Cover versions are pretty popular these days. Sure, they’ve always been around, but with the continuing surge in popularity that triple j’s Like A Version segment has seen, and with countless covers gracing the furthest reaches of YouTube, cover versions are one of the most popular aspects of music you’ll find online.
Of course, we’ve spoken about the best Like A Version covers before, and we’ve talked about the best songs you didn’t know were covers, but what about covers of Australian songs? Plenty of international artists have tackled the huge back catalogue of Australian songs that we’ve got, and some have done it pretty well.
But we’re not talking about those famous covers, like how Eddie Vedder loves to cover Hunters & Collectors, we’re talking about some of those unlikely covers of Aussie songs by big name international acts that none of us saw coming.
‘Mediate’ – Record Club (INXS)
The brainchild of alt-rocker Beck Hansen, Record Club is a project in which various musicians all come together to cover a classic album in the space of a day. In 2010, the album of choice was INXS’ 1987 classic Kick, which included the brilliantly underrated cut ‘Mediate’.
Record Club’s take on the track turns the down-tempo, new wave track into a jovial jam undertaken by a group of musicians, which includes members of Liars and Os Mutantes, as well as Beck and St. Vincent.
‘Hey Little Girl’ – Soulwax (Icehouse)
Following the phenomenal success of Icehouse’s debut record Flowers (or Flowers’ debut record Icehouse), Iva Davies released Primitive Man in 1982. Featuring classic tracks such as ‘Great Southern Land’ and ‘Hey Little Girl’, the album was a smash hit both here and abroad.
Obviously, the album was a bit hit in Belgium as well, considering that Soulwax decided to cover the song as a B-side to the UK edition of their track ‘Any Minute Now’. We can’t say if Soulwax’s alter egos 2 Many DJs have dropped the track in their sets, but the idea of thousands of revellers dancing to Icehouse is a brilliant thought.
‘I Started A Joke’ – Low (Bee Gees)
In 1968, the Bee Gees released their fifth album Ideas. The record contained the track ‘I Started A Joke’, which has gone on to be considered one of their most-loved tracks, with covers by The Wallflowers and Faith No More being recorded.
Indie slowcore band Low, known for their emotional, downtempo tunes covered the track in 2004 for their A Lifetime Of Temporary Relief box set. Beautifully slow and emotive, the track takes on a completely new form and is reimagined as a fine chilled out track.
‘One Soul Less On Your Fiery List’ – Okkervil River (The Triffids)
Texas’ Okkervil River are an immensely underrated group in the music world. Rooted in the styles of alternative folk and country, the group have held modest success in their almost two decade existence. Likewise, classic Aussie group The Triffids had always held a relatively small, yet dedicated fanbase, but following their breakup in 1989 began to see worldwide reach.
Their 1986 record In The Pines contained the gorgeous ‘One Soul Less On Your Fiery List’, which was covered by Okkervil River for a mixtape in 2011, managing to perfectly encapsulate the meaning that David McComb and co. originally put into the making of the song.
‘Cattle And Cane’ – Stars (The Go-Betweens)
Like Okkervil River, Canadian group Stars have seen little success out of their home country of Canada, but in recent years, their years of hard work has been rewarded with numerous awards and TV appearances, proving their profile is finally on the rise.
In 2007, following the death of legendary Aussie musician Grant McLennan the previous year, a number of musicians got together to contribute covers of McLennan’s work both solo, and with The Go-Betweens. Stars’ contribution was a beautifully authentic cover of the Brisbane musician’s ode to his youth and growing up.
‘Under The Milky Way’ – Grant-Lee Phillips (The Church)
The Church’s ‘Under The Milky Way’ has gone on to be considered as one of the greatest Australian songs of all time, with the song’s success being bolstered by its use in numerous films and TV shows, such as the cult classic Donnie Darko.
In 2006, US musician Grant-Lee Phillips recorded an album entitled Nineteeneighties in which he, yep, covered songs from the 1980s. Among covers of artists such as the Pixies, R.E.M., and Echo & The Bunnymen, Phillips covered the classic Australian track, with his tender voice giving new life into the Aussie classic.
