Be it as a tribute to a music artist or just as one’s own rendition of his favorite song, over the years so many performers, owing to whatever reason, have been tempted to cover and reproduce. While to a certain strata of critics the concept of remix and remake may be over all regressive and nothing more than an attempt to take an easy way to recreate magic, some find it challenging and interesting enough. While there are quite a few downright cringe-worthy attempts that leave you baffled “What and why?”, there is undeniably a cornucopia of memorable cover songs as well which deliver complete justice to the original and some even outshine the prototype with their sheer brilliance.
We are also no stranger to music artists catering a different version of their own song under the same or different moniker like Rob Halford’s “Prisoner of Your Eyes” or Dio’s “Heaven and Hell” (in his concerts with additional/altered lyrics), to recall a few.
I have listed 20 of my favorite rock/metal cover songs following no specific order as such. Here I would like to state, a heavier version need not always mean a better or preferable version. For example, while I highly appreciate Children Of Bodom‘s “Don’t Stop At The Stop” (particularly the intro), it is still the Scorpions‘ original I find myself more absorbed in. There are several Judas Priest mentions below, but alas, they are the Metal Gods, so this is to be expected.
Judas Priest’s cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Green Manalishi”
A devotee once said, “When Judas Priest covers your song, it’s no longer your song.” You may call it hyperbole but I call it – taking ownership completely. Yes, that’s what he most certainly meant. Be it the studio recorded version of the song on the Hell Bent For Leather/ Killing Machine album or the concert splendor from Unleashed In The East, the hallmark of Judas Priest on “Green Manalishi” makes it a gem that dazzles in their set-list.
Judas Priest’s cover of Joan Baez’s “Diamonds and Rust”
Talking about great cover songs and praising the stupendous calibre of Judas Priest in the department, both would be incomplete until and unless we mention “Diamonds and Rust”! While original artists inspire other aspiring performers to cover their song, here I feel Joan Baez might be more than just glad for Judas Priest covering her song and adding the very sparkle of diamonds in it!
Judas Priest’s cover of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode”
The third and last one by the Metal Gods. While this cover may not seem all that impressive to some of you frowning there, I feel that’s how a classic should sound when it is performed by one of the most epic metal bands to grace our planet. A cover refusing to cower in front of the towering original, one “exploding …reloading”, as expected from Priest, always delivering the goods!
Death’s cover of Judas Priest’s “Painkiller”
Probably my most favorite cover song ever. The Judas Priest original itself is a jaw-dropping marvel and here Death does the seemingly impossible, making even better of the best! Chuck’s opening scream says it all in fact – they have their own things to incorporate and elevate further the already exalted.
WASP’s cover of Jethro Tull’s “Locomotive Breath”
I have always been a crazy fan of the raw vocals of Blackie Lawless. And this Jethro Tull cover is irrefutably one of the best face-changing cover songs ever recorded. The pace, the aggression, and of course the vision and there you have it, the mind-blowing metamorphosis.
Anthrax’s cover of Alice Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen”
When I listen to Anthrax, generally it is the often unreasonably downplayed Neil Turbin era tunes which I blast. From their Fistful of Metal album I pick this fine Alice Cooper cover where everything has been done in the right proportion without any attempt to overshadow the classic with Anthrax holding their own, gracefully.
Led Zeppelin’s cover of Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie’s “When The Levee Breaks”
Still a huge number of people think this is a Led Zeppelin song and still many artists pay tribute to the fantastic four of rock covering their cover of a blues song recorded way back in 1929 about the turbulence triggered by the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 (don’t quite dig the sort of merry tune the original had). Enough said.
Saxon’s cover of Christopher Cross’ “Ride Like the Wind”
This is one of those covers which I love as much as the original. While the song is about a convicted outlaw who is on the run and the border of Mexico is his destination, we have Saxon serving justice while we enjoy their Christopher Cross remake.
Pantera’s cover of Black Sabbath’s “Planet Caravan”
A soothing dreamy cover by the cowboys from hell. A tribute even the fathers of metal must have been highly pleased with. As it plays, lay back and enjoy the ride in “Planet Caravan” as it glides through space!
Angel Dust’s cover of Rainbow’s “Temple Of The King”
Many artists paid great tribute to the almighty Ronnie James Dio covering songs from his vast and rich musical catalogue over the years. The elfin titan of metal himself however particularly thought highly of this Rainbow cover by Angel Dust and that’s quite a priceless certificate!
Kreator’s cover of Venom’s “Witching Hour”
In the name of Satan, Germany’s Kreator throws in all the necessary ingredients to create the “Witching Hour”. And Venom is hailed! Perfect.
Entombed’s cover of KISS’ “God of Thunder”
From White Zombie to Death, I have heard quite a few commendable covers of this KISS classic. But so far nothing quite seemed as outstanding as the one performed by Entombed. And Entombed surely knows how to “gather darkness” while this cover commands the rest to kneel!
