Air.” The best versions of “Danny Boy” come about when the singer belts it out with every fiber of his or her being. That is the case here with Wilson, who recorded one for the ages. Actually, he recorded two versions, one in 1952 and another in 1965. The latter was the bigger hit, but either one will likely reduce you to tears.