The Torontoist Cover Song Catalogue
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The Torontoist Cover Song Catalogue

Certainly not the definitive list

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but sometimes remaking other people’s songs brings a whole new level of originality.
New performers are well-advised to have a signature cover tune to help attract fans familiar with the original, and artists like Tori Amos and Barenaked Ladies have made cover songs a staple of their shows. The Beatles, Dylan and The Rolling Stones are among the most-covered artists, and there are more than 3,000 versions of Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday” alone.
We tried to avoid some of the more obvious cover hits (like Alien Ant Farm’s recent chart-topper “Smooth Criminal”) and we stuck with actual recorded covers rather than including those only played in concert. You’ll notice that most of these cover versions are pretty chilled-out, which is a byproduct of looking for tracks that were eclectic, odd and often very different from the originals.
The crime of covering classic tracks is enough to give some music aficionados a bad rash and invoke petty flamewars on Stillepost, but a hit is a hit, so leave the music snobbery in your iPod and discover some fantastic recycled songs (and some bad ones too).

Many of these songs are available on iTunes for purchase. Click here to follow along with our iTunes playlist, or use the embedded playlist at the bottom of the article.

Category: Better Than The Original

Artist images

OK, let’s get this out of the way right off the bat, shall we? Feel free to leave your shock and outrage in the comments, but sometimes someone comes along who really whips an older song into shape.
Number 1SHARON JONES AND THE DAP KINGS covering “What Have You Done For Me Lately”
Album: Dap Dippin’ with Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings
Original artist: Janet Jackson
When we played this version for people without explanation, all of them believed Janet was covering an obscure old song. She wasn’t. Sharon Jones take the eighties hit and turns it into a funky, lo-fi, Motown-era jam that is far superior to Miss Jackson’s (if you’re nasty) and sounds like it was the one recorded first. Flawless. [HEAR]
Number 2JONATHA BROOKE covering “Eye In The Sky”
Album: Back In The Circus
Original artist: Alan Parsons Project
Like The Police’s “Every Breath You Take”, “Eye In The Sky” is one of those tracks where the perkiness of the original recording obscures quite sinister lyrics. In this restrained, quiet version, Brooke brings the appropriate bitterness and sadness to lines like “The sun in your eyes / Made some of the lies worth believing.” [HEAR]
Number 3DAVE WERNER covering “Straight Up”
Original artist: Paula Abdul
New York-based graphic designer Dave Werner has accomplished an incredible feat: his acoustic YouTube version of “Straight Up” actually suggests that American Idol judge Paula Abdul might be a good songwriter. It pains us to say it, but the evidence is there. If this was a Jason Mraz, Ryan Adams or Jack Johnson track, it would be an indie smash. Believe it. (UPDATE: Reader Thierry informs us that the song credit should go to Elliott Wolff instead, who also wrote songs for Color Me Badd and Taylor Dayne)
Number 4GEORGE MICHAEL covering “They Won’t Go When I Go”
Album: Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1
Original artist: Stevie Wonder
Is that the sound of a thousand hate emails reaching our inbox? Stevie is undoubtedly a legend, but George Michael owns this song. Wonder wrote these musings on death and the afterlife it after being involved in a serious 1973 car crash, and Michael gives the song an appropriate gravity and pathos. [HEAR]
Number 5BIG BROTHER & THE HOLDING COMPANY covering “Ball and Chain”
Album: Cheap Thrills
Original artist: Big Mama Thornton
Man, that Janis Joplin was one way-out chick. At almost ten minutes, this version is half distorted sixties psychedelic guitar and half gravel-throated drunken Delta blues and it’s the ultimate showcase of Joplin’s unbelievable vocal talent. Torontonians may want to check-out the 2004 documentary Festival Express, which chronicled a 1970 Toronto to Winnipeg concert tour where Joplin shared billing with the Grateful Dead, Sha Na Na, and The Band, among others. Hollywood has continually bungled competing Joplin biopic projects, and The Gospel According To Janis, which director Penelope Spheeris has been developing for almost twenty years, was finally scheduled to start filming this month. Zooey Deschanel is playing Janis; a role originally awarded to Pink. [HEAR]
Also check out
RYAN ADAMS covering Oasis’s “Wonderwall” [HEAR]
JOSS STONE covering Joe Simon’s “The Chokin’ Kind” [HEAR]
THE WHITE STRIPES covering Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” [HEAR]
PAUL ANKA covering Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life” [HEAR]
ISRAEL KAMAKAWIWO’OLE covering “Somewhere Over The Rainbow/What A Wonderful World” [HEAR]
THIS MORTAL COIL covering Tim Buckley’s “Song To The Siren” [HEAR]
BETTYE LaVETTE covering Dolly Parton’s “Little Sparrow” [HEAR]
matt pond PA covering Lindsey Buckingham’s “Holiday Road” [HEAR]
ANNIE LENNOX covering Cole Porter’s “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” [HEAR]
EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL covering Tom Waits’ “Downtown Train”, made famous by Rod Stewart [HEAR]
Category: Toronto Recycles

