In Hear This, The A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, in honor of Amanda And Jack Palmer’s covers album, we’re picking some of our favorite cover songs.
One of the more intriguing covers albums of the ’90s (and, wow, there were plenty from which to choose) is 1993’s Stone Free: A Tribute To Jimi Hendrix. Not only did the record feature plenty of the expected guitar gods—Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Slash—but it also boasted the Spin Doctors jamming through “Spanish Castle Magic” and Belly unleashing a psychedelic “Are You Experienced?”
The album’s best detour, however, was The Cure covering “Purple Haze.” This particular version reinvents Hendrix’s original as a weird, reedy, industrial song. In fact, the tune closely resembles a factory’s humming, clanking machinery, what with its electro-plated rhythmic stutters, piano with a faint house music hangover, and Robert Smith’s vocal hiccups. Above all, The Cure amplifies the song’s original disorientation by taking an inventive approach with the song’s arrangement—it’s less a straightforward transformation than one marked by funhouse-mirror diffraction.
I’ve never been a huge Hendrix fan, but The Cure’s “Purple Haze” made me appreciate the original more—which, to me, is the hallmark of a successful cover. Perhaps unsurprisingly, however, the cover is a polarizing song for fans, one that either seems to be beloved or derided as terrible. Yet “Purple Haze” presaged the equally weird detours The Cure took later in the decade on 1996’s Wild Mood Swings, an album that moved away from moody, atmospheric dream pop and dabbled in everything from gnarled, psychedelic shoegaze to ornate cabaret. Rather than a one-off, the Hendrix cover seemed to steer The Cure in yet another direction.