From Arctic Monkeys to Johnny Cash: The 10 best covers of Nick Cave songs of all time
At a time when live music seems to be a distant memory amid the continued pandemic, we’re exploring new avenues in an attempt to secure our sonic fix and keep our minds at rest from imagined mosh pits and conjured crowd surfing. Here, we’re exploring Nick Cave’s wonderful expanse of material and the tributes made by other artists to the spookiest man in rock.
Cave’s stock has risen considerably in recent years, while the Bad Seeds continue to deliver some of their most gutwrenchingly impassioned music to date, their enigmatic frontman is getting closer to his fans with a recent conversations tour and his hugely popular ‘Red Hand Files‘ forum. His new website, named after arguably the band’s most well-known track, arrives as a pinnacle moment of this article. ‘Red Right Hand’, the song recorded back in 1993, has been given numerous reworkings after finding a second lease of life as the lead song for the hugely popular television series Peaky Blinders.
Nevertheless, expect to hear a couple of renditions of the track, plus some other notable covers from artists such as Arctic Monkeys, Sharon Van Etten, Sun Kil Moon and so many more, including a very special performance from rock and roll compatriot Iggy Pop. It’s not only a testament to the artists who have taken on the covers but to Cave himself that he and his band can elicit such outpourings from their contemporaries.
So while there are some doffs of the cap to Cave and The Bad Seed’s now most famous hit, we’ve tried to find those which are a little off the beaten track, those which are more than happy out in leftfield, and those which would make the man in the black suit smile from ear to ear.
Listen to some of the best covers, below.
The 10 best Nick Cave covers:
Arctic Monkeys – ‘Red Right Hand’
Kicking things off; those boys from Sheffield, the Arctic Monkeys.
Many have argued that it was the decision of Alex Turner and the rest fo the Sheffield group to pay homage to Nick Cave which propelled the now-iconic track back into the mainstream. While the Bad Seeds always enjoyed success with the track, Arctic Monkeys were on a meteoric rise and a new, young and hungry audience were in tow, meaning when they dropped this one and brand new generation were suddenly exposed to Cave and his band.
Adding ‘Red Right Hand’ to a string of their live shows in Australia, Arctic Monkeys took the bold and somewhat unusual decision to open their high-profile headline set at Reading and Leeds Festival with a cover song—a decision which left some baffled at the time.
Soon after though ‘Red Right Hand’ had become synonymous with the group and, through Domino Recordings, they released their heavy rock take on the song as a B-side on the single ‘Crying Lightning’.
My Morning Jacket – ‘New Morning’
Next up we’re slowing things down with a gentle rendition of ‘New Morning’ from American rock group My Morning Jacket.
While Cave does slow down the Bad Seeds on this Tender Prey number, his vocal approach still remains raw and, as was the way with a lot of the band’s early material, delivered with a hint of aggression. My Morning Jacket, however, remains calm throughout.
The band, still active after forming in 1998, released their tribute to the Bad Seeds back in 2009.
Cat Power – ‘Breathless’
“For still, the fire of love is true, and I am breathless without you.”
The first entry from the Bad Seeds’ 13 studio album, Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus, sees Cat Power add a delicate feminine touch to Cave’s lyrical content.
Cat Power, the prolific singer-songwriter Chan Marshall, released her rendition of ‘Breathless’ as part of her limited-edition album Jukebox. The record arrived in 2008 through Matador Records and is composed almost entirely of cover songs, all of which showcase just how incredible Marshall is with a mic in her hand — vocally one of the best around.
While Marshall added renditions of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and more, it is this Bad Seeds offering that sticks like glue.
Sharon Van Etten – ‘People Ain’t No Good’
Having been booked as a touring partner of the Bad Seeds way back when, Sharon Van Etten decided to show her gratitude with a slowed-down rendition of ‘People Ain’t No Good’.
To make things a little more convenient, Etten was appearing on Australia’s Triple J Radio’s popular ‘Like a Version’ session. The song famously first appeared as part of the Bad Seeds’ tenth studio album The Boatman’s Call, a track appearing as a collection which marked a move away from the band’s post-punk origins.
A dreamy number performed by one of our favourite singers of the day.