Artist photos

Number 1EMM GRYNER covering “For What Reason”
Album: Girl Versions
Original artist: Death Cab For Cutie
Girl Versions is Gryner’s all-cover album and it’s fantastic, covering a range from Fugazi to The Clash to defunct east-coasters Thrush Hermit. In covering “For What Reason,” she puts her trademark haunting spin on Death Cab’s pretentious lyrics. Gryner fled Toronto for a small town life in St. Mary’s, and Bono declares the song “Almighty Love” off her new album to be one of the seven songs he wishes he’d written. Also check out her heartbreaking version of Paul Weller’s “You Do Something To Me” off her Science Fair album. [HEAR]
Number 2FINAL FANTASY covering “Peach, Plum, Pear”
Album: Young Canadian Mothers
Original artist: Joanna Newsom
Joanna Newsom is classically trained, has a voice like Björk’s infant sister and plays a harp. Owen Pallet is classically trained, plucks a violin and sounds like Thom Yorke’s little brother. What could go wrong covering Newsom’s “Peach, Plum, Pear?” Answer: nothing. Extra points to Final Fantasy for leaving-in whining microphone feedback over his string arrangement. (Song suggested by David Topping) [HEAR]
Number 3MOLLY JOHNSON covering “Sleep In Late”
Album: Another Day
Original artist: Big Sugar
Molly Johnson and Big Sugar have had more than a passing influence in each other’s careers, but Johnson’s version of “Sleep In Late” weaves it into the song it always should have been. The drawling vocals and Andrew Craig’s discordant old piano squarely places the track in a smoky southern turn-of-the-century juke joint. Johnson has been a solid staple of the Toronto music scene since the 80s and recorded this new album in only eight days. Also check out her cover of “Summertime,” which joins the 2,600 versions already recorded. [HEAR]
Number 4DALA covering “Lovesong”
Album: Angels & Thieves
Original artist: The Cure
The Dala girls are known for their coffee-house harmonies, and the song works well in that formula. “Lovesong” has been covered many times before, but Dala’s chilled-out version is a welcome departure from the usual heavier covers. [HEAR]
Number 5BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE covering “Puff The Magic Dragon”
Album: See You On The Moon! (Songs for Kids of All Ages)
Original artist: Made famous by Peter, Paul and Mary
This year, Paper Bag Records joined the losing fight against treacle like the Kidz Bop franchise with their indie kid compilation See You On The Moon, featuring tracks like “Be Nice To People With Lice” and “Voices Are Your Best Friend.” Stereogum reported that BSS’s original seven-minute submission of their funereal “Puff The Magic Dragon” cover was rejected in favour of a shorter version with their freaky coda excised. Kevin Drew explained that the publisher refused permission because of the revised happy ending, which found Jackie Paper returning as an adult to introduce Puff to his son and, um, Broken Social Scene. “Puff” has some of the most tragic lyrics of any children’s classic, and one unenthusiastic Stereogum poster dubbed Broken Social Scene’s cover “a soundtrack for five year-old cutters.” (Song suggested by Gary Campbell) [HEAR]
Also check out
FEIST covering Ron Sexsmith’s “Secret Heart” (suggested by Ron Nurwisah) [HEAR]
ESTHERO covering Dusty Springfield’s “The Windmills Of Your Mind” [HEAR]
jacksoul covering Jane’s Addiction’s “Been Caught Stealing” [HEAR]
JARVIS CHURCH and K’NAAN covering U2’s “One” [HEAR]
SHAYE covering Crash Vegas’ “On And On” [HEAR]
ROBERTA MICHELE covering Bread’s “Make It With You” [HEAR]
STARS covering The Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York” [HEAR]
JAYMZ BEE’S ROYAL JELLY ORCHESTRA covering Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like An Eagle” [HEAR]
Category: Bizarre and Way Out

