10 Best Hard Rock Cover Songs
A good cover song goes a long way. The reinterpretation of a classic tune is another great way for an artist to show off their creative side while letting the world know they have impeccable musical taste at the same time. Heck, some of the artists we cover on Noisecreep even got their start playing the cover band bar circuit. Van Halen and Slayer are just two of the acts who began their careers performing other band’s songs before they broke out with their own material.
Many established bands have even taken things further and recorded entire albums filled with nothing but cover tunes. All-star tribute groups like Camp Freddy have also sprouted up, featuring big name musicians within their ranks. With so many covers to choose from, Noisecreep has put together a list of the 10 Best Hard Rock Cover Songs to make your music collecting a bit easier.
‘Ain’t That a Shame,’ Cheap Trick (1979)
Rhythm and blues icon Fats Domino took ‘Ain’t That a Shame’ to the top of the Black Singles chart in 1955, eventually moving over one million copies of the infectious single. Cheap Trick included their sleazed-up take on the song on their 1979 breakthrough ‘Cheap Trick at Budokan,’ introducing it to millions of disenfranchised teenagers in the process. Domino’s original version of ‘Ain’t That a Shame’ was reportedly the first song John Lennon ever learned how to play.
‘Baker Street,’ Foo Fighters (1998)
Most recognized for its haunting saxophone riff, Gerry Rafferty’s ‘Baker Street’ is a classic rock radio staple. The Scottish singer wrote the song about a famous street in London, England after his former band, Stealers Wheel (‘Stuck in the Middle’) broke up. In the Foo Fighters’ version of ‘Baker Street,’ Dave Grohl and company keep the main riff refrain, but substitute the saxophone with a guitar and the result is pure fire and worthy of the 10 Best Hard Rock Cover Songs list.
‘Got the Time,’ Anthrax (1990)
British piano-pop songsmith Joe Jackson is the last person you would probably musically associate with New York City thrash vets Anthrax, but that didn’t stop the band’s cover of his ‘Got the Time’ from becoming a hit single. ‘Thrax’s rock-oriented version even features a funky bass solo from Frank Bello, but Jackson wasn’t a fan of the cover. When asked about it, the singer remarked: “Theirs is actually slower than ours, and kind of lumpen…Thanks for the royalties, guys.”
‘On Fire,’ Stryper (2011)
With their cover of ‘On Fire,’ Stryper take Van Halen’s already hopped-up original recording of the track and add some heavy metal muscle to the guitar tone and overall arrangement. The standout moment in Stryper’s version of the cut comes during its chaotic choruses, when Michael Sweet double-tracks his high-pitched vocal lines which prove to be a devastating move and a loving tribute to David Lee Roth’s incendiary original 1978 vocal performance of the song.
‘Signs,’ Tesla (1990)
A No. 3 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in 1971 for Canadian group Five Man Electrical Band, most Noisecreep readers under the age of 50 were probably first introduced to the song by Tesla’s 1990 live version of the song. Recorded at Philadelphia’s famed Trocadero Theatre, Tesla’s ‘Signs’ finds the hard rockers laying down sweetened vocal harmonies over a bed of countrified acoustic guitars. ‘Signs’ is a great example of a cover version usurping the original.
‘Last Kiss,’ Pearl Jam (1999)
‘Last Kiss’ was one of many “teenage tragedy songs” released in the late ’50s and early ’60s which dealt with death from a first-person narrative style. Pearl Jam covered ‘Last Kiss’ after singer Eddie Vedder found a copy of the song at a Seattle mall and convinced the rest of the group to try it out live. The band’s 1999 cover landed in the No. 2 spot on the Billboard Hot 100, yielding their biggest hit single to date.
‘Dancing Days,’ Stone Temple Pilots (1995)
Appearing on the otherwise forgettable ‘Encomium: A Tribute to Led Zeppelin’ album, Stone Temple Pilots’ version of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Dancing Days’ is one of the many jewels in the group’s discography and a solid pick for the 10 Best Hard Rock Cover Songs. Dean DeLeo’s (by way of Jimmy Page) Middle Eastern-inspired guitar lines and Scott Weiland’s restrained vocals prove to be a potent union. STP’s cover of ‘Dancing Days’ ultimately brought the song into the Grunge Era while still keeping the class of the Zeppelin original.
‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,’ Great White (1991)
Speaking of Led Zep, Great White’s cover of the band’s ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’ (itself a cover of Joan Baez’s 1962 recording of the song) is a showstopper. Recorded for an ‘MTV Unplugged’ performance, Great White’s take on the melancholy ballad showcases singer Jack Russell’s world class vocal chops. Russell goes from a soft purr to a skyscraping wail within a measure, steering the band to classic rock glory all the while.
‘Stone Cold Crazy,’ Metallica (1990)
Known for their stellar cover performances, Metallica’s thrashed-up spin on Queen’s ‘Stone Cold Crazy’ is one of the legendary combo’s greatest. The way James Hetfield’s rhythm guitar locks in with Lars Ulrich’s locomotive drum pattern is the stuff dreams are made of. Metallica would further explore the hard rock feel of ‘Stone Cold Crazy’ on their subsequent albums and opening up their sound to a wider audience along the way.
‘You Really Got Me,’ Van Halen (1978)
Topping Noisecreep’s 10 Best Hard Rock Cover Songs list is none other than Van Halen’s white hot version of the Kinks’ ‘You Really Got Me.’ One of the first songs built around a power chord, it launched both of the band’s careers on radio. How definitive is Van Halen’s savage cover of the track? Kinks guitarist Dave Davies has said that fans have congratulated him on performing a “great cover of the Van Halen song.”