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Five Unexpected Cover Songs That Actually Worked

Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa

Covers are a tricky business. Any time a musician starts trying to do his or her own version of someone else's song, they instantly take on some pretty hefty expectations. First, they have to satisfy their own fanbase, which may not like the artist being covered to begin with. Then they may even want to satisfy fans of the original artist (or the original artist themselves), which is even more difficult because no fan of an original is ever satisfied with a remake. It's nerd law.

But kudos to those intrepid artists who not only attempt covers, but go well outside of their own genre and take on unexpected and hallowed, untouchable classics to cover. Those who try that have some serious balls, or really don't care what critics think, because they mostly always fail.

Oddly enough, these five did just that and managed to actually succeed, beating million-to-one odds of these covers being absolutely horrible.

5. Evergreen Terrace, "Maniac" The surprising thing here isn't that this cover exists. If we've learned anything from the Punk Goes... series, it's that there's always a market for covers of pop songs with screaming. The thing is, it never works, especially when it comes to '80s hits. I had to struggle to find five that didn't suck when I wrote this article, and only one of the good ones I found was of an '80s song.

But I have to cop to loving this cover of the Flashdance classic "Maniac" by post-hardcore band Evergreen Terrace, who decided to take it on for their Writer's Block covers LP. I don't really know what sets it apart from other covers of this style. Maybe it's that they take it so seriously, and adapt it to their style with such sincerity. Regardless of the reason, though, it just works and I can't get enough of it.

4. The Blood Brothers, "Under Pressure" In a similar vein of "post-hardcore band takes on '80s hit" as Evergreen Terrace's take on "Maniac," the Blood Brothers decided for some reason to try to approach the classic duet between David Bowie and Freddie Mercury. God knows why anyone would try that.

They did have one advantage though: a pair of singers already in the band who had very distinctive vocal ranges. Maybe that's how they actually managed to pull off this respectable cover. It may not get anywhere near the original's soaring heights, but it's awesome in its own quirky, punk way.

Plus, it actually manages to follow an original formula, rather than the typical "make everything really heavy, scream, and add a breakdown" approach favored by most heavy bands covering pop songs.

3. Miles Davis, "Time After Time" Miles Davis took a lot of heat for his '80s comeback, mostly because he experimented with contemporary synthesized instruments and covered then-new pop songs. For what it's worth, I think the era deserves a serious reevaluation now that we're removed from synthesizers being a "newfangled" instrument.

As part of that, we should definitely look back on this cover of Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time," which is absolutely beautiful when played by Miles on his trumpet. It's a weird choice for him, especially given that he was 59 at the time and by all rights should have been going through a nostalgic classicist period so everyone could laud him for returning to his roots. Instead, the always restless, always brilliant jazzman pulls it off exceptionally.

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2. Dinosaur Jr., "Show Me the Way" In theory, no song should sound good through the filter of J. Mascis' straining, squeaking rasp of a voice, nor his band Dinosaur Jr.'s slacker musical stylings. That their own songs sound good to human ears is quite the accomplishment, but that they're such gifted cover artists is a miracle. I've detailed before how good their cover of "Just Like Heaven" by the Cure was, and this Peter Frampton cover from the same time period is equally as great.

I'm sure plenty of Frampton fans would be mortified by the band's haphazard garage take on the song, but it gives "Show Me the Way" the kind of desperation and looseness it always really needed, stripping it of its trite romantic underpinnings.

1. Frank Zappa, "Stairway to Heaven" The mother of all unexpected covers. Frank Zappa was an inestimable musician, whose choice in musicians was such that they could probably take on any song on earth and deliver at least a decent cover. But "Stairway?" Really?! There's a reason for the Wayne's World gag. No one can play this one properly except for Led Zeppelin. Right?

Well, feast your eyes and ears on Zappa and his band covering it. It's well known that Zappa was no fan of self-serious music like that of Led Zeppelin or other contemporary rock bands, so whether this is a parody or a serious interpretation is really open to debate. It's likely that Zappa meant it as a gag -- especially considering he ditches his guitar and takes a smoke break during the solo -- but he and his band were just so good that it still came out amazing.

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