What is the point of a like-for-like cover? It’s been done once before, why do it again? Whereas Jackie Chan tackling Nat King Cole, now there is something that is surely always worthwhile. Surprise and novelty are occurrences that induce a dopamine response, so when you reconfigure a classic in a peculiar new way, it can quite literally perk us up. 

While slightly tweaking time signatures might prove jarring, the absurd flourish of a thespian acting out a pop hit like a mini-opera or an ageing voice choir reimagining a proto-techno hit are utterly invigorating acts of reinvention. We already have the classic, now let’s have the absurd Tiny Tim version. 

As Jane Swan once asked: “How is it that music can, without words, evoke our laughter, our fears, our highest aspirations?” I’ll tell you how Jane, by subverting punk’s fury in the form of a daft lad with a giant papier-mâché head singing about anarchy in a local suburban village. Granted he might do it with words, but old Frank Sidebottom certainly summons our inner wonder in his own weird way.

Below we have curated the best of these bombastic covers. From tear-jerking instrumentals to strange trips to the odd side of YouTube, I assure you that in time you will see the charm in these juxtaposed classics, and truly grow to love these odd little offshoots from the churning wheel of pop culture. 

10 amazing unconventional covers of classic songs:

‘Blue Monday’ – Brythoniaid Male Voice Choir (New Order)

‘Blue Monday’ was written with a new sequencing machine in mind, but on reflection perhaps it should’ve been written for the Brythoniaid Male Voice Choir instead. The Welsh gang provide the perfect postmodern twist on proceedings, taking things back to the past with a belting performance that adds awe where technology once added mere adrenaline. 

The absurd Portmeirion setting (a recreation of an Italian village in North Wales) only adds to the strange atmosphere of this twisted epic. It is as though some sort of cult uprising has sprung from a local social club. The finishing touch is the biggest collection of ill-fitting tuxedos since a ‘00s high school prom. 

‘Avril 14th’ – Wvanhorn (Aphex Twin)

Pythagoras claimed that music is the language of maths. With tracks like ‘Avril 14th’ he may well be right because surely something spiritual has been sequenced into this string of sublime notes. This particular steel pedal cover summons far more thoughts and memories than a psychiatrist’s couch, and as it floods them into your cortex, they are embellished with a sanguine hue of sweetness.

It’s not long and it’s not much – just one man and his pedal steel – but somehow in that time I’m weeping for the dead dog I never owned, remembering that bakery in Paris that I’ve never been to, and reconciling things with my old landlord. 

‘I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man’ – Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra (Prince)

Prince was many things, wholesome was not one of them. Somehow, in a feat that defies Pythagoras’ aforementioned logic, Prince’s sultry ways collide brilliantly with the wholesome cuddle of a Ukulele Orchestra – from good, old, friendly New Zealand, no less – to create a gentle toe-tapping balm that nestles into your ear and adds a Redbush Tea-like pep to proceedings. 

Because ultimately, one of the many things that Prince most certainly was, is a first-rate songwriter. Here, the melody of this ditty shines through perfectly. The whole thing is a seamless joy delivered with consummate enthusiasm. 

‘The Winner Takes It All’ – Carla Bruni

ABBA has no place in a French café. The gaudy neon glow of the Swedish pop sensations is a world away from the mist-streaked windows sheltering coffee-sipping Parisians from the spring sun that Carla Bruni brings to mind. Alas, the odds are defied with this cover where the melodic pomp of pop is rendered perfectly wistful. 

Taken from her album French Touch, there are a couple of classics on the record reimagined in dreamy tones that, in all honesty, probably might be a bit cheesy and naff, but the romantic lure conquers all in the right light and you simply have to swoon.  

‘Maneater’ – John Bardon & Jocelyn Brown (Nelly Furtado)

If you squint your eyes, then what you have here is Tom Waits and Mavis Staples absolutely smashing home a ‘00s pop classic with a thrilling avant-garde performance. Beyond that, I really don’t want to Google who these people are or what the hell this show is for it would surely only ruin the magic. 

The magic in question resides in the level of liberation on display here. This groovy geriatric duo give it more oomph than a stationary dashboard (00 mph). It’s far more adrenalised than the original to such an extent that has you questioning the dwindling virility of your draining youth. These guys – whoever they are – have certainly still got it and I aspire to be like them in my pipe and slipper days, swinging from the hip like Ben Stokes needing a six to win it.

‘People Are Strange’ – Tiny Tim (The Doors)

I believe that if you haven’t got anything nice to say then you’re better off saying nothing at all. With that in mind, it’s fair to say that Tiny Tim was an oddball, and he’d thank me for that compliment. