From Leonard Cohen to The Beatles: Nick Cave’s 10 best covers of all time
We’re a big fan of the cover here at the Far Out offices. While original material is always a must for any artist, the way they can handle another singer’s song is truly a mark of the command of their craft. There’s perhaps nobody better at it than Nick Cave.
One of the glorious examples of growing older as a rock star with a heavy degree of grace, Cave has transcended his role as heroin-chic goth and now become the welcomed and weathered face of rock ‘n’ roll royalty, happy in his role as the King of being spooky. While doing so he has enacted a unique musical language all of his own and it makes his translations of other people’s songs all the more special.
Cave has an uncanny ability to take the expressions felt in certain songs and amplify them to his will. More comfortable flirting with the darkened edges of society, Cave has a technique of making the most beautiful songs feel tinged with meance and the uncompromising pressure of life.
Equally, he is just as happy to peel back the superficial layers of darkness in his lyrics and reveal the beauty in his words and others too. It is this duality that allows Cave to be one of the most gifted performers of his generation. Below, we’ve got his 10 best covers of all time.
Nick Cave’s 10 best covers ever:
10. ‘What A Wonderful World’ – Louis Armstrong
Nick Cave is an artist who, despite being at the forefront of what music should be in 2020 and beyond, has had a gargantuan career in the limelight. The Australian singer has delivered a lorry load of records and one-off singles. A particularly special release of the latter would see Cave alongside long time friend and former lead singer of The Pogues, Shane MacGowan, performing Louis Armstrong’s ‘What A Wonderful World’.
Back in 1992, with both artist’s careers entering a new dawn of reduced activity and prolonged legend status, the pair put the prolificacy of the previous decade aside and brought the world a one-off cover we never knew we needed. It’s truly one of the most unique covers you’ll ever hear.
9. ‘Disco 2000’ – Pulp
As artists go, it’s pretty easy to categorise the work of Nick Cave. The creepiest man in the whole damn land—and we say that as a compliment—is, however, always willing to try something new. That is exactly what he did when he took on britpop royalty Pulp and their equally monarchal track ‘Disco 2000’.
The song was dubbed as a ‘bad cover version’, as was the direction given to Nick by the band, but actually what we have is one of the most idiosyncratic performances you’re ever likely to hear. The reason for Jarvis Cocker and Co.’s direction was that the Nick Cave version of ‘Disco 2000’ was to act as a B-side to their 2002 single release ‘Bad Cover Version’. A post-modern and decidedly Pulp conception taking to new heights by Cave.
8. ‘Cosmic Dancer’ – T. Rex
Earlier this year, Nick Cave shared his poignant cover of T.Rex and Marc Bolan‘s classic track ‘Cosmic Dancer’. originally performed during his live sets, Cave has also taken on the song as part of tribute album titled Angel Headed Hipster which will arrive this year.
Marking 50 years since the abnd’s first album, Cave gives this already delicately posied song yet another glittering rendition and it acts as a reminder that despite his dark rocker image, Cave can still glam it up with the best of them.
7. ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ – The Velvet Underground
‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’, a song by the Velvet Underground and Nico which was originally written by Lou Reed, was first released as part of the band’s momentous 1967 debut studio album. According to Reed himself, the song is “a very apt description of certain people at the Factory at the time,” he said in reference to Andy Warhol’s Factory Studio in New York City. “I watched Andy,” he added. “I watched Andy watching everybody. I would hear people say the most astonishing things, the craziest things, the funniest things, the saddest things.”
While the likes of Bauhaus, Jeff Buckley, Siouxsie and the Banshees and countless others have attempted to cover the song in their own unique way in the years that followed its release, we’re focusing on a certain rendition brought to you by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.
6. ‘Here Comes The Sun’ – The Beatles
As one of the titans of rock music, Nick Cave has lent his murderous and dulcet tones to some of the finest songs by some of the world’s best artists. One particularly perfect performance sees Cave take on the shining ‘Here Comes The Sun’ by The Beatles.
