1. "Proud Mary" by Ike & Tina Turner
Originally recorded by Creedence Clearwater Revival, was a solid rock song, but in the hands of Ike & Tina Turner the song became a soul classic. My first concert was Tina Turner on the Private Dancer Tour in 1985. The show was amazing. Tina was just sensational and she brought the house to its knees when she ripped into "Proud Mary."
2. "Hurt" by Johnny Cash
Nine Inch Nails sophomore album The Downward Spiral was mostly disappointing rehash of the brilliant Pretty Hate Machine. I remember getting the record and only really being impressed with two songs--"March of the Pigs" and "Hurt." Years later the Man in Black turned this song into a tour de force of heartwrenching emotion. Needless to say, this song now and forever more belongs to Johnny Cash.
3. "99 Red Balloons" by 7 Seconds
In 1983 the German pop-rock band had a huge hit with their protest song "99 Luftballoons." The song was re-recorded in English in 1984 and broke huge in the US. As a kid I loved this song (both versions), then in high school I was listening to an all-covers edition of The Underground Circus' Chuckwagon Show, that night's program ended with 7 Seconds' version of the song. This was like nothing I'd ever heard. It was loud and fast and so full of energy. I was blown away. Shortly after that I picked up a copy of their album Walk Together, Rock Together and my world changed (I've written about this record's affect on my life here and here). Other band's have covered "99 Red Balloons" but no one has ever done it as well as 7 Seconds.
4. "Sweet Jane" by Cowboy Junkies
Without a doubt The Velvet Underground was one of the most influential bands in rock 'n' roll history. Sure they never had a hit single or record but practically everyone who bought their records went out to form bands of their own. "Sweet Jane" appeared on their album Loaded and was a Rolling Stones / Small Faces-esque rocker. In 1988 the Canadian college rock band Cowboy Junkies released The Trinity Session, a record of covers and originals that the band recorded around a single microphone. The band recorded a version of "Sweet Jane" that was based off of an earily version of the sound found on 1969: The Velvet Underground Live, and it is that hauntingly beautiful cover that the Cowboy Junkies are best known for. And for good reason because they turned a pretty average rock 'n' roll song into one of the most spectacular ballads ever recorded.
5. <Tie> "Bleeder" by Hot Water Music and "For Broken Ears" by The Loved Ones
Okay, I know that when I came up with the idea for these Top 5 posts, I said that I would be specifically limiting the lists to five entries. Well on this one I had to bend my rules a bit and do a tie.
"Bleeder" was originally recorded by Alkaline Trio, appearing on the band's I Lied My Face Off EP (and later on their self-titled collection of early recordings). The song was the pretty standard poppy emo that the band has been known for. In 2002, Alkaline Trio released a split CD with Hot Water Music on which each band took a crack at the other's material. Hot Water Music took "Bleeder" and turned it into an accoustic classic (and turned out to be a big hint into the direction that Chuck Ragan would take in a few years).
"For Broken Ears" oroginally appeared on Chuck Ragan's solo debut Feast or Famine. The song was beautiful and powerful with amazing lyrics. In 2008 agan released a split 7 inch with The Loved Ones on which they covered one of each other's songs. The Loved Ones took "For Broken Ears" from a folk anthem and turned it into a desperate rock anthem. Ragan and The Loved Ones' lead singer Dave Hause have been known to perform the song together live during the Revival Tour. The combination of their distinct voices on the song is quite amazing. This song is truly brilliant whichever version you prefer.