The 20 Best Rock Cover Songs

Updated on July 9, 2020
Nikki Knack profile image

Nikki's a working wife and mom. Her interests include family life, gardening, cooking, and music.

Recently, there have been some outstanding covers of some already great songs. Take the first one on my list, "The Sounds of Silence," the classic Simon & Garfunkel tune covered by Disturbed. Every time I hear it, I literally get goosebumps.

I started thinking about all the other great covers out there, and it didn't take long to come up with a huge list. To cut it down to 20, then decided I better come up with some loose criteria.

Criteria for this list:

  1. Both the original and cover artists' songs needed to fall within the rock genre.
  2. One song per cover artist.
  3. The original song must be pretty amazing all by itself.

Rock on and enjoy!

1. “Sounds of Silence," Disturbed

Album: Immortalized ⃒ Year: 2015

Original Artist: Simon & Garfunkel

Original Album: Sounds of Silence ⃒ Year: 1966

When Paul Simon saw Disturbed perform the song live on Conan in March of 2016, he emailed singer David Draiman and told him he had enjoyed it.

Draiman shared the email on Disturbed’s Facebook page and said, "Mr. Simon, I am honored beyond words. We only hoped to pay homage and honor to the brilliance of one of the greatest songwriters of all time. Your compliment means the world to me/ us and we are eternally grateful."

2. “Simple Man," Shinedown

Album: Leave a Whisper ⃒ Year: 2003

Original Artist: Lynyrd Skynyrd

Original Album: (Pronounced 'lĕh-'nérd 'skin-'nérd) ⃒ Year: 1973

Maybe Shinedown covering this song was fate, as both bands are Jacksonville, FL natives. They took this already great song and gave it just the right amount of rock and southern grit, making it their own.

3. “No Quarter,” Tool

Album: Salival ⃒Year: 2000

Original Artist: Led Zeppelin

Original Album: Houses of the Holy ⃒ Year: 1973

Never ceasing to amaze me, Tool brought this already melancholic, merciless, and trippy Led Zeppelin song to a whole new level. Need to zone out? Turn this one on and close your eyes.

4. “House of the Rising Sun," Five Finger Death Punch

Album: The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell, Volume 2 ⃒ Year: 2013

Original Artist: The Animals

Original Album: The Animals ⃒ Year: 1964

Although this song was not originally written by The Animals, certainly, their version has been the most popular. Rolling Stone included their version on its list of the greatest songs of all time.

Although there has been much speculation on where the song takes place and what exactly it is about, this is a dark tale everyone can somehow relate to. “Oh mother, tell your children not to do what I have done. Spend your life in sin and misery in the house of the rising sun.” The feeling of doing something you wish you didn’t is universal and will haunt you forever.

Five Finger’s version really takes those heavy emotions to the next level.

5. “Diamonds and Rust,” Judas Priest

Album: Sin After Sin ⃒ Year: 1977

Original Artist: Joan Baez

Original Album: Diamonds & Rust ⃒ Year: 1975

Joan Baez has said that she loves the fact that Judas Priest covered this song and was shocked when she first heard it. I can listen to both versions back to back and just can't decide which one I love more.

6. “Hurt,” Johnny Cash

Album: American IV: The Man Comes Around ⃒ Year: 2002

Original Artist: Nine Inch Nails

Original Album: The Downward Spiral ⃒ Year: 1994

The video for this song could very well be one of the saddest music videos of all time. While you might not automatically think to have the great Trent Reznor, Johnny Cash and Rick Rubin work together, this unexpected cover makes absolute sense.

7. “Landslide,” Smashing Pumpkins

Album: Pisces Iscariot ⃒ Year: 1994

Original Artist: Fleetwood Mac

Original Album: Fleetwood Mac ⃒ Year: 1975

Another song that has been covered many times, this is by far my favorite cover of the original.

I think Stevie Nicks might even agree. She has said, “There is nothing more pleasing to a songwriter than someone else doing one of their songs. Landslide led me to being friends with Billy and the possibility that we’ll work together. Over this song, there’s been this incredible connection. I believe that my poetry is really meant for everyone, no matter what age.”

8. “All Along the Watchtower,” Jimi Hendrix

Album: Electric Ladyland ⃒ Year: 1968

Original Artist: Bob Dylan

Original Album: John Wesley Harding ⃒ Year: 1967

I guess they didn't waste much time in the sixties. Jimi released his version only 6 months after Dylan released the original. Can't you just picture the Vietnam scene of Forrest Gump?

