Some bands build their early careers on a well-placed cover, like Van Halen blasting right out of the gate with a redefining take on The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me.” Some bands make a point of avoiding covers altogether. And some love covers so much that at a certain point in their career they’ll release an entire album of the dang things. Buried somewhere in the middle of it all though is the covers EP. For many listeners a covers EP hits a certain sweet spot: enough tracks to feel like a little treat, not so many as to lose focus or have listeners impatiently drumming their fingers waiting for the next album of original material. A covers EP says “dude, listen to these songs that we loved when we were starting out” but it doesn’t say “and you must listen to everything I listened to in order to understand where I’m coming from.” There are countless covers EPs out there but these are my personal favorites. What are yours?
Skid Row – B Side Ourselves
Skid Row released this EP between their Slave To The Grind and Subhuman Race albums, and it stood out for me because in those pre-Spotify/YouTube/iTunes days you couldn’t simply command a song to appear in your ears: you had to either catch it on the radio or encounter its physical representation in the form of a CD or cassette. Wild, I know. So for me, this was the first time I’d heard a song by The Ramones, and although I was already a Jimi Hendrix fan by age 13 I hadn’t yet come across “Little Wing.” The Judas Priest cover features a guest appearance by the metal god Rob Halford himself, and there’s an energy throughout this disc which captures the power of Skid Row in this unique era, when they successfully survived the last days of rock’s hair metal era and before grunge temporarily put the boot in to bands like Skid Row. This was a band with the world at their feet and a song in their hearts.
“Psycho Therapy” (Ramones)
“C’mon and Love Me” (KISS)
“Delivering the Goods” (Judas Priest)
“What You’re Doing” (Rush)
“Little Wing” (The Jimi Hendrix Experience)
Metallica – The $5.98 E.P.: Garage Days Re-Revisited
This EP represented Metallica’s first release with Jason Newsted on bass following the tragic death of Cliff Burton, and the band chose to go back to their roots before diving in to new music. These tracks are all available on the band’s 1998 Garage Inc double album too, but for me they tell an entirely different story when heard in their original context instead of fitting in amongst other covers, B-sides and one-offs. If Garage Inc is the story of a band using their platform as The World’s Biggest Metal Band to shine a light on the songs that inspired them, Garage Days Re-Revisited tells a story of a band who was struggling to cope with the emotion of the situation, and who retreated to the comfort of the jam room and the songs that inspired them in their early days before life became so complicated.
“Helpless” (Diamond Head)
“The Small Hours” (Holocaust)
“The Wait” (Killing Joke)
“Crash Course In Brain Surgery” (Budgie)
“Last Caress/Green Hell” (Misfits)
Stone Sour – Meanwhile In Burbank…
I get a feeling we’ll be seeing more of this as time goes on: covers EPs that feature songs released post-1990. While most of Stone Sour’s recent covers EP (the first of a trilogy) focuses on tracks from the 1980s, the inclusion of Alice In Chains’ “We Die Young” acknowledges AIC’s rightful place in the Great Heavy Rock Songbook. It’s interesting to note that this EP features songs by Judas Priest and KISS, just like Skid Row’s. And it’s also cool to see a band paying tribute to Metallica, who have done so much to share cool covers with the world.
“We Die Young” (Alice In Chains)
“Heading Out To The Highway” (Judas Priest)
“Love Gun” (KISS)
“Creeping Death” (Metallica)
“Children Of The Grave” (Black Sabbath)
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Covers EP
The Chili Peppers released this EP in 2012 as an iTunes-only digital download to celebrate their induction in the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. The idea was to pay tribute to other bands who came before them in joining the ranks of the Hall. The tracks themselves date from between 1991 and 2011, with three guitarists represented: John Frusctiante, Dave Navarro and Josh Klinghoffer.
“A Teenager in Love” (Dion and the Belmonts)
“Havana Affair” (The Ramones)
“Search and Destroy” (Iggy Pop and James Williamson of The Stooges)
“Everybody Knows This is Nowhere” (Neil Young)
“I Get Around” (The Beach Boys)
“Suffragette City” (David Bowie)
Rush – Feedback
Alright, this one is probably long enough to qualify as an album if you really wanna stretch it, but this eight-song release clocks in at just over 27 minutes. While most of the EPs covered (ha!) in this list feature songs from the ‘metal and onwards’ era, Rush’s reflects an earlier era, an era we now think of as ‘classic rock.’ Heck, it even includes two songs apiece by Buffalo Springfield and The Yardbirds, and you might as well count “Summertime Blues” as a The Who song too and at them to the ‘two songs by…’ list. What’s really great about Feedback is that it gives the listener a clear indication of where Rush derived their energy, yet it provides virtually no hints whatsoever as to how they developed such a progressive, iconic sound of their own.
“Summertime Blues” (Eddie Cochran/Jerry Capehart)
“Heart Full of Soul” (The Yardbirds)
“For What It’s Worth” (Buffalo Springfield)
“The Seeker” (The Who)
“Mr. Soul” (Buffalo Springfield)
“Seven and Seven Is” (Love)
“Shapes Of Things (The Yardbirds)
“Crossroads” (Robert Johnson, Cream)