10 weird cover versions, from the ridiculous to the sublime

Fred Durst covers George Michael
Fred Durst covers George Michael (Image credit: Getty Images)

All you need is rock? Clearly not if these oddball covers are anything to go by. Interesting rock bands like to spread their musical wings by covering songs from way outside their regular field. Sometimes the results are incredible, sometimes they’re awful. But one thing’s for sure. They’re never less than interesting, as these 10 bizarre interpretations so obviously prove…

Limp Bizkit – Faith (Originally recorded by George Michael)

Whatever you think of old George, the man can sing. So taking on one of Yog’s most famous songs if you’re a metal/hip hop shouter is either an act of immense bravado or just plain stoopid. The Bizkit’s Fred Durst never came off as a great intellectual, so we’re plumping for the latter. His performance here is the ultimate in “ho-hum” and the band never seems particularly comfortable working its way around the tune, nor adding the obligatory thrashy bit. Very average.

Dinosaur Jr. – Show Me The Way (Originally recorded by Peter Frampton)

Stand by to be surprised by this version, if all you know is the slick vocoder-led version that bestraddled the airwaves of late ‘70s American FM radio. This is lo-fi to the max, almost willful in its desire to highlight Dinosaur Jr.’s limited ability. Originally released as a bonus track on 1997’s You’re Living All Over Me album, J. Mascis is right up at the top end of his range here and makes no attempt to hide his limitations – or the fact that he’s wildly out of tune at times.

Foo Fighters – Darling Nikki (Originally recorded by Prince)

Prince pushed the envelope of what mainstream albums could discuss when this 1984 number from Purple Rain talked about masturbation… in a hotel lobby… with a magazine! It led to the inclusion of Parental Advisory stickers on rude, violent or druggy records. None of this stopped Dave Grohl and his boys from covering this slow funky grinder, though. Foo Fighters added a touch of their trademark quiet/loud dynamic, not to mention some borderline death metal screaming. Odd, but in a fairly good way.

Smashing Pumpkins – Landslide (Originally recorded by Fleetwood Mac)

Bolshy Billy Corgan has never been worried about upsetting people, so it’s no surprise he didn’t think twice about releasing a delicate and dainty cover of this 1975 wistful Fleetwood Mac acoustic number. The Pumpkins may have been trying to carve their niche in a world full of grunge, but this 1994 B-side highlights Corgan’s musicality, his vocal sensitivity and his wide-ranging taste perfectly. He doesn’t deviate much from the song’s original structure, but then again, why look a gift horse in the mouth?

David Lee Roth – California Girls (Originally recorded by The Beach Boys)

David Lee Roth always gave the impression that his wicked sense of humour and love of bubblegum was too much for Van Halen. So this cocksure cover of the 1965 surfing classic had to wait until Roth’s 1985 solo EP Crazy From The Heat. As you’d expect, the man gives the tune lashings of Hollywood pizazz and delivers a typically self-assured version of the acknowledged classic. It takes balls to do that, but then again, DLR has plenty of ‘em.

Black Crowes – Hard To Handle (Originally recorded by Otis Redding)

If you want to take on the legendary Otis Redding in a vocal battle, you’d best have your chops down. Seriously. So it’s hats off to Black Crowes frontman Chris Robinson, who clearly wasn’t lacking chutzpah on his band’s 1990 debut album. The original from 1968 is a groovy mutha of a song, full of rasping horns and blessed with a brilliant performance by Redding. But the Crowes are up to the task, delivering an equally groovy but somewhat more muscular interpretation. Nice!

ZZ Top – I Thank You (Originally recorded by Sam & Dave)

The Texas boogie veterans have always had smooooth taste, so taking on Sam and Dave’s 1968 r’n’b Stax classic comes as no surprise. And the goods news is that Messrs. Gibbons, Hill and Beard deliver a cool-as-yer-please stripped down version that takes on a whole other, laid-back vibe. Driven by a lovely little riff, there’s no flash in this recording. But there’s no need for any in the hands of these masters. Lovely stuff.

Pearl Jam – Last Kiss (Originally recorded by Wayne Cochran)

Wayne Cochran’s 1961 teen tragedy song is a maudlin classic of schmaltzy doo-wop pop where poor Wayne laments the loss of a girlfriend who dies in his arms after the doomed young lovers are involved in a car crash. It’s hardly the kind of thing you’d imagine those serious men of Pearl Jam going anywhere near, never mind making a decent fist of. And yet the Seattle band’s 1999 version is equally as charming, daft and hokey as the original. Good work boys.

White Stripes – Jolene (Originally recorded by Dolly Parton)

Dolly Parton’s 1973 country classic is an almost unbearably heartbreaking plea from a vulnerable woman to a love rival – “please don’t take my man.” It’s not what you’d expect a bloke to sing, but Jack White’s live performance of the tune from the White Stripes’ 2004 DVD Under Blackpool Lights is a stunning performance, where the singer/guitarist wrings every last drop of emotion out of the tune. The stark, arrangement seamlessly moves from fragile to unhinged and gives this version a deep, irresistible emotional intensity.

Mastodon – A Commotion (Originally recorded by Feist)

Canadian singer-songwriter Feist deals in oddly-shaped indie pop, so on the surface her 2012 song A Commotion would seem a strange choice for prog metallers Mastodon to cover. But the band intuitively get to the heart of Feist’s uneasily bleak original, then add their own unique and intense grind to proceedings. The end result is metal, but not as we know, it. The alluring off-kilter feel combines with an insistent drive to produce something wholly convincing and surprisingly ear-wormy.

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Howard Johnson is a music writer based in France. The editor of Rock Candy magazine, he's also written for Kerrang!, Metal Hammer, RAW, Q, MoJo and Japanese rock magazine Burrn!, and is a French football correspondent for World Soccer mag. He has also written a book on AC/DC, Get Your Jumbo Jet Out Of My Airport.