Sun Kil Moon – ‘The Weeping Song’
In a more recent addition, Mark Kozelek of Sun Kil Moon released his rendition of ‘The Weeping Song’ in 2015.
The song, which first appeared on the 1990 album The Good Son, became a feature of Sun Kil Moon’s live performances in terribly sombre fashion. Kozelek, who was touring in July of that year, began adding his rendition of the track in a tribute to Cave’s family who, at the time, were grieving the death of Cave’s 15-year-old son Arthur who died after falling from a cliff.
A song heavily drenched in emotion at the best of times, Sun Kil Moon’s effort adds yet another layer of heartbreaking melodrama.
PJ Harvey – ‘Red Right Hand’
Given the intensely romantic history between Nick Cave and PJ Harvey, her rendition of ‘Red Right Hand’ arrived as a poignant full-circle moment for the Bad Seeds and it’s a moment that isn’t lost on us.
“The truth of the matter is that I didn’t give up on PJ Harvey, PJ Harvey gave up on me,” Cave recently said of his relationship with Harvey. “There I am, sitting on the floor of my flat in Notting Hill, sun streaming through the window (maybe), feeling good, with a talented and beautiful young singer for a girlfriend, when the phone rings. I pick up the phone and it’s Polly. ‘Hi,’ I say. ‘I want to break up with you.’ ‘Why?! I ask. ‘It’s just over,’ she says. I was so surprised I almost dropped my syringe.”
While the two have always shared similarities in the style of their music, Harvey added real ethereal feel to the track when she recording a version to feature as part of the Peaky Blinders soundtrack.
Johnny Cash – ‘The Mercy Seat’
As compliments go, they don’t get much bigger than this.
Johnny Cash, The Man in Black and one of the best-selling music artists of all time, was working on what was to be his third album in what was being described as his ‘American series’ when Cave’s song was brought to his attention. Released in 2000, American III: Solitary Man approached the theme of the “convicted innocent” and saw Cash cover 14 different songs.
Cave, undeniably proud of the Cash reference, once said: “It doesn’t matter what anyone says,” in an interview. “Johnny Cash recorded my song.”
Yes he did and he did it marvellously.
Chelsea Wolfe – ‘I Let Love In’
Not many people take in Nick Cave and make the material sound more menacing. Until Chelsea Wolfe did, of course with their positively pulsing cover.
The singer-songwriter, well known for creating dark, moody, low-fi soundscapes within her material, altered the approach to the titular for the Bad Seeds’ eighth studio album Let Love In.
Drenched in reverb and given a lo-fi makeover, stream Wolfe’s rendition below with an accompanying film made by Ana Lily Amirpour.
Fever Ray – ‘Stranger Than Kindness’
Arguably the most original take on the Bad Seeds’ music, Fever Ray released their unique rendition of ‘Stranger Than Kindness’ back in 2009.
Fever Ray’s Karin Dreijer Andersson, famously one half of Sweden group The Knife, once again teamed up with director Andreas Nilsson to create a typically moody project to spearhead a cover of the Bad Seeds’ 1986 track.
The song is also featured on Fever Ray — The Double Disc Edition album where it sits as one of the best songs on the record.
Iggy Pop – ‘Red Right Hand’
We’re ending this list in the same place we started it, in the capable and secure red right hands.
Iggy Pop added his name to the illustrious list of name to cover the track when he pulled out an intense rendition of the Bad Seeds’ iconic song ‘Red Right Hand’ while performing live in Athens, Greece.
Iggy, performing at Release Festival in 2019, produced a rousing career-spanning setlist which combined some of his earlier material with new music. Opening his set with Stooges classic ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’, Iggy rolled through the likes of ‘Lust for Life’, ‘I’m Sick of You’, ‘Search and Destroy’ and more.
After covering David Bowie song ‘The Jean Genie’ earlier in the show, Iggy ended his performance with a rendition of ‘Red Right Hand’ while typically topless and pointing to the crowd, beckoning his trumpet player to give him more.
“Good night people, I fucking love you,” he said over the top of the wailing brass instrument before throwing his mic in the air, dancing and bowing to the crowd.