3. David Bowie (1970)
4. Nirvana (1993): “The Man Who Sold the World”
Kurt Cobain often used the platform of his success to point his fans toward artists he admired. During Nirvana’s famous November 1993 “MTV Unplugged” performance, recorded a few months before he died, the band played a set heavy on obscure covers from the likes of the Vaselines, the Meat Puppets and Lead Belly that included the title track from an early, underappreciated Bowie album. Bowie and Cobain never got to meet, a fact that Bowie later bemoaned: “I was simply blown away when I found that Kurt Cobain liked my work, and have always wanted to talk to him about his reasons for covering ‘The Man Who Sold the World.’”
5. Gloria Jones (1964)
6. Soft Cell (1981): “Tainted Love”
The soul singer-songwriter Gloria Jones — later the partner of T. Rex leader Marc Bolan — first recorded a jumping, brassy rendition of this song in 1964. It became a kind of underground hit in the U.K. a decade later, when it became a staple of the Northern Soul scene. Then in the early 1980s, as new wave and synth-pop hit the mainstream, the British duo Soft Cell made it a global smash. (The song’s extended mix featured an interpolation of another ’60s classic, the Supremes’ “Where Did Our Love Go?”) Soft Cell’s rendition of “Tainted Love” set the record, at the time, for the longest consecutive run on the Billboard Hot 100 chart (43 weeks), and was later sampled on Rihanna’s No. 1 single “SOS.”
7. The Bobby Fuller Four (1965)
8. The Clash (1979): “I Fought the Law”
First recorded by a post-Buddy Holly Crickets in 1959, “I Fought the Law” didn’t become a hit until Bobby Fuller’s eponymous rock band covered it in 1965. Sadly, like his hero and fellow Texan Holly, Fuller died tragically young. The Clash introduced his music to a new generation — and also demonstrated how punk a lot of early rock ’n’ roll was — when it released a sneering, revved-up cover of this classic outlaw anthem in 1979.
9. Betty Hutton (1951)
10. Björk (1995): “It’s Oh So Quiet”
Thanks in part to its indelible, Spike Jonze-directed music video, Björk’s biggest and most recognizable hit is still her faithful cover of this zany 1951 B-side recorded by the actress and singer Betty Hutton. Spiritually true to the original, Björk has a blast accentuating the song’s contrasting dynamics from its hushed verses to its joyful, explosive chorus. Shhhh!
11. Leonard Cohen (1984) and … well, everyone, but mostly
12. Jeff Buckley (1994): “Hallelujah”
“Hallelujah” is at once the apex and the nadir of the cross-generational cover. Plucked from semi-obscurity by a series of artists including John Cale and Jeff Buckley, Cohen’s long-toiled-over opus has transformed from an if-you-know-you-know secret track to one of the most over-covered songs in pop musical history. And yet — with all due respect to the wounded beauty of Buckley’s interpretation — there’s still a lived-in wisdom and a wry humor that remains unique to Cohen’s original version, and that no one else may ever capture. Nor should they try.
I remember when we were driving,