Some of the best covers by British artists

Why do bands do covers?

Are some bands just plain lazy and want to jump on the back of another bands efforts? Maybe that’s a bit harsh. Are you a fan or a hater of covers?

I really think that there is genuine risk when a band especially a commercially successful one does a cover.

liam-lusk-cover-songs-by-british-bandsSome of the songs on this list I have mixed feelings about but I have to say that I like all of them in some way. A few of the songs also remind me of particular times in my youth which perhaps makes me biased. How many of the songs do you recognize or remember?

I hope you enjoy the list.

The Clash – ‘Police and Thieves’ – 1977

The Specials – ‘A message to you Rudy’ – 1979

The Communards – ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’ – 1986

The Slits – ‘I Heard it Through the Grapevine’ – 1979

Pet Shop Boys – ‘Always On My Mind’ – 1987

Bryan Ferry – ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall – 1973

Enjoy the list and feel free to leave a comment about the covers you like and why. Below I have linked the original songs for you as well so you can enjoy them.

  1. The Clash – Police and Thieves – 1977 (orig. Junior Murvin, 1976)
    • The Junior Murvin release was a bigger hit in Britain in 1976 than in Jamaica and the Clash enjoyed playing it so much in rehearsal that they squeezed it onto their debut album at the last minute.
    • Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s shimmering production was speeded up, extended to six minutes and given the spiky Clash treatment, and Joe Strummer’s sneer felt more appropriate to the subject matter than Murvin’s falsetto.
    • This was clearly a reggae cover which made it all the more distinctive in 1977, when fusions between punk and Jamaican music were only beginning to occur.
    • Whilst I can appreciate the Clash cover I personally prefer the original of this song.
  2. The Specials – ‘A message to you Rudy’ – 1979 (orig. Dandy Livingstone, 1967)
    • Dandy Livingstone’s 1967 original was a portrait of social unrest among Kingston youth.
    • The Specials took it and multiplied the vocals, lending the song their mob rule quality.
    • The Specials universalised the original’s Jamaican context, making a poignant comment on British disaffection that pre-empted the 1981 Brixton and Toxteth riots.
    • This song paved the way for ‘Ghost Town’.
    • I love the Specials so this cover gets my vote over the original.
  3. The Communards, Don’t Leave Me This Way (1986) (orig. Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, 1975)
    • You can hear the distinct slower disco feel in the original released 11 years earlier.
    • This No. 1 duet between Jimmy Somerville’s helium vocals and Sarah Jane Morris gave a genderbender twist to the disco classic.
    • Like the Bronski Beat song that we heard last week this song has an irresistable tempo to it.
    • Jimmy Somerville distinctive voice and small stature made him a unique star of the 1980’s.
    • I was a Bronski Beat and Communards fan and still am I suppose so I really like the cover.
  4. The Slits, I Heard it Through the Grapevine (1979) (orig. Marvin Gaye, 1968, after Gladys Knight & the Pips, 1967)
    • The Gaye classic is a study in self-lacerating paranoia. The Notting Hill femme-punks delivered it as an eccentric, dub-disco jump for joy.
    • The year before Gaye Gladys Knight & the Pips released a faster version.
    • Until about two weeks ago I must confess that I hadn’t actually heard this cover of the Gaye classic.
    • The Slits were a British punk rock band formed in 1976.
    • They supported the Clash on their 1977 White Riot tour.
    • I love the original (but who doesn’t) but I also like the energy that the Slits put into the cover.
  5. Pet Shop Boys, Always On My Mind (1987) (orig. Elvis Presley, 1972, after Brenda Lee, 1972)
    • A pure classic from the KING, Elvis Presley but we shouldn’t forget that Brenda Lee released in earlier in the same year as Elvis.
    • The peak of Tennant & Lowe’s dance-pop success they charmed a global audience with a disco version of the Elvis ballad.
    • You could go as far to say that the two versions of this song are so different that you might not even be aware they are the same.
    • This is what the Pet Shop Boys are really good at – putting a tune in your head that stays there.
    • Is this better than the Elvis hit? I think they are both great but can’t be compared because they sound so different.
  6. Bryan Ferry A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall (1973) (orig. Bob Dylan, 1963)
    • Ferry converts Dylan’s anti-nuclear masterpiece into faux-gospel pop.
    • This song has actually been covered by many artists over the years most recently in 2011.
    • I much prefer the Ferry cover over Dylan’s original in all honesty simply because I find Dylan’s voice a little (some of you might hate me for this) irritating.

I think that sometimes covers can be done well and new generations who hear their favorite bands doing a cover might not even be aware of the original.

In conclusion covers are fine and it depends on the listeners taste ultimately.

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