Overkill’s cover of Twisted Sister’s “Under The Blade
Overkill themselves released an album full of laudable cover songs called Coverkill. But what we have here is from the Twisted Sister tribute album Twisted Forever featuring various artists and this one is arguably the best tribute track in there. From the moment it kicks off, Overkill puts you under the spell and it continues throughout the course of the cover. That’s a deadly sharp blade to wield, I must say.
Metal Church’s cover of Aerosmith’s “Toys in the Attic”
I remember one of the merits of the Masterpeace album, which featured the return of the late David Wayne (after The Dark), was this sterling Aerosmith cover. It stands out completely from the original by its’ sheer energy and heaviness. Kurdt Vanderhoof and his gang did not play with “Toys in the Attic”, instead they gave us a performance charged with their no-nonsense, take-no-prisoner attitude thus delivering an excellent cover to remember.
Iron Maiden’s cover of Jethro Tull’s “Cross-Eyed Mary”
The second (and last) Jethro Tull cover in the list. Bruce Dickinson sings his lungs out and Iron Maiden gives it an armor of heavy metal carrying their quality, their brand. As much as I love the Tull classic, the work of the Maiden captivates greatly too.
Metallica’s cover of Diamond Head’s “Am I Evil?”
While I personally prefer the original, there is no denying Metallica did a tremendous job when they covered it. Diamond Head deserves way more than what they actually garner. A good cover song by a popular band often helps the original artist to gain further recognition and due respect for their great work. Probably one of the heaviest songs of the time and I must say Metallica cherry-picked one of the finest heavy metal songs to cover with this one.
Megadeth’s cover of Alice Cooper’s “No More Mr. Nice Guy”
An above decent cover by a technically superior band, worshiped far and wide, called Megadeth. Dave Mustaine’s voice suits this Alice Cooper classic damn well. May no longer be Mr. Nice guy, but nicely covered still.
Machine Head’s cover of Iron Maiden’s “Hallowed be thy Name”
If I had maintained a specific order for the songs here, this cover would have been in the Top 10 at least. That’s the way to cover a behemoth of a metal band like Iron Maiden and Machine Head has done it with matchless elan. You have to hear it, to believe it!
Various Artists’ cover of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters”
Jon Oliva’s vocals surely makes this cover a treat to the ears. Savatage has always been a severely underrated band . While the absence and sudden loss of their gifted lead-guitarist Criss Oliva cannot be overlooked, Jon still succeeds in flying the Savatage banner high in a group also featuring Lemmy (Motorhead – bass) , Greg Bissonette (Steve Vai, David Lee Roth – drums) and Bob Balch (Fu Manchu – guitar). We do not need a “better or worse than the original” debate. Let’s enjoy this beautiful cover from the “Metallic Assault” tribute album for what it is and nothing else matters!
OK, this will upset or even annoy lot of rock fans/metal heads but I had to include this one. RATM injected whole lot of wrath and despair in this Bruce Springsteen cover which cuts you like a razor and hits you like a sledge-hammer. Recognize the fiery spirit this cover holds looking beyond genre classification and you might know how and why it earned its’ place in the list.
Editor’s Note: Indraneel created a fantastic list, but we couldn’t help but add five more of our own favorites:
Machine Head’s cover of Judas Priest’s “The Sentinel”
It seems almost blasphemous to say it, but Robb Flynn and company outdid the metal gods with their take on this Priest classic. Machine Head took this 1984 classic from Priest’s Defenders of the Faith album and gave it more heft and a darker overall feel. The original is still a beast, but this take, which appears as a bonus track on the band’s 2011 Unto the Locust album, is a monolith.
Halestorm’s cover of Judas Priest’s “Dissident Aggressor”
I am sure you were expecting maybe the Slayer cover here, but Lzzy Hale’s powerful voice truly manhandles this gem from the 1977 Sin after Sin record. People can doubt Halestorm all they wish, but one cannot argue with the band’s decimating tribute to the metal gods.
Megadeth’s cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Cold Sweat”
While German power metallers, Helloween, gave this song their own noteworthy and heavy tribute Dave Mustaine and company edge them out for the win. This appears on the band’s oft-maligned 2013 album Super Collider album. The guys heavy the song up quite a bit, and Mustaine’s menacing vocal quality gives it extra bite.
Mastodon’s cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Emerald”
Ace Frehley and Slash are the latest to tune up this classic song, but for my money, Mastodon’s version serves it the best, giving it a meatier feel. As one fan wrote: “There’s a very cool and extended instrumental section in “Emerald” and Mastodon got it right.” Indeed. It can be found on the band’s Remission record.
Testament’s cover of Iron Maiden’s “Powerslave”
It should come as no surprise that Testament‘s take on this Iron Maiden classic would be somewhat heavier and menacing. Frontman Chuck Billy‘s muscular and edgy vocals makes it sound positively evil. The combo of Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson deliver as well as Murray and Smith did, and the rhythm section of Hoglan and Christian simply crushes. Find it on their Dark Roots of Earth record.
So there you have it, a full 25 of our top hard rock and metal covers. Of course as soon as we publish this article we’ll think of 5 more we missed, and no doubt you have favorites of your own, so please add to our list in the comments section below!