Artist photos

Number 1NINA GORDON covering “Straight Outta Compton”
Album: n/a
Original artist: N.W.A.
Hearing sweet, white Nina Gordon cheerily singing the N.W.A. ‘hood anthem with full sincerity is a total mindwarp. Sounding like a Woodstock-era folk song, there’s a charm in how the Veruca Salt co-founder delivers lines like, “The police are gonna hafta come and get me off yo ass / That’s how I’m goin’ out.” Nina come strapped straight from the capital CPT, yo. Strangely, it works. [HEAR – explicit] Which leads us to…
Number 2TORI AMOS covering “’97 Bonnie and Clyde”
Album: Strange Little Girls
Original artist: Eminem
Tori Amos is the Cover Queen in concert, whipping-out oddly unique versions of songs like “I’m On Fire” and “Losing My Religion”, but it’s this Eminem cover that really turns the original on its ear. The lyrics find Eminem explaining to his daughter why they’re dumping her mother’s slashed body, and Amos whispers the lyrics over a sparse cello riff which brings the horror and misogyny of Em’s version to a more psychotic level (believe it or not). The deadpan, icy female delivery of lyrics like, “Da-da made a nice bed for mommy at the bottom of the lake” sends chills down the spine. [HEAR]
Number 3MAX RAABE covering “Oops…I Did It Again”
Album: Palast Orchester prasentiert Super Hits
Original artist: Britney Spears
Think contemporary hits being performed at the Kit Kat Klub in 1930s Berlin and you’ve got German-born Max Raabe’s schtick. Raabe performed at Marilyn Manson’s 2005 wedding and made it to number one on the charts in Lithuania, selling more albums than the Beatles there. His Palast Orchester sells-out huge shows throughout Germany, and though Raabe mostly creates original songs and covers standards, it’s his contemporary versions of songs like “Sex Bomb” and “Tainted Love” that have got him most of the Western attention. Hören sie mit vergnügen! [HEAR]
Number 4TRANSFORMER DI ROBOTER covering “Stranger In Moscow”
Album: n/a
Original artist: Michael Jackson
Play this track around a Mac user and they’ll start looking for something wrong with their computer. This cover of Jackson’s minor hit employs the Mac’s error sound and Brian Eno startup chime to provide the music for this odd track. Other than that, there’s not much to it. [HEAR]
Number 5RICHARD CHEESE covering “Closer”
Album: Lounge Against The Machine
Original artist: Nine Inch Nails
Richard Cheese tells us what he’d like to do to us like an animal, sung over the Sesame Street theme. Enough said. [HEAR – explicit]
Also check out
DIAMANDA GALÁS covering “Gloomy Sunday”, made famous by Billie Holiday [HEAR] (video below left)
MINIMATIC covering A-ha’s “Take On Me” [HEAR]
SCALA covering Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” [HEAR]
LOCUST covering Depeche Mode’s “Master and Servant” [HEAR]
NED’S ATOMIC DUSTBIN covering Charlene’s “I’ve Never Been To Me” [HEAR]
THE POSTAL SERVICE covering Phil Collins’ “Against All Odds” [HEAR]
LAURA BARRETT covering Weird Al Yankovic’s “Smells Like Nirvana” (suggested by Cal McLean) [HEAR]
CRISPIN GLOVER covering Michael Jackson’s “Ben” [HEAR] (video below right)