‘If You Want Blood’ – Mark Kozelek (AC/DC)
AC/DC’s Highway To Hell would sadly prove to be the last album recorded by the group with famed lead singer Bon Scott before his untimely death. While the comeback album Back In Black would go on to become one of the biggest selling records of all time, many have forgotten some of the tracks on the previous album, like the brilliant ‘If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It)’.
Mark Kozelek, ex-frontman for Red House Painters, and now best known as Sun Kil Moon, released his first solo album in 2001, which was entitled What’s Next To The Moon. The entire record consisted of Bon Scott-era AC/DC tracks rearranged in an acoustic style. While this sounds like a gimmick, the end result was a beautifully put together collection of tracks that add an extra layer of clarity and emotion to the otherwise rough and tumble tracks that AC/DC were known for.
‘The Dead Heart’ – Alexisonfire (Midnight Oil)
Alright, let’s open the pit up a bit for this one. When Canadian group Alexisonfire toured the country in 2010, they stopped by the triple j studios to record an acoustic cover of The Saints’ ‘(I’m) Stranded’, which while brilliant was lacking energy. So, the group recorded a typically hardcore version of the track, as they were known to do, alongside a cover of Midnight Oil’s ‘The Dead Heart’, for inclusion on an Australian-only tour EP.
Whether they were inspired by Midnight Oil’s plea for Indigenous quality and saw the parallels present in their own country, or whether they just thought the song was brilliant, we’re not sure, but the end result is one of the greatest Midnight Oil covers we’ve ever seen.
‘Red Right Hand’ – Arctic Monkeys (Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds)
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ ‘Red Right Hand’ is an odd track in that it seems to have attained far greater success internationally than it did here in Australia. From being featured in TV shows like The X-Files, to being featured in movies like Scream, its managed to see some pretty immense popularity.
When the Arctic Monkeys toured Australia for the 2009 Big Day Out festival, lucky punters managed to catch the group playing new material, including a performance of their cover of ‘Red Right Hand’. The creepy, slow-burning nature of the original is stripped away, leaving Alex Turner and his loveable group of musos to perform a frantic, alt-rock tinged cover of the song, which manages to be just as good, if not better than, the original.
‘Slave Girl’ – Goo Goo Dolls (Lime Spiders)
Let’s be fair, when you think of a band like the Goo Goo Dolls, you don’t exactly think of pub-rock venues, long hair, and the raw, primal movement of singers like Michael Hutchence do you? No, in fact, most will probably think of that awful Nicholas Cage movie City Of Angels, from which their song ‘Iris’ was featured on the soundtrack. You would be surprised to learn though, that the early days of the Goo Goo Dolls were spent playing punk-rock and covering acts like INXS, they even famously recorded a cover of INXS’ classic ‘Don’t Change’.
However, the most perplexing cover that the Goo Goo Dolls recorded has to be their cover of the Lime Spiders’ ‘Slave Girl’, recorded for their 1995 album, A Boy Named Goo. You might not recognise that name right away, but the Lime Spiders were a seminal Aussie punk band whose best known track, ‘Slave Girl’, has the distinction of being the first video ever being shown on rage. Most confusingly, the relatively middle-of-the-road rock style of the Goo Goo Dolls isn’t on show here, instead frontman John Rzeznik is at his punk best, showing off the gritty vocals and attitude that the Lime Spiders perfectly exhibited.
‘Hand On Your Heart’ – José González (Kylie Minogue)
Kylie Minogue’s career began thanks to her role as Neighbours, back when she was known as Charlene Robinson. Her subsequent music career seemed almost destined to fail in hindsight; it was cheesy, typical ’80s pop that seemed only to succeed due to her songwriting team of Stock, Aitken, and Waterman. However, her career instead went phenomenal, leaving her early singles such as ‘Hand On Your Heart’ overlooked in favour of her newer classics, such as ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head.’
In 2004, Swedish guitarist José González recorded a cover of Minogue’s ‘Hand On Your Heart’, replacing that classic ’80s sheen with a fingerstyle guitar, played beneath sombre, pained vocals of a scorned lover. For those that ever thought that Minogue sounded too happy in her original track given the circumstances, this is the song for you.
