15 Classic Songs You Probably Didn’t Know That Soundgarden Covered
It’s no secret that Soundgarden were among metal’s greatest songwriters, responsible for a multitude of timeless classics. But that’s not to say that they weren’t averse to knocking out the odd cover song every now and again. And some of them were very odd!
But whether tongue-in-cheek, unrecognisable, or true to the originals, they were all, in some way, an homage to Soundgarden’s favourite songs. Indeed, the last thing the band ever played on that fateful night in Detroit, just hours before Chris Cornell took his own life, was a refrain from Led Zeppelin’s In My Time Of Dying.
Alas, some of these forays into other people’s music has been lost in time to a pre-internet age, like their cover of Low Rider by War or Guns N’ Roses’ Sweet Child O Mine – played no more than a few times live in 1992. But others were captured for posterity, either in bootleg form or occasionally in the studio. Here are some of the best…
Body Count – Cop Killer
The story goes that on the 1992 Lollapalooza tour Ice-T’s Body Count were banned from playing the notorious Cop Killer. But no-one thought to ban other bands from playing it, so Soundgarden did it, often featuring members of Body Count. “I don’t wanna kill any cops, personally,” said Chris Cornell at this show in Miami, “but I wanna make sure that everybody let’s me write any song I wanna write, and everybody let’s you buy any song you wanna buy.” Fair enough.
The Beatles – Come Together
It’s reasonable to say that you can hear a Beatles influence on every Soundgarden album, and they covered a few of the Liverpudlians’ tunes over the years – including Hey Jude, and a much-altered version of Helter Skelter. This particular cover can be found on the B‑side of the Hands All Over single from 1990. It is rather heavier than the original.
Cheech And Chong – Earache My Eye
Featured on their setlists as early as 1989, and played on and off until as late as 2011, Earache My Eye is proof that despite earning the nickname Frowngarden, the band actually had a great sense of humour. Delivered as a straight-ahead rock tune, it nonetheless contains lines like, ‘My daddy, he disowned me ’cause I wear my sister’s clothes / He caught me in the bathroom with a pair of pantyhose’. Surprisingly, it has also been covered by Korn and the Rollins Band.
Fear – I Don't Care About You
Guitarist Kim Thayil once declined an invitation to see Fear in Seattle, on the grounds that he’d be the only “brown-skinned, longhair” in the audience. This being back when the LA punk legends attracted rather too many skinheads to ensure his wellbeing. But that’s not to say that Soundgarden weren’t fans, occasionally playing this Fear classic live, as well as recording a studio version.
Howlin' Wolf – Smokestack Lightning
Appearing on Soundgarden’s debut album Ultramega OK from 1988, the Howlin’ Wolf cover originally segued into a snippet of Sonic Youth’s Death Valley ’69, but for some reason this was removed from the 2017 reissue. Either way, it’s an astonishing version, true to the Howlin’ Wolf spirit, but made very much Soundgarden’s own.
Ramones – I Can't Give You Anything
Not only were the Ramones and Soundgarden touring buddies, on the 1996 Lollapalooza tour Chris Cornell and CJ Ramone decided to eschew tour buses in favour of Harleys, travelling to several dates on their bikes. Apparently, CJ’s bike broke down a lot. This Ramones cover first appeared in the vinyl version of the Outshined single in 1991.
Sex Pistols – Submission
Something of a holy shit moment! It’s well-known that Soundgarden were fans of the Sex Pistols, but this cover of the Pistols’ Submission is a rare find. A thorough search of the interweb suggests that they played it a few times in 1989, and this one is from CBGB that same year.
Iggy Pop And The Stooges – Search And Destroy
There seems to be just one instance of Soundgarden covering The Stooges’ TV Eye (at the London Astoria in 1990), but this other Stooges classic made frequent appearances on the setlist in the mid-’90s – particularly on the Australian tour in 1997. This one is from a hometown gig at Mercer Arena in Seattle. Oh, for a time machine…
Cream – Sunshine Of Your Love
Another extremely rare find: this is Soundgarden covering the Cream hit Sunshine Of Your Love in Italy, back in 1989. Granted, the audio’s not that great, probably recorded by a fan rather than from the mixing desk, but it’s cool, nonetheless, to have it documented. And, of course, Soundgarden put their own stamp on it.
AC/DC – Problem Child
Apparently Soundgarden played quite a few covers on that 1989 tour, and here we find them offering up a kick-ass rendition of AC/DC’s Problem Child in Hamburg. Again, it’s not the greatest sound quality – and given that they played it at least seven times there may be a better one out there somewhere – but even so, Chris Cornell’s vocals shine through.
Spinal Tap – Big Bottom
Yet more evidence of the band’s sense of humour comes with this heavy as fuck cover of Spinal Tap’s Big Bottom ‘Talk about mudflaps, my girl’s got ‘em!’ Indeed, this was a regular feature on the setlist throughout the early ’90s, played both nights at the legendary Marquee shows in London. Cranked up to 11!
The Doors – Waiting For The Sun
Among the covers featured on the Echo Of Miles: Scattered Tracks Across The Path compilation of 2011, this Doors tune was just made for Soundgarden. Played as early as 1995 through to ’97, it was resurrected in 2010 at a hometown gig at the Showbox in Seattle. Stunning.
Black Sabbath – Into The Void
Soundgarden were nominated for a GRAMMY for Best Metal Performance in 1993 for this excellent Sabbath cover (they lost to Nine Inch Nails). More notable, however, is the fact that Sabbath’s original lyrics were replaced by words of protest from Chief Seattle, a native American leader for whom the city was named.
Lynyrd Skynyrd – Free Bird
This one might have started as a joke, but there are at least two instances of Soundgarden playing Free Bird. Not that we had any luck finding them, mind, but we did find this beautiful version from Chris Cornell’s Unplugged and Up Close from 2013 – recorded in Boston. Clearly a spur of the moment thing, but he manages to remember most of the lyrics.
Devo – Girl U Want
Take a quirky ’80s new wave hit, slow it down, make it heavy and add vocals from arguably rock’s finest singer… and you get this remarkable offering! So far removed from the original that it may as well be from a different planet. Soundgarden could make it look that easy.
Read this next:
Rolling back three decades to 1991: one of the greatest years for heavy music
Bernie Sanders (and his mittens) graces the cover of albums by everyone from My Chemical Romance to Metallica to Jane’s Addiction to Fall Out Boy…