Cover songs are a massive gray area for music fans. If a band sticks too close to the original, they might be perceived as a cheap knock-off, but if the band makes a drastic diversion, the results might only be amusing for a moment. When a cover works, though, the payoff can be massive. Fans can be turned on to a band they've never heard before or gained some newfound appreciation for something they previously couldn't stomach. We poured through piles of covers unleashed over the past decade, from album recordings to viral videos to live-only pieces and picked out the ten best.
1. The Muppets
“Bohemian Rhapsody” (Queen)
There's just something about Queen. From arena rock to sports anthems to Wayne's World, the British rock band has been a pop culture touchstone since the '70s. Then, just before the end of the '00s, Queen came back in Muppet form. From the sound of Gonzo singing over clucking chickens to Beaker's chants of “me, me, me” to Miss Piggy's rousing conclusion, this version of “Bohemian Rhapsody” oozes win.
2. Johnny Cash
“Personal Jesus” (Depeche Mode)
The Man in Black was always good with a cover (e.g. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds “The Mercy Seat” and Nine Inch Nails “Hurt”), but his version of Depeche Mode's hit “Personal Jesus” is the standout here if for no other reason than it seemed quite unexpected. Where many had written off Depeche Mode, and synthpop in general, as somehow less “real” than rock music, Cash clearly didn't. He picked up on the blues influence in “Personal Jesus” and turned it into another hit.
3. Nickel Creek
“Toxic” (Britney Spears)
“Toxic” is the song that even Britney Spears' biggest detractors have trouble hating. From its infectious chorus to that strange violin, it might just be the best pop song of the decade. Southern California-based bluegrass outfit understood that and turned “Toxic” onto its head with mandolin and fiddle. It became a favorite for fans of the now-defunct group and a staple of their live sets.
4. The Autumns
“Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want” (The Smiths)
Smiths covers are always drastically hit or miss. With The Autumns, who we should note is probably the only band to successfully cover Cocteau Twins, the result is hit. Singer Matthew Kelly, thankfully, makes no attempt to mimic Morrissey and instead keeps his own powerful voice subdued and the addition of piano and female backing vocals is a nice nod to Dream Academy's mid-'80s cover version.
5. Scissor Sisters
“Take Me Out” (Franz Ferdinand)
Scissor Sister burst onto the club scene with a take on Pink Floyd's “Comfortably Numb” that sounded like it came from the Bee-Gees. It should be expected, then, that the New York City band would be consistently inventive with its reworking of other people's songs. Turning Franz Ferdinand's dance-rock anthem “Take Me Out” into something more suited for a piano bar is certainly an odd choice, but with the always-dramatic vocal stylings of Jack Shears at the forefront, it works.
“Blue Monday” (New Order)
With its cover of New Order's dance floor anthem “Blue Monday,” Norwegian band Flunk essentially made up for the travesty Orgy committed at the end of the last decade with its own version of the song. They accomplished this by keeping very little of the arrangement intact. Stripped down to a simple guitar riff, a chillout room beat and some electronic ambience, Flunk captures the malaise that often passes by listeners as they run to the dance floor. Check out Jori Hulkkonen's remixes too.
“Joe le Taxi” (Vanessa Paradis)
Though it was an international hit for then-fourteen-year-old Vanessa Paradis, “Joe le Taxi” remains a bit obscure in the U.S. Then, in 2002, Hanayo, a former geisha and renowned artist in Berlin, removed the weird '80s sax and “cha cha cha” bits from the original, kicked up the beat and turned it into a super cool piece of techno-pop. 2MandyDJs picked up on it and, then, so did every other hip kid behind the decks. Soon even Americans new about “Joe le Taxi.”
8. Tiga and Zyntherius
“Sunglasses at Night” (Corey Hart)
Have you ever thought you adamantly disliked a song until you heard a cover of it? That's how I felt about Corey Hart's tune “Sunglasses at Night” until I heard Tiga and Zyntherius version. With DJs Tiga and Jori Hulkkonen (Zyntherius) at the helm, the '80s pop tune reached its truly evil potential, like it should be playing in the background of a horror movie set in a red light district. You can never have enough of that on the dance floor.
9. Jose Gonzalez
“Heartbeats” (The Knife)
The Knife's breakout hit “Heartbeats” seemed too strange and other-worldly to be successfully covered. Then fellow Swede Jose Gonzalez took a stab at it with his trusty guitar and turned it into a strikingly beautiful and unique piece.
10. Franz Ferdinand
“All My Friends” (LCD Soundsystem)
Franz Ferdinand is typically pretty faithful in their approach to cover songs (check out their version of Pulp's tune “Mis-Shapes”) and this version of “All My Friends” is no different. However, the additional guitars in the Scottish band's cover add a sense of urgency to LCD Soundsystem's song.