Category: Contemporary Covers

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Number 1BLAME AMY covering “London Bridge”
Album: n/a
Original artist: Fergie
Well, that didn’t take long. Blame Amy earnestly serves-up some Fergie Ferg for the emo kids and gets a whack of MySpace friend requests in the process. [HEAR]
Number 2RAY LAMONTAGNE covering “Crazy”
Album: n/a
Original artist: Gnarls Barkley
Nelly Furtado performed her acoustic take on “Crazy” live on BBC Radio 1 back in May, causing fans to fire-up BitTorrent en masse, but Ray Lamontagne performs the better version. It actually works pretty well, but Lamontagne sounds like he’s taking it a little too seriously. Standard male singer-songwriter college radio fare. [HEAR]
Number 3IRON AND WINE covering “Such Great Heights”
Album: Garden State soundtrack
Original artist: The Postal Service
The Garden State and Grey’s Anatomy soundtracks are those kinds of discs that are actually pretty good, but listening to people pretentiously talking about them is a bore. So let’s do it. One of those “love you, hate your fans” artists is Iron And Wine, a.k.a. Sam Beam. Yes, he’s one of those single person artists who name themselves like a band (see Simple Kid, City and Colour, Final Fantasy, Badly Drawn Boy). In 2003, SubPop released an EP to promote The Postal Service’s Give Up album that included the Iron & Wine cover. The original ended up on the Grey’s Anatomy soundtrack. The cover showed-up in Garden State. Go figure. [HEAR]
Number 4THE VINES covering “Ms. Jackson”
Album: n/a
Original artist: Outkast
The Vines and your daughter — they got a special thing goin’ on. They never meant to make your daughter cry. How many times do they have to apologize? A trillion times? [HEAR]
Number 5LEAH ANDREONE covering “Déjà Vu”
Album: n/a
Original artist: Beyoncé
This is a remake with full studio instrumentation that appeared within nanoseconds of Beyoncé’s B-Day album release. Neither version is particularly good. Andreone should have done “Suga Mama” from that same CD. Now that’s a song, mami. [HEAR]
Category: Updating The Eighties


Number 1JIMMY SCOTT covering “Nothing Compares 2 U”
Album: Holding Back The Years
Original artist: Prince (made famous by Sinéad O’Connor)
It’s an absolute crime that Jimmy Scott toiled in relative obscurity since he started his career in the late 1940s. Born with Kallman’s syndrome, a genetic disorder which leads to a failure to engage puberty (among other things), Scott ended up with one of the most unique voices in music history and is considered by many to be a living legend. Often mistaken as the voice of a woman, Jimmy Scott’s oddly-phrased, halting delivery melds perfectly with the stripped-down instrumentation of the famous 1990 Sinéad O’Connor smash, originally written by Prince in 1984 for The Family. [HEAR]
Number 2DAMIEN RICE covering “When Doves Cry/Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”
Album: Like A Version
Original Artists: Prince/Led Zeppelin
“When Doves Cry” has been covered by west coasters The Be Good Tanyas and Toronto-based The Pursuit of Happiness to varying levels of success, and it’s been effectively interpolated into “Thugz Cry” by Bizzy Bone. Fourteen year-old Quindon Tarver brought some churchin’ to the classic in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, and it’s an oft-performed cover in many artists’ live shows. Damien Rice switches things up with an acoustic mashup of Prince and Zeppelin, and it’s as if they were both the same song. [HEAR]
Number 3STEPHANIE CASEY covering “Hold Me Now”
Album: n/a
Original artist: The Thompson Twins
Oregonian Stephanie Casey is better known as fall of snow, a singer-songwriter who self-taught herself guitar about four years ago with a chord chart and tabs pulled from the internet. Her delicate treatment of the Thompson Twins hit brings a tenderness and vulnerability to the song, which sounds like it belongs at the end of a Very Special O.C. episode. [HEAR]
Number 4MELANIE B covering “Word Up”
Album: Austin Powers II soundtrack
Original artist: Cameo
Who woulda thunk that ex-Spice girl and Eddie Murphy paramour Melanie B would do a better cover of “Word Up” than Korn? And why did Korn do one anyway? It’s purely run-of-the-mill pop and it can’t touch the mustachioed original, but it’s the song that permanently ensconced “wave your hands in the air like you don’t care” into the musical lexicon and it’s as catchy as ebola. [HEAR]
Number 5THE FAINT covering “Enola Gay”
Album: Messages: Modern Synthpop Artists Cover OMD
Original artist: OMD
The Faint cribs their sound from the 80s anyway, so it works. [HEAR]
Also check out
IAN BROWN covering Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” [HEAR]
SNAKE RIVER CONSPIRACY covering The Smith’s “How Soon Is Now?” [HEAR]
LINDA CARRIERE covering Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “The Power Of Love” [HEAR]
MARILYN MANSON covering The Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” [HEAR]
YOUTH GROUP covering Alphaville’s “Forever Young” [HEAR]
Category: Covering Canadians

