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The 10 Strangest Moments in Cover Song History

The 10 Strangest Moments in Cover Song History

Cover songs can be a lot of things.

They’re a great learning exercise, a good way to get new fans and they can be part of your strategy to keep your release cycle on tempo.

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It’s easy to see why so many artists are making cover songs part of their repertoire. Recording and licensing your own cover songs is a must for any ambitious songwriter.

But covers can be something else as well: Just plain weird.

Whether the new version takes a hard left turn, or the whole thing is simply surreal, here are 10 of the strangest moments in cover song history.

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1. “My Sharona” – Atlas Sound

Bradford Cox of Deerhunter and Atlas Sound is well known for his stage antics and outspoken public persona.

But Atlas Sound’s 2012 show at the Cedar Cultural Centre in Minneapolis probably takes the cake for the most off-the-wall moment.

Wearing a black ski mask, Cox responded to a request from the audience by launching into an unhinged hour-long cover of the Knack’s 1979 single “My Sharona.”

Watch an excerpt from the bizarre affair:

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2. “Pure Imagination” – Fiona Apple

Everything about the 1971 film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory tends toward the sinister and bizarre.

But Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka character performing “Pure Imagination” is a momentary relief from the woozy Wonka tension.

When done well, cover songs have the ability to draw out moods that might have not been so obvious in their original recordings.

Fiona Apple’s version deftly pitches the song as the haunting trip through the psyche that it truly is under the surface:

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3. Macaulay Culkin’s The Pizza Underground

Home Alone star Macaulay Culkin was a household name in the 90s for his work in nostalgic classics like Richie Rich and The Pagemaster.

But did you know he fronted a pizza-themed Velvet Underground tribute band?

Since re-emerging as a general funny person and actor in cult films like Party Monster and Saved!, one of Culkin’s projects from 2013-2018 was The Pizza Underground.

Check out their rendition of “All Tomorrow’s Parties” here:

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4. “[I Can’t Get No] Satisfaction” – Devo

There’s always been potent critique and satire behind Devo’s outlandish posturing and jittery new wave sound.

Nowhere has their tongue-in-cheek “de-evolution” manifesto been on better display than their 1978 cover of the Rolling Stones’ “[I Can’t Get No] Satisfaction.”

Devo’s take on the song sounds like aliens uploaded the Rolling Stone’s 1965 original to their database using a primitive extraterrestrial version of Google Translate.

Devo’s take on the song sounds like aliens uploaded the Rolling Stone’s 1965 original to their database using a primitive extraterrestrial version of Google Translate.

Check it out here:

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5. “Little Drummer Boy” – The Dandy Warhols

Indie-rock interpretations of popular Christmas songs have had varying degrees of success, but the Dandy Warhol’s take on “Little Drummer Boy” is something else.

The weirdest thing about this cover is how well the song actually works with the Dandys’ grinding shoegaze rhythm and vocal harmonies.

It’s a strangely catchy track that’s especially uncanny to hear outside the holiday season.

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6. “Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)” – The Doors

The Doors are a bit of curiosity for the modern ear. Their catalogue ranges from heady psychedelia to dated roadhouse boogie.

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But they always maintained a brainy streak that was somewhat at odds with the uncomplicated peace and love message of their contemporaries.

That sense of haughty intellectualism is probably what gave them the idea to cover a Bertolt Brecht poem set to music by Kurt Weill.

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7. “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” – William Shatner

This one is totally surreal. I have so many questions:

  • Who’s idea was it for Shatner to deliver the lyrics that way?
  • Who came up with the slick studio arrangement of the song?
  • Who could possibly have thought this was a good plan AND paid for it?

Maybe we should just let the track speak for itself:

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8. “Tomorrow Never Knows” – Daniel Johnston and Jad Fair

While we’re on the subject, the Beatles are actually the most covered band of all time.

Casting such a wide net is bound to lead to some weirdness—and Daniel Johnston certainly delivered.

A lifelong fan of the classic band, Johnston channelled his admiration for “Tomorrow Never Knows” into a bizarre cover on his 2001 album Spooky with Jad Fair:

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9. “The Simpsons End Credits Theme” – Sonic Youth

A Simpsons cameo is practically a badge of honour for cultural relevance.

A Simpsons cameo is practically a badge of honour for cultural relevance.

It’s not surprising that bands like Smashing Pumpkins and Cypress Hill jumped at the chance to lend their alternative cachet to the show’s send-up of late 90s festival culture.

But Sonic Youth did one better by covering the outro theme for the end of the episode.

Their abrasive guitar tones give the melody a feverish bent:

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10. “Wonderwall” – Cat Power

It wouldn’t be a list of covers without the acoustic bonfire classic “Wonderwall” by Oasis.

Cat Power’s version somehow manages to bring a sense of intimacy to the tired and toothless track—a feat that few have the skill and vision to pull off.

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Stranger Than Fiction

At the end of the day, as much as we want to reproduce the tracks we love, we can’t help sounding like ourselves.

Cover songs are a super versatile tool to have in your songwriting toolbox. That’s probably why they can get so weird sometimes.

Hearing another artist’s take on a familiar track to can give you new insight into what makes a song great. The weirdest covers pull that curtain back even further.

At the end of the day, as much as we want to reproduce the tracks we love, we can’t help sounding like ourselves

Now that you’ve seen how bizarre covers can get, go find your own strange corner of music history to interpret.

Michael Hahn

Michael Hahn is an engineer and producer at Autoland and member of the swirling indie rock trio Slight.

@Michael Hahn

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