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Another way to enjoy a song that you love, and perhaps discover an artist you never listened to, is through a cover. Ever since the classic Joe Cocker release ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’, re-imagining a song has become a talent all of its own.
The following is a playlist which takes a different spin on that concept, songs written and recorded by male artists, reconstructed in the hands of some very talented women. This leads to some interesting results, taking a song you may already be familiar with and giving it a totally new dimension. In some cases, even surpassing the original. Of course, this comes down to personal taste.
Leaving the late Aretha Franklin and her Otis Redding-penned monster hit ‘Respect’ out of the equation is done purposely to make the playlist a little less obvious.
#1. Patti Smith – ‘When Doves Cry’ (Prince)
Perhaps the most recognised song by Patti Smith is another cover, ‘Gloria’. Here, however, she tackles the Prince classic, ‘When Doves Cry’. Included on her 2002 compilation, Land, it stands as a classic remodelling, with Smith’s venomous delivery restrained out of respect for the composer.
#2. Annie Lennox – ‘Don’t Let It Bring You Down’ (Neil Young)
Post-Eurythmics Lennox shines on her second-solo album, the haunting Medusa from 1995. This is not the only cover on that album that dazzles either, a very strong version of ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’ is another stunner from the record.
#3. The Pretenders – ‘Creep’ (Radiohead)
Anything that Chrissie Hynde puts her hand to usually ends up magnificent, in her own snarling style. A cover of a Radiohead number is no exception, she moulds it into her own sarcastic style.
#4. Melissa Etheridge – ‘Refugee’ (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers)
One of the finest examples of a cover out-shining the original, taken from her 2005 compilation The Road Less Travelled, Etheridge brands this with her own unique delivery.
#5. Kate Bush – ‘Rocket Man‘ (Elton John)
Kate Bush covering Elton John sounds like the perfect scenario and, thankfully, it lives up to expectations. Included on the album Two Rooms: Celebrating the Songs of Elton John & Bernie Taupin in 1991, Kate injects her own Gothic weirdness, veering wildly away from the original.
#6. Siouxsie And The Banshees – ‘Dear Prudence’ (The Beatles)
Perhaps the most well-known track on the playlist. The Banshees released it in 1983 and it rocketed up the charts to a high of number three. It’s a spooky, Gothic remake of the original classic, taking the eerie subject even further. On this cover, Siouxsie Sioux shapes the song into her own personal vehicle.
#7. Sheryl Crow – ‘D’yer M’aker’ (Led Zeppelin)
A strange choice of song to cover but Sheryl makes it work brilliantly. Taken from the album Encomium: A Tribute to Led Zeppelin from 1995, this is one of the more interesting pieces from the set.
#8. The Bangles – ‘Hazy Shade Of Winter’ (Simon And Garfunkel)
This was a track The Bangles performed as far back as 1983. When released as a single in November 1987, it became a huge hit, surpassing the original version and peaking at number 2 on the U.S charts. With Rick Rubin producing, this winning combination led to a wholly enjoyable rocker.
#9. Tori Amos – ‘Enjoy The Silence’ (Depeche Mode)
This Depeche Mode favourite got a stripping down courtesy of Amos on her 2001 album Strange Little Girls. Almost unrecognisable from the original, released on Violator in 1989, Amos gives a good example of taking the basics and re-shaping them.
#10. Cowboy Junkies – ‘Sweet Jane’ (The Velvet Underground)
Released in 1988, this version of the Velvet Underground classic is slower than the original, based on a live version released on the album 1969. The late Lou Reed was often quoted as saying that the Cowboy Junkies version was his favourite.
#11. Garbage – ‘Starman’ (David Bowie)
This more recent offering, from last year, was recorded by Garbage as part of the Howard Stern radio-tribute to David Bowie. While, perhaps, not the greatest version of the song, it still remains an interesting remake.
#12. PJ Harvey – ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ (Bob Dylan)
Taken from Rid Of Me, Polly Jean Harvey’s second-album in 1993, this song captures the dark defiance of PJ at the height of her powers, eclipsing the original Dylan version.
#13. Kirsty MacColl – ‘Days’ (The Kinks)
In 1989 the late Kirsty MacColl released this stunning, sweet, effortlessly gliding track. It narrowly missed out on the top ten, settling at number twelve, the same position the Kinks original reached in 1968, although MacColl’s version is actually the more recognisable.
#14. Joan Jett – ‘Crimson And Clover’ (Tommy James And The Shondells)
After The Runaways, Joan Jett established herself with her band The Blackhearts and their massive hit ‘I Love Rock ‘N Roll’, itself a cover of an Arrows track. Her follow-up single ‘Crimson And Clover’, also a cover, of The Shondells original, became a U.S. hit. Though it didn’t manage top fifty status on this side of the Atlantic, it’s still an absolute cracker.
#15. Ann Wilson – ‘I Am The Highway’ (Audioslave)
Another recent release on this list, Ann Wilson of Heart recorded this as a tribute to her longtime friend, the late Chris Cornell. This is an emotional retelling of the Audioslave standard, and the pain of loss comes through fully in every syllable of Wilson’s delivery.
*Note the Ann Wilson track is part of charity release and not available on streaming sites as yet.
So there you have it – 15 tracks, 15 covers. A star-studded lineup, each turning their hand to a song which may hold some personal meaning and sculpting it into their own unique style.