Artist photos

Number 1JEFF BUCKLEY covering “Hallelujah”
Album: Grace
Original artist: Leonard Cohen
If Jeff Buckley were still alive, he’d be shouting, “enough already!” Often considered the best version ever recorded, Buckley’s cover of this song has been used in more than twenty mainstream films and TV shows, usually to punctuate scenes of death and misery. Its overuse would be more annoying if it wasn’t so devastatingly moving and appropriate. [HEAR]
Number 2k.d. lang covering “Hallelujah”
Album: Hymns of the 49th Parallel
Original artist: Leonard Cohen
Just when you think Jeff Buckley has “Hallelujah” wrapped-up tight as Best Version Ever, along comes k.d. lang with some solid competition. lang cemented her status during a 2005 Juno Awards performance of this song in honour of Neil Young, who was recovering from brain surgery in New York. Barefoot, free of makeup and pitch-perfect, lang brought chills to the entire arena in Winnipeg with a career-topping awards show performance unrivaled since Mary J. Blige’s legendary 2002 Grammy bustout revival. TV show audiences these days are a little trigger-happy with their standing ovations, but the love k.d. lang received that night could not have been more genuine. [HEAR]
Number 3JASPER STEVERLINCK covering “Insensitive”
Album: Songs Of Innocence
Original artist: Jann Arden
Picture Freddy Mercury singing Jann Arden’s biggest U.S. hit (#12 on the Billboard charts) with Billy Joel on piano and there you have it. Steverlinck is the lead vocalist of Belgian rock group Arid, and his recent solo effort is an album of covers ranging from Bowie to Donny Hathaway. [HEAR]
Number 4TRAVIS covering “River”
Album: n/a
Original artist: Joni Mitchell
Another oft-covered staple, Joni Mitchell’s Christmas classic is given a competent spin by the lads from Glasgow. Sarah McLachlan also redoes the track for her latest album of holiday hymns, and Martin Tielli of the Rheostatics also recorded a fantastic version in the early nineties for a hard-to-find Joni Mitchell tribute disc. [HEAR]
Number 5HOOTIE & THE BLOWFISH covering “I Go Blind”
Album: Scattered, Smothered and Covered
Original artist: 54.40
Nobody was more surprised than Vancouver-based 54.40 to have a cover of “I Go Blind” land on the Friends soundtrack. Then Hootie & The Blowfish were blindsided (ha!) when the track became a 1997 radio hit despite not yet having appeared on any of their albums (the track reached #16 on the Top 40 chart). Hootie revealed that they were huge 54.40 fans, covered several of their songs in concert and drove long distances to see the band play. Now whenever 54.40 play “I Go Blind,” people think it’s a cover of a Hootie song. Man, that must suck — until the royalties come in. [HEAR]
Also check out
WEEPING TILE covering Neil Young’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” [HEAR]
SAINT ETIENNE covering Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” [HEAR]
MINDLESS SELF INDULGENCE covering Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” [HEAR]
DICK BRAVE & THE BACKBEATS covering Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated” [HEAR]
Staff Suggestions

In addition to the suggestions noted in the article, Torontoist staff chimed-in with some of their favourite covers by local artists:
COWBOY JUNKIES covering The Beatles’ “Run For Your Life”
CAL McLEAN suggests…
THE GOLDEN DOGS covering “1985” by Paul McCartney & Wings
ARCADE FIRE covering Magnetic Fields’ “Born on a Train”
LES MOUCHES covering The Carpenters’ “Close To You”
RUFUS WAINWRIGHT covering Leonard Cohen’s “Chelsea Hotel No. 2”
DANNY MICHEL‘s Loving The Alien album of Bowie covers.
RON NURWISAH suggests…
FEIST covering the Bee Gees’ “Inside & Out”
BARENAKED LADIES covering Bruce Cockburn’s “Lovers In A Dangerous Time”
THE APOSTLE OF HUSTLE covering Tweet’s “Oops (Oh My)”
FINAL FANTASY covering Mariah Carey’s “Sweet Fantasy” and Jann Arden’s “Good Mother”
THE GOLDEN DOGS covering Hary Nilsson’s “Me and My Arrow” from that amazing 70s cartoon special The Point (anyone? anyone?)
Buy it!
We encourage everyone to support artists they like by buying their music. Here are some of the songs we featured in this article, so if you like them, drop a few bucks.