A cover song (or cover version) is a commercially released song that has been newly performed or recorded by an artist other than the original artist/composer. Here is a list of the Top 10 most covered songs according to Independent UK. One of the most well-known cover versions of an original song is Jimi Hendrix’s version of Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower. Here’s Bob Dylan’s version:
And Jimi Hendrix’s version:
There are cover versions in every genre, and there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to cover versions. Anything goes. There are even cover bands who exclusively perform covers.
Even metal bands cover songs of anything they damn well please. Firstly, it is absolutely absurd and hilarious to suggest that heavy metal music and every other genre in existence are mutually exclusive; there are plenty of metal fans who listen to Tori Amos and Lana Del Rey. So, let’s get that brain-fart of a thought out of our minds. (And if you’re a metal fan, there’s absolutely NO SHAME in liking something out of the heavy metal spectrum. Ditto if you are not a metalhead but like a band in the heavy metal spectrum. It happens.)
It’s even more fun when a metal band covers a song from a non-metal band. For the purposes of this blog, I am going to include non-metal songs covered by goth, rock and alternative bands, or a less extreme song covered by a more extreme band. Here we go with the songs that got the metal makeover:
#1. The Hunt
Composer/s: Justin Sullivan, Robert Heaton
Original artist: New Model Army
Covered by: Sepultura
Original appears on: Ghost of Cain, released 1986 (EMI)
Cover appears on: Chaos AD, released 1993 (Roadrunner Records)
The Hunt is a song about an undisclosed number of siblings who avenge their brother after the judicial system appeared to have failed them. The lyrics leave the circumstances open to the imagination, so whatever happened to the brother is anyone’s guess. (My guess is the brother became addicted to heroin and the siblings are pursuing one of the dealer’s lackeys, but you can come to your own conclusion.)
Here’s the original New Model Army version:
And the Sepultura version:
New Model Army’s signature sound is defined by the “lead bass” in their sound. Conventionally, the bass player plays the root note of of the guitar chord progression, whereas New Model Army turns that convention on its head with the bass guitar being the dominant instrument. Other notable bands with a dominant bass sound (albeit deviating from New Model Army’s bass style) include Primus and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.
Sepultura simplify the bass, sticking to their own foundations with their cover version. By reading the comments on the above YouTube video, some commenters expressed their disdain at the bass lines being stripped down, as though Sepultura committed an act of blasphemy. Wouldn’t it be more blasphemous if Sepultura performed a carbon copy of The Hunt instead of giving it the Sepultura flavour? Sepultura took the New Model Army song and made it sound like Sepultura. And their version of The Hunt fits in well with the other tracks on Chaos A.D.
Let’s move on to a song (or two) that got a dramatic makeover…
#2. Little Black Angel
Composer/s: Douglas P. (reinterpreted from the song “Black Baby” by People’s Temple Choir, which in turn was a reinterpretation of “Brown Baby” by Oscar Brown, Jr.)
Original Artist: Death in June
Covered by: Death Wolf (electronica outfit Ladytron also did their own take, but this blog post is about the metal version)
Original appears on: But, What Ends when the Symbols Shatter?, released 1992 (New European Recordings) [“Black Baby” appears on He’s Able, released 1973 (Brotherhood Records), “Brown Baby” appears on Sin & Soul… And Then Some, released 1960 (Columbia Records)]
Cover appears on: Death Wolf II: Black Armoured Death, released 2013 (Blooddawn Productions/Century Media)
What we have here is an excellent example of how an original song can undergo a major evolution, in this case through three generations of artists (Oscar Brown, Jr -> Peoples Temple Choir -> Death in June). Not only did the artists subsequent to Oscar Brown Jr make his song their own, they took “let’s make this our own” to a new level by practically re-writing the song. Here’s the Oscar Brown, Jr original:
Here’s the People’s Temple Choir reinterpretation:
The People’s Temple Choir were the choral group of the People’s Temple of the Disciples of Christ, the religious cult central to the Jonestown Mass Suicide on or about November 18, 1978. Their leader was pastor Jim Jones, who was among the dead at Jonestown.
Here is the grandchild of Brown Baby, Little Black Angel, performed by Death in June, a group who has courted controversy (albeit less serious) of their own:
Which song was then covered by Death Wolf. Okay, so Death Wolf aren’t strictly a metal band, but they are metal by association – their founding member is Marduk guitarist Morgan Håkansson.They took an acoustic song and metalled it up:
There is speculation abound, floating around in the vast corners of cyberspace, as to Death In June’s inspiration behind Little Black Angel. But, it could have been left open for the imagination of the listener, just like The Hunt. But, let’s focus on the music. Compared to the Death In June song, the Death Wolf cover is played in a different key (presumably to fit within Maelstrom’s vocal range). On a side note, even long-established bands will play their own early songs in a different key, because the voice changes as we age.
Okay, on to the next one:
#3. Born to Die
Composer/Original Artist: Lana Del Rey
Covered by: Tiamat
Original appears on: Born to Die, released in January 2012 (Interscope/Polydor)
Cover appears on: The Scarred People, released in November 2012 (Napalm Records)
Born to Die is the title track from Lana Del Rey’s second full length album. It’s a song with melancholy lyrics, sung to a sombre melody. Here it is, in all its glory:
Swedish goth/metal band Tiamat were quick to see a golden opportunity to take Born to Die and made it their own:
The result is a cover version that makes Lana Del Rey look like a goth in denial. I have always been a fan of Tiamat, but I became a fan of Lana Del Rey because of Tiamat’s cover version. My experience is testament to how a band doing a cover version can work in the original artist’s favour.
Meanwhile, in Australia…
#4. On a Night Like This
Composers: Steve Torch, Graham Stack, Mark Taylor, Brian Rawling
Original Artist: Pandora; Kylie Minogue’s version is technically a cover (and Anna Vissi performed her own version), but Minogue made it famous
Covered by: Lord
Original appears on: Light Years, released in 2000 (Parlophone/EMI/Mushroom)
Cover appears on: Set in Stone, released in 2009 (Dominus Records)
This pop song is one that has done the rounds; the version most English speakers are familiar with is the Kylie Minogue version:
Sydney power metal band Lord decided to do their own take on the song, right down to the music video:
Seriously, these guys are just taking the piss. Having seen Lord live, the video pretty much captures the essence of their Loki-esque stage presence.
Even traditional folk songs are not safe from the metal treatment…
#5. Scarborough Fair
Composer/s: English Traditional; original composer unknown
Original Artist: Unknown; earliest commercial recording was by Gordon Heath and Lee Payant; subsequent recordings by A. L. Lloyd, Simon & Garfunkel and Marianne Faithful
The metal cover: Leaves’ Eyes
Earliest commercial recording(s) appear(s) on: Heath/Payant – Encores from the Abbaye, released in 1955 (Elektra); A. L. Lloyd – The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, released in 1952; Simon & Garfunkel – Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme, released in 1966 (Columbia); Marianne Faithful – North Country Maid, released in 1966
the Metal cover version appears on: Njord, released in 2009 (Napalm Records)
Trust a traditional folk song to be given a revival during the hippie-love-child era, the 1960s. When anyone mentions Scarborough Fair, the first artist that comes to mind is Simon & Garfunkel, so here is their version:
Leaves’ Eyes are not the only band in the goth/metal spectrum to cover Scarborough Fair, but their version is epic, of Ben Hur proportions:
And how could anyone not favour the ethereal voice of Liv Kristine?
While this is by no means an exhaustive (or definitive) list, there are plenty more heavy metal covers of pop songs that I have not yet discovered. So in the meantime, enjoy.