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Top Ten Indie/Alt Music Cover Versions

Posted on 21 September 2010 by Joe

Top 10 Cover Versions

In amongst the dross of X-Factor and American Idol the great art of the cover version is being lost.

Almost every note of ‘Flying Without Wings’ and high-pitched squawk of ‘I Will Always Love You’ by the show’s vacuous contestants is another nail in the coffin of the once noble cover version.

That ends right here, right now, as Neon Filler honours those in the indie, alternative music world who’ve not only delivered a great version of a classic but have made it there own.

1. Devo – Satisfaction

In many ways the perfect cover, a radically different version of a legendary song that is a classic in its own right. All jerky rhythms and fuzzed up guitar it takes the swagger of the Rolling Stones original and transfers that to an edgy, nervous and anxious look at the song. Frantic, frenetic and awkward, this is a definitive new-wave assault on a 60s classic.

Available on Q. Are We Not Men? A. We are Devo

2. Ben Folds – Bitches Ain’t Shit

Fans of swearing would be hard pressed not love Ben Folds version of Dr Dre’s ‘Bitches Ain’t Shit’. With tongue firmly in his white, middle class cheek he offers an irrepressible take on this hip-hop classic. This is Folds at his sarcastic best paying tribute to the song and mocking its offensive, sexist, gangster loving bravado all at the same time.

Available on Supersunnyspeedgraphic.


3. The Gourds – Gin and Juice

Taking on Snoop Dogg’s ‘Gin And Juice’ in a full on bluegrass style could well have been a disaster. There is nothing less satisfying than a novelty record, particularly the 2nd or 3rd time you hear it. The Gourds avoid this trap with aplomb. They take the song straight, and play it well. It is funny sure, but never wacky, and it becomes something pretty unique. And it is a stormer, the style of music fits the song better than could be expected. The best bluegrass gangsta rap interpretation on record.

Available on Shinebox.


4. First Aid Kit – Tiger Mountain Peasant Song

Deep in the hidden recesses of Youtube, in amongst the clips of guitar wielding indie kids attempting to play their favourite track is this treat featuring Swedish duo First Aid Kit’s take of Fleet Foxes’ ‘Tiger Mountain Peasant Song’. After more than 384,000 YouTube visitors tuned in it was soon added to the reissue of the band’s debut ep Drunken Trees.  The youth of the plaid shirt wearing First Aid Kit, who were born in 1990 and 1993, the passion they put into this version and the clip’s location in a Swedish forest all merge to make this a true great among covers.

Available on Drunken Trees.

5. Ryan Adams – Wonderwall

Ryan Adams is another prolific coverer. His cover of the whole of The Strokes Is This It? remains unreleased. On his Love Is Hell record he covered the Oasis standard ‘Wonderwall’.  His version is far superior to the original, a fact acknowledged by none other than Noel Gallagher. He has stated his disappointment that his brother’s limited skills mean they can’t do the song justice, and he plays the Adam’s version in his live shows. Adam’s is a clever musician and you can never tell for sure whether he means what he sings, but he sounds like he does. When Liam Gallagher sings the song you doubt that he even knows what the song is supposed to mean.

Available on Love Is Hell.

6. Iron and Wine – Such Great Heights

Such Great Heights is an immediate classic, a great, heartfelt, tender love song. It’s been well covered but one of the best is by Iron and Wine, who strips the original by electro-indie popsters Postal Service down to its bare, acoustic bones. Iron and Wine’s interpretation is so good that many of those on website forums believe it is the original, surely the greatest accolade that can be bestowed on a cover version.

Available on Around the Well, release date May 19.


7. Dinosaur Jr – Just Like Heaven

This cover of the Cure’s ‘Just Like Heaven’ is pure Dinosaur Jr  – full on and with plenty of guitar. Where the original has a dainty pop chorus this cover adds a death metal roar and in genius slacker style Dinosaur Jr’s lead singer J. Mascis couldn’t be bothered to learn all the lyrics, or even make them up. So the song just stops three quarters of the way through. Brilliant.

Available on Ear-Bleeding Country: The Best of Dinosaur Jr.

8. Adem- Starla

Among the treats on Fridge bassist Adem’s 2007 acoustic covers album Takes is his version of  the Smashing Pumpkin’s B-side Starla. It starts with just voice and acoustic guitar, drawing out the emotion of the song and building up to a climatic string-section finish that knocks
several shades of the brown stuff out of the original. Adem even manages to merge in part of another Smashing Pumpkins track, Window Paine, at the end. It is sheer emotional, acoustic brilliance.

Available on Takes.


9. Futureheads – Hounds Of Love

This cover manages to straddle the gap between being immediately identifiable and yet hugely different better than almost any other. There is no mistaking the song, but hear them side by side and they are so different. The Sunderland band take Kate Bush’s plaintive original and inject their propulsive blend of XTC and Gang of Four into the mix. The backing vocals work brilliantly and are as much a part of the music as the guitars. And despite playing it very straight they somehow magnify the ridiculousness of the lyrics. “Take my shoes off and throw them in the lake”, indeed.

Available on The Futureheads.

10. Lemonheads- Different DrumA top ten of indie, alternative covers seems somehow incomplete without the Lemonheads take on the Mike Nesmith penned Different Drum, which was first recorded by Linda Rodstadt’s band The Stone Poney’s in 1967. Everything about this romantic break-up track fits with Evan Dando’s quirky attractiveness perfectly. The Lemonheads were serial coverers, of hits by the likes of Gram Parsons, Suzanne Vega and Simon & Garfunkel, but it is with the lyrics of ex-Monkee Nesmith where their true cover credentials come to the fore. No one can sing, “you and I travel to the beat of a different drum, oh, can’t you tell by the way I run, every time you make eyes at me,” like Dando.

From Favorite Spanish Dishes (currently unavailable).

Compiled by Dorian Rogers and Joe Lepper

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