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Some of the most universally loved and respected recordings are artists’ interpretations of an existing song. Jeff Buckley’s version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and Jimi Hendrix’s re-imagining of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” are two famous examples of how covers can be — dare we say it — better than the originals.
The list of covers below is a collection of more recent talent, from relative newbies Frank Ocean and Haim to modern legends Wilco and Kings of Leon. Whether performing for an established audience of fans or getting people’s attention for the first time, there’s something special about covers and the power that comes from knocking a song everyone already knows out of the park.
The Weeknd—Dirty Diana
The Weeknd’s style of electronic R&B softens the Michael Jackson original, but packs just as much emotion in lamenting about the eponymous cheating groupie.
Lou Reed and Metric singer Emily Haines had a father-daughter relationship, making her version of his classic song all the more touching after his October passing.
UK rockers Kodaline give Macklemore’s chart-topping “Same Love” a bluesy-pop treatment that eventually develops into another well-known song.
The vulnerability of Sheryl Crow’s strummy, country “Strong Enough” vanishes when the sisters from L.A. make it their own.
Kings of Leon—Dancing on My Own
The original version of this song, recorded by Swedish pop star Robyn, is a girl-power dance anthem. The Followills turn it into a tragic ballad.
THePETEBOX—Where Is My Mind
A beatboxer with an acoustic guitar and a loop pedal takes on the Pixies anthem.
Frank Ocean—I Miss You
Unfortunately, there’s no studio version of Frank Ocean’s cover of the song he co-wrote for Beyonce. If you can forgive the audience chatter in the background (it’s easy to, once he starts singing), it’s gorgeous.
Tegan and Sara—Time After Time
If the Cyndi Lauper song wasn’t so famous, this stripped-down cover would seem to be an original from the twin sisters.
Wilco & Mavis Staples—The Weight
A casual backstage rehearsal of The Band’s “The Weight” could only be this good with the indie gods and the gospel legend.
The Delgados—Mr. Blue Sky
The Glasgow band never received the adoration and fame of their counterparts Belle and Sebastian and Arab Strap, though were just as — if not more — influential during the burgeoning ’90s indie scene. This cover of Electric Light Show’s classic song takes on a rock-orchestral feel that is typical Delgados.
Arcade Fire—Games Without Frontiers
Arcade Fire covers Peter Gabriel, and greatness ensues.
Contact CU Independent Editor-in-Chief Annie Melton at firstname.lastname@example.org.