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A Perfect Cover-Great Reinterpretations of Songs

Scene from the film High Fidelity

When I love a song, it can be a disorienting experience to hear a different version of it.   

However, when a song is covered or reinterpreted well, it can make me hear and think about it in a whole different way.  That happened to me recently when I bumped into Mayer Hawthorne's cover of Lorde's "Royals."


The rough edges of the song are smoothed and funked out.  The lyrics feel different coming from a guy  (the lyric "queen bee" becomes "royalty", with different connotations).  I don't know if Hawthorne improves on the original, but he does make it seem like a new and different song.

Ultimately, that's what I like about reinterpretations of songs I know, it makes the music into something I'm discovering again.

Here are some of my favorite albums that make me think of familiar songs in a new way.

Cd Cover for Modern Sounds

Modern SoundsModern Sounds by Ray Charles

Ray Charles was never content to stay in the lines that others had drawn.  This album smashed the barriers between the country and r&b genres in a way that is still influencing music today.  This album is still very modern and Charles' interpretations of these country songs have lost none of their luster.


Foreverly by Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones

This is not a radical rethinking of the music of the Everly Brothers, however the mix of Norah Jones and Billie Joe Armstrong's voices against this immaculate production brings out the sturdiness of these classic songs.  This is a real gem for fans of Norah Jones, Billie Joe Armstrong AND the Everly Brothers.

CD Cover for Strange Little Girls

Strange Little Girls by Tori Amos

The always interesting Amos reinterprets a series of songs about women that are written by men.  This is an ambitious project with several startling and chilling moments.  

CD Cover for Sergio Mendes & Brasil 66-86

Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66-'86 by Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66

While there might be one or two original hits here, the bulk of Mendes' biggest songs were covers for other artists.  For me, the sound of Brasil '66 swinging through "Fool on the Hill", "The Look of Love" or "Mais Que Nada" with their distinctive Latin American jazz arrangements was one of the chief musical pleasures of the 1960s.

Pin Ups

Pin Ups by David Bowie

David Bowei's homage to the British invasion musicians who inspired his work.  This is the swinging 1960's London scene reimagined by a seventies era glam rocker.  It is pretty incredible and very personal despite the fact that Bowie didn't write a single song himself.

Labour of LoveCD cover for Labour of Love

Labour of Love by UB40

In the mid eighties, a little known reggae group decided to record some of their favorite classic reggae songs and release them as an album.  The result spawned their biggest hit, "Red Red Wine" and rescued their career.  This is a great album of light reggae that is pleasing whether or not the listener knows the original recordings.

GraceThe CD Cover for the album Grace

Grace by Jeff Buckley

This is a great album made up mostly of material penned by Buckley himself but in the middle of it all is an amazing cover of  Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah."  Buckley's voice alters between soaring beauty and a kind of fragile roughness so perfect that many have called this the definitive reading of the song.  There are also great covers of songs by Benjamin Britten and James Shelton.

The ScoreCD cover for the album The Score

The Score by The Fugees

Like the previous album, this is made up largely of original material, however I love the Fugee's take on Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly."  The urban, hip-hop sound fuses with the wounded quality in the song for something almost magical.  Also, although it's not really a cover, I love the way the Fugees repurpose "Ready or Not" by the Delfonics.

If you are enjoying, these cover albums, there are many more terrific and challenging albums to explore.

Discover more about great movies and music by checking out the SCCLD Music and Movies blog.


Image from High Fidelity from


version come forward!

I love cover versions - Nouvelle Vague's bossa nova version of the Joy Division song Love Will Tear Us Apart is not to be missed.

Nouvelle Vague and Joy Division

My mind is officially blown! Great call out, there are literally too many great covers to ever cover in one blog entry.



Great post !

I'm going to look at all of these - if I haven't already - like Foreverly... Your commentary is right on Don. Keep it up your insights are an inspiration.