Music break. It’s a rainy June weekend in NYC and so naturally Gaby and I decided to make a top-ten sacrosanct list. Ours is not just a top-ten list of cover songs that are better than the originals (that would be too easy: think of Sinead O’Connor’s ‘Nothing Compares To You‘, Yael Naim’s Toxic, Antony and the Johnsons’ ‘Crazy In Love‘ or Hendrix’s ‘Hey Joe‘). No, our list is an attack on the classics: those timeless tunes assumed and celebrated to be untouchable. The criteria for consideration is simple: originality and emotionality (song gotta really move us). Needless to say most covers simply did not make the cut. But surprisingly ten did (not a real “top-ten”, as we didn’t order them). Have a listen and judge for yourself.
1. Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah. Orignal artist: Leonard Cohen.
According to Wikipedia, ‘Hallelujah’ is a song officially covered around two hundred times. We think it’s safe to say that in one hundred ninety nine cases ‘Hallelujah’ has been a pale imitation of the original. The one exception: Jeff Buckley. The departed singer-songwriter’s version is both sensual and sublime: never failing to deliver goose bumps in moment of crescendo. In an interview for the magazine OOR, Buckley said the following about the song: “Whoever listens carefully to ‘Hallelujah’ will discover that it is a song about sex, about love, about life on earth. The hallelujah is not a homage to a worshipped person, idol or god, but the hallelujah of the orgasm. It’s an ode to life and love.”
2.Red Hot Chili Peppers – Higher Ground. Original artist: Stevie Wonder.
Maybe the hardest choice on the list. But that unadulterated RHCP energy makes us want to get up and jump around the room (actually skateboard). Plus, how cool is that bouncy bass line in the beginning? Come on now, slappin da bass man, slappin da bass!
3.Geva Alon: “Modern Love”. Original artist: David Bowie.
I first heard this song sitting in a cafe in Tel-Aviv. I asked the waitress, “do you know who we are listening to?” She quickly replied, “Geva Alon, a local boy.” Alon is unusual for an Israeli musician in that he sings in English and is very much influenced by folk American/British singers. With ‘Modern Love’, Gaby and I adore how he slows down and injects some unsuspecting melancholy to the up-beat 80’s classic. Time for Bowie to wave bye bye.
5. Mercedes Sosa: “La maza”. Original artist: Silvio Rodriguez.
Yes, we know, Rodriguez’s fans are going to go ape-shit. Sorry about that, but Sosa’s arrangement and soaring vocals take this song to new heights. After Sosa everything else sounds inferior.
6. Little Help From My Friends: Joe Cocker. Original artist: The Beatles.
‘Little Help’ was the last time Paul and John ever collaborated together. One is tempted to award them the song just for that alone. But Cocker’s slower version is so out-of-this-world soulful that it surpasses the boys from liverpool. Hey, even Kevin Arnold would concur.
7. Rachid Taha: Rock El Casbah. Original artist: The clash.
Here is an idea, add some Arabic lyrics and middle eastern flavor to a song about an Arab ruler who hates music and is defied by his own citizens. Shereef may not like it, but we do.
8. Mad World: Gary Jules. Original artist: Tears For Fears.
The lyrics of the original are powerful and morose, but the up-beat dance music seem at a disconnect with the lyrical content (some claimed on purpose). Jules changed all that with his ballad-like emotional take on the TFF hit, originally featured in the film Donnie Darko.
9. Billy Jean: Chris Cornell Original artist: Michael Jackson.
This was a debate. No consensus reached – other than “MJ is MJ” (for the record I was talking about number 23). Well, we agreed that Cornell does something special with this stripped-down and emotional version of a song about a stalker. Note to future artists: There is something about slowing down an upbeat song and putting it in a dark minor key that gets you on our list.
10.’Hurt”: Johnny Cash. Orginal artist: Nine Inch Nails.
When Trent Reznor first saw the video above he felt overwhelmed with emotion and proclaimed “this song isn’t mine anymore.” Who are we to disagree with Mr. Reznor?
We invite you to respond: praise our choices, slam us or just add to the list.