‘Heart It Races’ – Dr. Dog (Architecture In Helsinki)
Architecture In Helsinki will quite possibly go down in history as one of the kookiest bands in Australian history. With their penchant for unconventional instrumentation, quirky time signatures, and shared vocals between members, they quickly made a name for themselves and their slightly odd way of making music. When they released the single for their track ‘Heart It Races’ in 2007, the American edition contained a few bonus tracks, namely covers of the single by other bands.
One of these bands was Pennsylvania’s Dr. Dog, a psychedelic indie-folk group who, ironically, turn Architecture In Helsinki’s track into the comparatively normal indie track that we never got to hear.
‘Friday On My Mind’ – Me First And The Gimme Gimmes (The Easybeats)
This one is sort of cheating, after all, Me First And The Gimmes do nothing but make punk rock covers of famous songs. A supergroup consisting of members of bands such as NOFX, Lagwagon, Swingin’ Utters, and the Foo Fighters, the group have been going strong for over two decades now, racking one heck of a discography in the meantime.
In 2011, the group celebrated their Australian tour by releasing the Go Down Under EP. Consisting of five covers of classic Australian bands, such as INXS, and… Air Supply, the group delivered a veritable banger of a cover when they took on The Easybeats’ ‘Friday On My Mind’. Merely updating the restrained rock sensibilities that The Easybeats held back in the day, Steve Wright would be proud of their version.
‘Hells Bells’ – The Dandy Warhols (AC/DC)
In 2004, famed US rock group The Dandy Warhols released their first compilation record. Titled Come On Feel The Dandy Warhols, it consisted of covers, B-sides, and other unreleased material. Amongst the covers of Blondie, Ted Nugent, and Frankie Goes To Hollywood, was the group’s cover of AC/DC’s ‘Hells Bells’.
A brooding cover that takes on a completely different attitude than the original track, the Dandy’s cover of the track could, and should have been released as a single in its own right.
‘The Outdoor Type’ – The Lemonheads (Smudge)
This one could almost be considered cheating, after all, The Lemonheads spent so much time in Australia with their best mates Smudge that they could almost be considered an Aussie band. As it stands, the songwriting partnership of Tom Morgan and Evan Dando could almost rival Lennon & McCartney for one of the most consistently brilliant partnerships over the years.
In 1994, Smudge released their track ‘The Outdoor Type’, an ode to staying indoors and avoiding the supposedly ‘great’ outdoors. Two years later, The Lemonheads would release Car Button Cloth, an unassuming record that included a cover of Smudge’s track. Less fuzzed out and grungy than the original, it puts a much more mellow spin on the classic track.
‘Down Under’ – Pennywise (Men At Work)
US rockers Pennywise are no strangers to Aussie shores, coming here numerous times over the course of their existence. In 1999, the group released their fifth album Straight Ahead, which featured a number of brilliant tracks, such as the single ‘Alien’.
Aussie fans though, they got a little surprise if they bought the album, with a cover of Men At Work’s ‘Down Under’ being tacked on to the end of Aussie editions. Pennywise recorded the track as a tribute to their Aussie fans, and it was much appreciated, with the track reaching #91 in the Hottest 100 for 1999.
‘Teenager Of The Year’ – The Ataris (Lo-Tel)
Back in 2000, an Aussie band called Lo-Tel were ripping up the charts with their heartfelt ode to the superficiality of teenagers ‘Teenager Of The Year’. The track was featured on the soundtrack to the film Looking For Alibrandi, and even reached #15 in the Hottest 100 for the year. Undoubtedly, it was a huge hit. Two years later, The Ataris recorded a cover of the track on an Australian-exclusive EP titled All You Can Ever Learn Is What You Already Know.
The EP was released as an apology to Aussie fans for having to cancel their tour here in the wake of the September 11 attacks, and featured a small number of acoustic tracks. While the recording’s quality is lo-fi indie brilliance, frontman Kris Roe’s vulnerable voice perfectly captures the feeling conveyed by the original song. Plus, with a cover like this, we’re pretty sure they’re forgiven for cancelling that tour.