CashBack in the day, cover versions were way easier. Early rockers could take cult blues/R&B songs and recycle for a new generation as if their own... Elvis cutting Arthur Crudup's “That's All Right”: The Beatles and the Top Notes'/Isley Brothers' “Twist and Shout”: The Rolling Stones and Chuck Berry's “Come On” et al.

Now, it's harder. You need an angle, a unique approach, folks. Something that shows your greatness and not just that of the original song. Still, over the years many artists have shown this is possible with startling results. Here's a few tactics that will help you think outside the box and get your cover(s) noticed.


“All Along the Watchtower” was always great in Dylan’s hands. Jimi Hendrix cranked it in his own inimitable style and, quite simply, made it his own. Cream did the same with Robert Johnson's “Cross Road Blues” (as “Crossroads”). More boldly, Billy Bragg and Wilco took unsung Woody Guthrie lyrics/poems and put them to new, original music for their Mermaid Avenue albums. Result? Worldwide acclaim.


We'd wager there aren't many Britney Spears fans here, but wait ‘til you've heard Richard Thompson's bitter/spitting acoustic reinvention of Oops!... I Did It Again. Even more baffling is Scottish indiemen Aztec Camera's unplugged vision for Van Halen's “Jump.” You could even go the whole hog (roast) like Hayseed Dixie, and make a whole career out of hard rock classics in a “rockgrass” style.

Make Pop Scary!

As with Thompson, Britney can be made sinister. Debut hit “...Baby One More Time” became ominous and dark in the hands of U.K quartet Travis. Lead singer Fran Healey said, “We did it for a laugh the first time... And as we played it, the irony slipped from my smile. It’s a very well-crafted song. It has that magic thing.” For what it's worth, Miss Spears judged Travis's reworking “very different” (no kidding) but “cool.” Bowling For Soup did a more straight-up rock take on “...Baby One More Time.” For more scary, see Chris Cornell's acoustic reworking of Michael Jackson's “Billie Jean”.

Surprise Your Audience!

Radiohead are serious and stern. The Darkness are flamboyant and fun. But the two meet as the Les Paul-wielding quartet crank “Street Spirit (Fade Out)”, a song Radiohead's Thom Yorke says is "the dark tunnel without the light at the end.” In The Darkness's fret-melting fingers, it's ballistic shriek metal. It's rockin', oh yes, but not mockin'. Says The Darkness's Dan Hawkins: “We wanted a different take on the song, but it’s not an ironic statement. Frankly, we all love Radiohead.”

Tap Into Mega-Band Audiences!

Mexican nylon-stringed guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela first came to fame for their bold acoustic covers – notably of Metallica's “Orion” and Led Zep's “Stairway to Heaven.” A few years on and their shows were half-full of metalheads, who more than appreciated Rodrigo y Gabriela's acoustic shredding. Covers kicked open the door for their own tunes and a worldwide career.

Salute Your Youth!

Mr David Grohl is, it seems to be agreed, the Coolest Man in Rock. But even the stone-cold Cool once had a geek record collection, and Grohl is obsessed by everything Rush... even the kimonos. Foo Fighters' version of “Tom Sawyer” has recently become a highlight of an already hit-packed set. It's a no-frills, faithful repro, but DG's fan passion carries it through to an audience that would once have sneered at Rush.


When Rick Rubin approached Johnny Cash to make a series of (mostly covers) albums, the producer insisted on one thing: simplicity. The first album, 1994's American Recordings, was recorded in Cash's living room, just voice and guitar, or L.A's Viper Room club. Songs by Glenn Danzig, Tom Waits, Loudon Wainwright and others shone. The process continued to the fourth album, The Man Comes Around, starring Cash's chilling version of Nine Inch Nails' “Hurt” - Trent Reznor's song about addiction that becomes a reflection of Cash's own amazing life. Stripped-back, raw, minimal, unique.

All these approaches have arguably brought the best from covering others' songs and, of course, they're not mutually exclusive. Cornell's “Billie Jean”, for example, is acoustic, minimal, somewhat scary and a surprise.

These are just a few picks of inventive cover versions. Please share your own thoughts:

What's your favorite cover version?

What songs do you cover... and how?