8 Cover Songs That Rocked the 1990s

Quick! Name the original singer of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.” If you’re like many people under a certain age, you might not know about Dolly Parton’s 1974 country-western version of the inescapable 1992 pop revamp.

The best cover songs make you forgot the first version existed (or turn you onto it and help to expand your musical palate). Here are eight covers that rocked the ’90s and gave each track a new audience.

The Lemonheads - "Mrs. Robinson"

Lemonheads - Mrs. Robinson

 Atlantic Records

Simon & Garfunkel’s woozy, folksy piece for the seductive Graduate film plays off as creepy. Evan Dando’s slacker-rock version turns the tables and sees the Casanova creeping on his mature female neighbor. His Lemonheads pile on the bass – customary in 1992 – and make the word “cupcakes” sound even more euphemistic. For all the sly foxiness in Dando’s cover, former Lemonheads bassist Nic Dalton says the frontman was disappointed their label preferred "Mrs. Robinson" to Dando’s work.

“It's saying some­thing for a record company that they know when they have a hit. It was bad for Evan, because he had a whole album of original songs, and no one had any faith in it,” Dalton told DISCoveries in 1994. However, It’s a Shame About Ray ended up going gold within four years of its release.

Nirvana - "The Man Who Sold the World"

Kurt Cobain of Nirvana

Frank Micelotta Archive/Getty Images

Maybe it was something in Kurt Cobain’s desperate delivery. “Oh, no/Not me/We never lost control,” he swears over acoustic guitars, Dave Grohl’s hushed drums and backing musicians’ incessant strings. He embodied the salesman character, with fingers crossed behind his back. The reality was that less than a year after recording “The Man Who Sold the World” at an MTV Unplugged concert, Cobain did lose control of his life. He committing suicide in April 1994.

Natalie Imbruglia - "Torn"

Natalie Imbruglia - Torn

Ever heard of Ednaswap? Unless you’re a diehard ’90s devotee, you probably haven’t. But this hardworking Los Angeles band – who in only five years together released four full-length albums – wrote the omnipresent 1997 song. Ednaswap’s cut from 1995 is raw and gutsy compared to Natalie Imbruglia’s innocent take. Yet it was the latter’s that sold more than 4 million copies and dominated radio.

“She never called to thank us, which is kind of weird,” singer Anne Preven told Philly.com in 1998. What’s weirder? Imbruglia still fails in current interviews to acknowledge Ednaswap’s contribution to her career.

Pearl Jam - "Last Kiss"

Pearl Jam - Last Kiss

Epic Records

Where, oh where, could Pearl Jam’s biggest chart-topper be? For a decade, the Seattle superstars had racked up plenty of Modern Rock and Alternative hits but came up short in the general pop field. It took one 1998 revamp of a rockabilly dirge to give them their highest entry on Billboard— number two on the Hot 100. Proceeds from the Eddie Vedder version went to Kosovo refugee charities, with the remaining cut benefiting the church ran by the writer, Wayne Cochran.

Hear Wayne Cochran’s original version of “Last Kiss” on iTunes.

Guns N' Roses - "Live and Let Die"

Guns N Roses Perform Live At Rock In Rio II

Kevin Mazur/WireImage/Getty Images

Leave it to titans Slash and Izzy Stradlin to make two guitars sound like a symphony. Though Guns N’ Roses tackled orchestral vibes with another big Use Your Illusion I number, “November Rain,” this Paul McCartney and Wings cover relied on gravitas to get the right groove. Axl Rose turned Macca’s smooth James Bond theme into a barroom threat. GNR’s version – which featured Blind Melon’s Shannon Hoon on backup vox – earned a Grammy nod in 1993.

Smashing Pumpkins - "Landslide"

Smashing Pumpkins - Pisces Iscariot

Virgin Records

“This song is very relevant to my life,” Billy Corgan wrote in the liner notes of Smashing Pumpkins’ B-sides album Pisces Iscariot. The Fleetwood Mac tune touched a nerve with the “Zero” in his childhood of broken homes and growing pains. When the Pumpkins gained notoriety for their angst and bombast, the foursome reeled in the rage for this tender take.

It’s since been Stevie Nicks-approved. “I was very honored to have Billy Corgan pick out that song on his own. There's nothing more pleasing to a songwriter than [someone] doing one of their songs,” she said in a 1998 SonicNet/MTV chat.

Björk - "It's Oh So Quiet"

Bjork In Concert

Santiago Felipe/Getty Images 

What inspired Iceland’s reigning electronica queen to redo a 1948 multilingual jazz standard for 1995’s Post? “It was the last song we did. To make it certain that the album would be as schizophrenic as possible, that every song would be a shock,” Björk told Stereogum in 2008. True to her desire, “It’s Oh So Quiet” showed the artist at her sweetest and most maniacal. The music video remains part of the MTV pantheon as one of director Spike Jonze’s greatest feats, with its madcap musical kaleidoscope.

Marilyn Manson - "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)"

Marilyn Manson - Sweet Dreams Are Made of This

Interscope Records

This grotesque Eurythmics cover was mainstream culture’s introduction to Marilyn Manson. The Florida troupe slunk out of the state like a swamp creature and choked the moral majority. Manson was a macabre, amped-up Alice Cooper for Generation X.

“I wanted to do the song because I liked the lyrics and I thought that they were overlooked when the song was released originally by The Eurythmics,” the performer told an AOL chat room in 1996. He must have taken a particular fancy to “Some of them want to abuse you/Some of them want to be used by you,” if prior songs like “Cake and Sodomy” suggested anything.