They Right the Songs

33. "Just the Way You Are" by NRBQ
Do go changing Billy Joel.

32. "Stop Your Sobbing" by the Pretenders
Chrissie and company have had hit-and-miss luck with covers, but you can't go wrong with a Kinks song.

31. "Oh Well" by Joe Jackson
From early Fleetwood Mac to the Rockets to Jackson's latest LP, a monster riff goes a long, long way.

30. "Got the Time" by Anthrax
Joe Jackson peaked early with the masterful Look Sharp! album. This was one of the highlights, a sizzling anthem with lyrics that sound for all the world like he was singing "chickens in my head, chickens in my head." He wasn't. Neither is Anthrax.

29. "Like a Prayer" by John Wesley Harding
While bands such as Anthrax avow a true fondness for Madonna, others are less reverent toward the star of A Certain Sacrifice. Ciccone (nee Sonic) Youth sliced the tomato with The Whitey Album three years ago. Harding, the brilliant Brit wit/singer-songwriter, has a way with covers, including "Crystal Blue Persuasion" on his Name Above the Title LP. But this acoustic selection, from God Made Me Do It: The Christmas EP, is his crowning cover achievement, a gorgeous piece of music that indicates one reason Madonna needs a good spanking for her reliance on production and technology.

28. "Like a Virgin" by Lords of the New Church
They belch!

27. "Ballroom Blitz" by the Damned
Different harmonics than the masterful Sweet original (on Desolation Boulevard, one of the best rock albums ever made) but equal fury. Found on the Machine Gun Etiquette LP, this take proved the Damned really could play, when the drugs and the song were both right. The wild breakdown at the end both parodies Sweet's version and elevates it to new psycho-rock heights.

26. "Black Diamond" by the Replacements
From the same mid-Eighties album as "Androgynous," this KISS blaster fits nicely aside such ravers as "Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out" and "Gary's Got a Boner." Nowadays what's left of the 'Mats can muster only lame albums and sappy videos. Ah, memories.

25. "Freddy's Dead" by Fishbone
If songwriting were a martial art, Curtis Mayfield would wear a black belt. Fishbone does him some justice.

24. "Put a Little Love in Your Heart" by Circle Jerks
Jackie DeShannon will never be the same.

23. "Suspicious Minds" by the Heptones
The Elvis (Presley) classic set to a three-beat rhythm by the veteran reggae group.

22. "Heartbreak Hotel" by John Cale
The Elvis (Presley) classic set to piano and voice by Lou Reed's old buddy. Maybe Velvet Underground should have let Cale sing more often.

21. "Walk on the Wild Side" by John Palumbo
Palumbo's nostalgic "Drifting Back to Motown," also from Victim of the Nightlife, should be a hit. So should this. Funky, ultramodern backing provides a striking contrast to the cynical vocals and soaring harmonies in this heavily rearranged but still-faithful treatment. Probably what the Velvets would have sounded like if they started in 1991 and invited David Bowie to produce and sing.

20. "Strange" by R.E.M.
From Lou Reed nuggets to this perfect Pylon tune ("Michael's nervous and the lights are bright" sung by Michael Stipe!), R.E.M. has never been shy about remaking. At one point when they used to tour, the boys would silence audiences with a harrowing, pin-drop, a cappella reading of "Moon River." Cool, but not as cool as "Strange."

19. "Raspberry Beret" by Hindu Love Gods
H.L.G. consisted of the instrument-playing members of R.E.M. and singer Warren Zevon. They covered a bunch of old blues and such for a one-off album, this being the best of the batch. Further, it proves Prince has some bit of credibility as a songwriter.

18. "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" by Elvis Costello
Linda Ronstadt, who wouldn't have a career without other people's songs, has covered Elvis (Costello) a number of times, including "Alison" twice. Costello turned animal with a rare cover of his own, from the shimmering, acoustic-oriented, T-Bone Burnett-produced King of America. Royal.

17. "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me" by Violent Femmes
Boy George, you're being paged. Or is it aged?

16. "A Change Is Gonna Come" by Graham Parker
Parker loves the good old stuff, particularly the immortal Sam Cooke's work. "Cupid" on The Mona Lisa's Sister is nice, but this cut from Alive! Alone in America is heart shattering.

15. "Crawling from the Wreckage" by Dave Edmund
From Graham Parker's Repeat When Necessary. Repeat either version often.

14. "Try a Little Tenderness" by Three Dog Night
The ultimate playground for the strong-of-voice, this Otis Redding supersong has been done up by everyone from Clarence Clemons and the Red Bank Rockers (live) to the Commitments (in the new Alan Parker movie). The Three Dog Night rendering on 1970's Captured Live at the Forum stands as the best.

13. "All Along the Watchtower" by Jimi Hendrix Dylan's own is a pretty acoustic, rather low-key reading. Hendrix's is not. And that's what cool covers are all about. In fact, Dylan has said that after hearing Hendrix's treatment, he altered the way he sang the song.

12. "Tangled Up in Blue" by the Jerry Garcia Band
This list could, of course, include any of the Byrds' or Roger McGuinn's Dylan borrowings. The Grateful Dead has also turned through pages of the Dylan song book a number of times. This track, from the new Garcia double album (which contains a ton of covers), was chosen because of the cool, female background vocals.

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