9. “The Man Who Sold the World,” Nirvana

Album: MTV Unplugged in New York ⃒ Year: 1994

Original Artist: David Bowie

Original Album: The Man Who Sold The World ⃒ Year: 1970

In a journal, Cobain wrote "The Man Who Sold the World" was on his top 50 albums of all time.

In 2004 Bowie said, "I was simply blown away when I found that Kurt Cobain liked my work, and have always wanted to talk to him about his reasons for covering "The Man Who Sold the World." It was a good straight forward rendition and sounded somehow very honest. It would have been nice to have worked with him, but just talking with him would have been real cool."

10. “Renegades of Funk,” Rage Against the Machine

Album: Renegades ⃒Year: 2000

Original Artist: Afrika Bambaataa

Original Album: Planet Rock: The Album ⃒ Year: 1986

Tom Morello was a genius in replacing the electronic beats in Africa Bambaataa's original with heavy guitar riffs giving it that signature Rage sound.

11. “Knockin on Heaven’s Door,” Guns N Roses

Album: Use Your Illusion II ⃒ Year: 1991

Original Artist: Bob Dylan

Original Album: Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid ⃒ Year: 1973

Both artists recorded this song about old age for movie soundtracks. Bob Dylan originally wrote the song for the movie “Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid”. Guns N' Roses recorded the song for "Days of Thunder" and also used a slightly different mix on the album Use Your Illusion II.

12. “Whiskey in the Jar,” Metallica

Album: Garage Inc. ⃒ Year: 1998

Original Artist: Thin Lizzy

Album: Vagabonds of the Western World ⃒Year: 1973

Metallica won the Best Hard Rock Performance for the song at the 42nd Annual Grammy Awards in 1999.

13. “Love, Reign O’er Me,” Pearl Jam

Album: Digital Download ⃒ Year: 2007

Original Artist: The Who

Original Album: Quadrophenia ⃒ Year: 1972

Eddie Vedder has said many times that The Who's Quadrophenia is one of his all time favorite albums. If you've ever tried to sing along to this song, you'll know it's not easily done and I think he did a pretty damn good job of it.

14. “Imagine,” A Perfect Circle

Album: Emotive ⃒ Year: 2004

Original Artist: John Lennon

Original Album: Imagine ⃒ Year: 1971

This grim version of a hopeful song makes you have a whole new appreciation for one of John Lennon's masterpieces.

15. “N.I.B,” Primus w/ Ozzy Osbourne

Album: Nativity in Black II ⃒ Year: 2000

Original Artist: Black Sabbath

Original Album: Black Sabbath ⃒ Year: 1970

Who better to do this bass heavy song than the bass genius himself, Les Cleypool? Is it really considered a cover if the original singer does it again? Anyway, Ozzy plus Primus makes for one awesome song.

16. “What a Wonderful World,” Joey Ramone

Album: Don’t Worry About Me ⃒ Year: 2002

Original Artist: Louis Armstrong

Original Album: Cabaret (B-Side) ⃒ Year: 1967

Joey's version just can't help but make you smile. An upbeat and fun take on a beautiful song. Fun fact: we played this song as we walked into our reception with our wedding party.

17. “Mississippi Queen,” Zakk Wylde

Played live at The Iridium NYC ⃒ Year: 2013

Original Artist: Mountain

Original Album: Climbing! ⃒ Year: 1970

This rock classic has been covered by several artists, but my favorite is Zakk Wylde's live cover in New York City. I could listen to this man jam all day long.

18. “Drive” - Deftones

Album: Covers ⃒ Year: 2011

Original Artist: The Cars

Original Album: Heartbeat City ⃒ Year: 1984

Found on Covers, a limited release for Record Store Day in 2011, the Deftones breathe new life into this unique and honest love song about loving someone even when things aren’t so good.

19. “Darling Nikki,” Foo Fighters

Album: Have It All (B-Side) ⃒ Year: 2002

Original Artist: Prince

Original Album: Purple Rain ⃒ Year: 1984

Unlike many of the songs on this list, the original artist of this song did not give his blessing to the cover artist. The Foo Fighters reached out to Prince for permission for a US release of the song as it had already been released in Australia, but Prince declined.

The verdict is out as to whether or not Prince's performance of the Foo Fighters "Best of You" at the 2007 Super Bowl XLI's halftime show was an insult or a compliment.

Either way, I love both artist's versions.

20. “The Last in Line,” Tenacious D

Album: “Ronnie James Dio - This is Your Life” ⃒ Year: 2014

Original Artist: Dio

Original Album: The Last in Line l Year: 1984

Tenacious D won the Best Metal Performance for the song at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards in 2015.

Jack Black and Kyle Gass said, “This Grammy is all about Ronnie James Dio. We are so proud to have known Ronnie and this is just another testament to his greatness.”

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