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5 Covers That Improved the Lyrics of Famous Songs

The other week, I wrote a column about the worst changed lyrics in music history, and I think we all learned something -- specifically, what I think are the top five worst changed lyrics in rock history. But y'know what? I thought I'd turn that frown upside down. Then I turned it upside again and stood on my head. And then it was opposite day. By that time I was pretty confused, so I got drunk, and when I woke up I decided to do an article about the five best changed lyrics in music history. Then I tried really, really, really hard to find five examples.

Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty
Here is a picture of a guy trying really hard. Why? Because 8 out of 10 eyes glaze over if there are two consecutive paragraphs of text unbroken by a photo. YOU'RE WELCOME.

#5. Johnny Cash Finds Jesus and a Better Lyric for His Cover of NIN's "Hurt"

Our first entry is an interesting one, because I came very close to putting it on the list of the worst changed lyrics. In the original "Hurt" by Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor sings, "I wear this crown of shit." It's par for the course with Trent. After all, "Hurt" is a cutter's anthem for the depressed with no self-esteem. That's what the '90s were like. Every singer was dying to tell you how much they sucked: Thom Yorke of Radiohead was a "creep," Kurt Cobain sang, "I hate myself and I want to die," and Trent was wearing his "crown of shit."

Jason Merritt/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Apparently, an invisible crown of shit.

When Johnny Cash did his phenomenal cover just before his death, however ...

"Crown of Shit" BECAME "Crown of Thorns"

I used to hate that. "OK, Johnny," I said to myself. "We get it. You love Jesus." It annoyed me because Jesus loving had nothing to do with this self-hating masterpiece. But then I listened to the lyric in context. It went from being "I wear this crown of shit upon my liar's chair" to "I wear this crown of thorns upon my liar's chair." "Liar's chair" becomes more important, because now we know he's lying about the crown of thorns. He's lying about being a martyr, about being holy. He's not just a piece of shit; he's a fraud. The lyric change actually ups the ante on his personal sins.

#4. Relient K Injects Humor into Pure Cheese for Its Cover of "Manic Monday"

You might know Relient K as some Christian power-pop punk band. Or you might not know them at all. I sure as hell didn't, and I'm pretty sure that's OK. But at one point, this band decided to do a cover of the Bangles hit "Manic Monday." There are three things to know about "Manic Monday": 1) it's catchy; 2) Prince wrote it; and 3) it's a piece of fluffy, forgettable shit.

To understand how Relient K made this list, you really can't underestimate the importance of that third prong. See, normally a gratuitous lyric change just for laughs would be offensive. Show some respect! But when you're covering a piece of pure pop fluff, you don't really have to sweat it. It's not like drawing boobs on the Mona Lisa.


I said it's NOT like this.

Accordingly, when Relient K covered it ...

"He Tells Me in His Bedroom Voice, 'C'mon, Honey, Let's Go Make Some Noise'" BECAME "He Tells Me in His Quiet Riot Voice, 'C'mon, Feel the Noise.'"

Yes, Relient K is referencing another '80s hit. Is that the funniest thing ever? No. Is it amusing? Yes, a bit. Does it improve the song? I think it does. Are you tired of this question/answer sentence construction? I'm sure. Should I stop? Of course! Will I? Not until every last one of you hates me. You already do? OK.

#3. Peggy Lee Turns a Few Words and a Melody into a Full Song With Her Cover of "Fever"

You might not know Peggy Lee, but odds are good you've heard her song "Fever." It's just the pinnacle of slow jazz cool. It goes a little something like this:

Actually, it goes a lot like that. That was it. What you just watched just then. That's Peggy Lee's "Fever." Now you know. Anyway, I never knew this, but apparently it's a cover. The original "Fever" was written by Little Willie John and went something like this. Again, exactly like that. Notice something?

Yeah, Peggy Lee Wrote About Half a Song of New, Additional Lyrics

How many? Like most of them. None of the following lyrics were in the song:

Everybody's got the fever
That is somethin' you all know
Fever isn't such a new thing
Fever started long ago
Romeo loved Juliet
Juliet she felt the same
When he put his arms around her
He said, "Julie baby you're my flame"
Thou givest fever, when we kisseth
Fever with thy flaming youth
Fever I'm on fire
Fever yeah I burn forsooth
Captain Smith and Pocahontas
Had a very mad affair
When her daddy tried to kill him
She said, "Daddy oh don't you dare"
He gives me fever with his kisses
Fever when he holds me tight
Fever, I'm his missus
And daddy won't you treat him right?
Now you've listened to my story
Here's the point that I have made
Chicks were born to give you fever
Be it Fahrenheit or Centigrade
They give you fever when we kiss them
Fever if you live and learn
Fever, till you sizzle
Oh what a lovely way to burn

And not only did Peggy write 'em, she didn't take credit for it. What a cool, jazzy lady.

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