Back in 2001, the Australian singer took on two of the Fab Four’s songs as part of a soundtrack for the film Sean Penn and Michelle Pfeiffer I Am Sam. The record had featured Cave’s version of Beatles’ ‘Let It Be’ but the real gem was the cover of the George Harrison-penned track ‘Here Comes The Sun’ which arrived with the 1969 release of Abbey Road. While there are certainly central pillars that hold up Cave’s track to the original, in truth, the Bad Seeds singer takes the song and makes it his own.
5. ‘Wanted Man’ – Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan originally wrote ‘Wanted Man‘ with Johnny Cash, who went on to have great success with the track which was debuted on his 1969 live album, At San Quentin, and would later release a studio version which he remarkably had only learnt a week beforehand.
Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds did their own murderous rendition of the song to add another darker edge to proceedings. With Cave and the band such fans of Dylan it was only fitting that they did an impeccable job.
4. ‘The Singer’ – Johnny Cash
One man who has always looked like an idol to Cave was the Man in Black, Johnny Cash, Cave hasn’t taken on many of Johnny Cash’s songs over his time but when he has it has been with devastating effect. One such gem is this 1986 performance of ‘The Singer’ from Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds on the fifth series of The Tube. Restored with fantastic audio by Rosa Mannen, the clip sees Cave and his band on searing form.
The group were promoting their recently released covers album, Kicking Against The Pricks — an album we’d consider to be one of the best covers albums of all time. The arrived to the Tyneside studios with a version of Johnny Cash and Charlie Daniels’ song ‘The Singer’ in their hands and thunder in their eyes.
3. ‘Suzanne’ – Leonard Cohen
One of Nick Cave’s undoubted heroes, Leonard Cohen has often been credited by the Aussie rocker himself as being the artist who led Cave down the path of unabashed expression and ultra-honesty lyrical writing. It seems fitting then that Cave should cover Cohen’s most famous song of all, his ode to Suzanne Vega.
At the time of his death, Cave led the tributes by say: “For many of us Leonard Cohen was the greatest songwriter of them all.” He added: “Utterly unique and impossible to imitate no matter how hard we tried. He will be deeply missed by so many.”
2. ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’ – Bob Dylan
The song, originally written and recorded by Dylan in 1973 for the soundtrack of the film Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, signified yet more international fame for the musician and the track skyrocketed up the charts across the globe. ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’, famously, has been covered by countless artists from the likes of Guns N’ Roses, Eric Clapton, Randy Crawford and, of course, the Bad Seeds.
After a ten-track setlist, while performing at the 666 Club in Barcelona, Spain, The Bad Seeds slowed things down to a pace which was new ground for the band. For the final song of the performance, Cave picked up his microphone, sang a little acapella while a man in the crowd yells “get on with it, come on, fucking hell!” and Bargeld’s wailing guitar breaks into a rendition of ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’.
Naturally, the band knock it out of the park. Watch the live performance below.
1. ‘I’m Your Man’ – Leonard Cohen
The title track from a feature film all about Leonard Cohen’s life needed a true fan and artist to sing it. Step up, Nick Cave. The Aussie rocker is a lifelong Cohen fan and once said, “Leonard Cohen was the first one I discovered by myself. He is the symbol of my musical independence. I remember these other guys that came to my friend’s house that thought Songs of Love and Hate was too depressing. I’ve realised that this ‘depression’ theory was ridiculous. “
Cave added: “The sadness of Cohen was inspiring, it gave me a lot of energy. I always remember all this when someone says that my records are morbid or depressing.”
Below, Cave gives the cover of ‘I’m Your Man’ gurgling swathes or idiosyncratic vocal tone, deliberate cadence, and, above all else, a connection with the song. It’s a truly sumptuous cover and one we’re hoping Cohen heard before his sad death in 2016.