Some may think the 1980s was a useless decade in terms of music, but I disagree. Clearly music from this decade has influenced many artists, inspiring them to cover songs from bands of this time period. Whether they did a different take on the song or stayed true to the original, here are the top ten covers of 80s songs (For more great covers, click here and here.)
Number Ten: “Rattlesnakes” by Tori Amos. “Rattlesnakes” is a song by Tori Amos, off of her 2001 album, Strange Little Girls. Originally the song was done by Lloyd Cole & The Commotions, off of their 1984 debut album of the same name (Leave it to Tori to bring to the forefront a song by an underrated band.) The original is in the same musical vein as The Cure (their later years) and The Psychedelic Furs (two bands who are featured on this list, FYI.) Tori’s version is a bit more toned-down and somber, and I personally prefer Tori’s cover, as it produces the vibe of aimlessly “(speeding) down the freeway” and also of being lost in a California desert. Lyrics include, “Jodie wears a hat although it hasn’t rained for six days / she says a girl needs a gun these days / hey on account of those rattlesnakes / she looks like Eve Marie Saint on the waterfront / she reads Simone de Beauvoir in her American circumstance.”
Number Nine: “Let’s Dance” by M. Ward. “Let’s Dance” is a song by M. Ward, off of his 2003 album, Transfiguration of Vincent. The song was originally done by David Bowie, off of his 1983 album of the same name. As you probably already know, the original is an upbeat classic, and it topped the charts; you may not know, however, that the ending guitar solo was done by Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Bowie’s objective for the entire album was to write in a more “positive and obvious” manner. M. Ward’s version is almost unrecognizable from the original; it’s an acoustic-folk ballad, with Ward’s vocals being both gritty and soft at the same time. It’s absolutely beautiful when he transforms the lyric, “tremble like a flower,” into something ethereal and delicate. This cover version also features harmonica.
Number Eight: “Love My Way” by Cruel Black Dove. “Love My Way” is a song by Cruel Black Dove, and it has yet to be put on an album; however it was featured in an episode of The Vampire Diaries. Originally the song was done by The Psychedelic Furs, off of their 1982 record, Forever Now (the original version has also been featured in films like Valley Girl and The Wedding Singer.) The cover version is a bit darker and moodier than the original, featuring hypnotic and borderline “psychedelic” vocals; still, it keeps the spirit of the original version alive.
Number Seven: “Wasted” by Pinback. “Wasted” is a song by Pinback; as far as I know, the song is only available on the soundtrack, O.C. Mix 6: Covering Our Tracks (which features all cover songs.) The original song was done by Black Flag, off of their 1986 album, Who’s Got the 10 ½? Of course, the Black Flag version is pure, hardcore punk, while it only lasts about one minute in length, while the Pinback version is about four and a half minutes long and is more in the vein of indie-rock. The cover version is very chill, up until the end when it speeds up. Lyrics include, “I was so wasted / I was a hippie / I was a burnout / I was a dropout / I was out of my head.”
Number Six: “Just Like Heaven” by The Watson Twins. “Just Like Heaven” is a song by The Watson Twins, off of their 2008 record, Fire Songs (This version was also featured on the soundtrack to True Blood.) Originally the track was done by The Cure, off of their 1987 album, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me. While the original features The Cure’s noteworthy synth-sound and chord sequences of a pop/rock song, the cover version by The Watson Twins is a mellower tune, featuring dreamy acoustic guitar and harmonica (in the same vein as Mazzy Star or Cowboy Junkies.)
Number Five: “Like a Prayer” by Rufio. “Like a Prayer” is a song by Rufio, off of the 2002 compilation album, Pop Goes Punk. Originally the track was done by Madonna, off of her 1989 album of the same name. As you can see from the name of the compilation album, Rufio takes one of Madonna’s greatest pop hits and transforms it into a punk-rock classic. Lead singer Scott Sellers’ vocals are addicting and oddly pacifying, despite the heavy guitar and percussion, and while it’s definitely in the vein of emo music, it stays true to the energy of the original (although it doesn’t feature a choir like in Madonna’s version.)
Number Four: “The Metro” by System of a Down. “The Metro” is a song by System of a Down, off of their release, Untitled 1995 Demo Tape; the band re-recorded the track in 1997 on Demo Tape 4; another version of the song appeared on the single for “Lonely Day,” titled “Metro”- This version appeared on soundtracks to films like Not Another Teen Movie and Dracula 2000. It’s this latter version that I chose to highlight, as it’s much faster; especially when it speeds up during the chorus. The original song was done by Berlin, off of their 1982 album, Pleasure Victim; this version features heavy synths and pretty much defines the genre of new wave music of the 80s. Of course, the cover version is much heavier, featuring shredding guitar and colossal percussion.
Number Three: “Gypsy” by Gardens & Villa. “Gypsy” is a song by Gardens & Villa, off of the 2012 tribute album, Just Tell Me That You Want Me: A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac. Of course, the original track was done by Fleetwood Mac, off of their 1982 album, Mirage. Said Adam Rasmussen (who does synthesizer for the band,) “When we were approached to record a version of ‘Gypsy’ for the compilation we were all for it, as most of the guys in the band have an intimate connection with the music of Fleetwood Mac. It’s sensitive and timeless. It was a beautiful experience. We’re really thankful for this opportunity.” This cover version begins with a beautiful, obscured flute, and then takes us into a nebulous blend of electronics mixed with Chris Lynch’s soothing yet self-assured vocals. As a huge Fleetwood Mac fan, I’m a tough customer when it comes to covers of the band’s music, but Gardens & Villa manages to pull off a unique take on “Gypsy” while still mirroring the magical essence of the original.
Number Two: “All For the Best” by Thom Yorke. “All For the Best” is a song by Thom Yorke, off of the tribute album, Ciao My Shining Star: The Songs of Mark Mulcahy (Mulcahy was a member of bands like Polaris and Miracle Legion.) The track was originally done by Miracle Legion, off of their 1987 album, Surprise Surprise Surprise. The original is alt-rock at its finest, featuring a discordant yet harmonious guitar. Yorke’s version stays true to the original lyrically, but it strips down the melody a bit, using only a drum machine and keyboard. The best part of this cover is when it briefly crescendos into a distorted guitar, then goes back into the bare-boned sounds of the aforementioned instruments.
Number One: “I’m On Fire” by Whitehorse. “I’m On Fire” is a song by Whitehorse, off of their 2011 self-titled album. Originally the song was done by Bruce Springsteen, off of his 1984 album, Born in the U.S.A. The original has an almost rockabilly/blues feel to it, mixed with synthesizers (one of the first Springsteen tracks to use them); it’s one of Springsteen’s most emotional songs, containing lyrics of a sensual nature. The most memorable lyric from the song, for me personally, is, “sometimes it’s like someone took a knife, baby edgy and dull / and cut a six-inch valley through the middle of my soul” (although sometimes Bruce sings “skull.”) The cover version on Whitehorse’s album has a definite country/folk vibe; however, my favorite version of the song done by Whitehorse is even more stripped-down than the album version and even Springsteen’s version (you can view this version here.) In this version, Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland take turns vocally, while it uniquely features both acoustic and electric guitar. The way this duo harmonizes together is mind-blowing, hence why this cover version is number one.