When California rockers Ugly Kid Joe (whose frontman Whitfield Crane went on to briefly lead significantly harder rockers Life Of Agony) followed up their hit “Everything About You” with a fist-waving cover of the tear-jerking ’70s ballad “Cats In The Cradle” in 1992, the only word that came to mind was genius. They had vaulted onto the scene via MTV on a beach, somewhere between ’80s glam rock and the oncoming grunge, growling, “I can’t stand to be around/I hate everything about you,” only to then unleash one of those most beautiful songs ever written reworked as a rock anthem.
Sadly, that was it for the band, with their next record entering the chart nowhere. Sadder still was hearing radio listeners request the tune and be stunned when told by an overcaffeinated DJ that it was a cover. It had gone to No. 1 for the legendary Harry Chapin, earned him a Grammy nomination and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame—all while continuing to break down fathers of sons for decades in a tireless rotation on adult contemporary and even classic-rock stations. Here are a few other ’90s rock tunes you might not have known were covers:
Smash Mouth – “Can’t Get Enough Of You Baby”
Precious few teens were surprised to hear that the Smash Mouth hit “I’m A Believer” from the first Shrek movie was a cover, and even fewer thought it would be a surefire hit. The Monkees classic oozes a time-long-ago charm. Plus, the band did little by way of rearrangement. That said, who knew “Can’t Get Enough Of You Baby” was a cover? Their highest-charting single was 1999’s “All Star,” with “I’m A Believer” (OK, not released officially until 2001) tailed significantly, peaking at No. 25 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Despite this, the San Jose rockers got their cover on from then on, mining everyone from John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club defacto theme “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” to the Beatles (“Getting Better”), but their next most popular cover song was this one, by a band so obscure their name is actually ? & The Mysterians.
Natalie Imbruglia – “Torn”
Fact is, Natalie Imbruglia’s 1997 debut, Left Of The Middle, was loaded with radio-friendly tunes, from the brooding, badass “Big Mistake” to the very plucky, very Alanis Morissette-sounding “Intuition,” so maybe chalk the stalling out of the record up to the rise of the Spice Girls. That said, Imbruglia left her mark on Left with the irresistible “Torn,” which earned her a slew of Grammy nods—and years having to tell people the song was actually not hers but originally recorded by Ednaswap. Interestingly, Imbruglia ain’t done with covers, either. She released Male, an album dedicated entirely to covers, in 2015. “Friday I’m In Love” and “I Melt With You” may strike some as predictable, but her rendition of the late Tom Petty’s “The Waiting” is an unexpected delight and, more importantly, a worthy tribute.
Jeff Buckley – “Hallelujah”
Disturbing how many music lovers think of the haunting, lugubrious “Hallelujah” as a Bon Jovi song. Even worse, Jersey’s (second?) favorite son didn’t know it was a cover, either when he first heard Jeff Buckley’s version purr from a jukebox on the Shore. The story goes that he told the friend he was having a drink with that “This is the kinda stuff I should be doing.” That’s when he was informed Buckley was merely paying homage to the late, great Leonard Cohen, and with a song that, despite its title, behooves the listener to give praise to both altars literal and of the flesh. Bon Jovi went for his own “Hallelujah” after years of performing the song live when he recorded 2013’s “Amen.” (Ironically, What About Now is the last record with stalwart sidekick Richie Sambora.)
Pearl Jam – “Last Kiss”
Grunge greats Pearl Jam laid down a sweet growler of a version of the Beatles’ lesser-known (Is there really such a thing when it comes to the Fab Four?) “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away.” But, what band doesn’t either work a Beatles cover into their set or roll tape on one for a compilation? Releasing one as a single is a different animal (pun intended) altogether. Besides, Eddie Vedder and co. never came off as the “cover song as bonus track” type anyway despite their ferocious “Rockin’ In The Free World.” Sure, “Last Kiss” wound up on a compilation record (1999’s charity album No Boundaries), but it also later appeared on a rarities album from the Seattle trendsetters. Best part? The Wayne Cochran cover was the band’s highest-charting single on the Hot 100. Ever.
Heart (feat. Layne Staley) – “Ring Them Bells”
Do yourself a favor and listen to this song. Warning: It’s going to transform your day. In the best of ways, but still. A Bob Dylan deep cut, the heart of Heart—sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson—showed some hometown love by inviting the late Alice In Chains frontman into the studio during the sessions for 1993’s Desire Walks On, their 11th record, and one of their best (in this writer’s opinion, anyway). Divvying up the formidable folk singer’s ode to loss between both sisters and Layne Staley was a stroke of genius, and when Staley comes on, he does it just right. He stays in his lane, aptly showcasing what a glorious one it so often was.
Counting Crows (feat. Vanessa Carlton) – “Big Yellow Taxi”
A Joni Mitchell classic that now even Harry Styles has added to his repertoire, the Counting Crows snapped up one final hit before fading from the Top 40 singles charts with their snazzy take. Giving the tirelessly underestimated Vanessa Carlton (wife of a tirelessly underappreciated John McCauley of Providence’s outstanding alternative/folk band Deer Tick) very little to do, Adam Duritz had toiled with the ditty for years before finally laying it down in 2002, with Carlton on board, for an awful rom-com called Two Weeks Notice, starring Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant. Of all the covers of the venerable track, and there have been many, Crows’ charted the highest.
Hootie & The Blowfish – “I Go Blind”
As if 1994’s record-breaking Cracked Rear View needed a cover, Hootie & The Blowfish coughed up the Canadian quasi-hit for the band 54-40 and even made it the B-side for first single “Hold My Hand.” Hardcore Hootie fans no doubt know this, as they astound each other in between hacky sack and/or foosball marathons, but this little tidbit has been lost on many a prized music journalist. It took two years for the song to become a hit in its own right, and that was thanks in large part to its inclusion on the soundtrack for the NBC smash comedy Friends. Bonus points if you know which “Friend” got a hickey from a Blowfish in one episode. (Hint: It was Monica.)
Urge Overkill – “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon”
No one ever goes into a Quentin Tarantino movie expecting to actually know any of the outre songs that will be used in his latest opus, but you always leave expecting to love one or two. Cases in point: “Son Of A Preacher Man” and “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon” from 1994’s Pulp Fiction. The latter became the hit, while the former would go on to provide a hilarious scene in NBC’s The Office well over 10 years later. But the real kick here is not when ’90s music lovers found out “Girl” was a cover, but that it was none other than Neil “so good, so good, so good” Diamond himself, who penned the ahead-of-its-time tune.
Nine Inch Nails – “Dead Souls”
Nine Inch Nails are that rare band who are both brilliant at reworking an already great song and their own songs being so brilliant that they, too, are ripe for reworking. (What the late, great Johnny Cash did with “Hurt” was spectacular.) For the soundtrack to the 1994 hit film The Crow, NIN took Joy Division’s “Dead Souls” and made the ominous, joyless track a thought-provoking catalyst for catharsis. Rumor has it the band were supposed to even perform in the cult classic, in place of My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult. Probably didn’t happen because Trent Reznor looked too much like the titular hero.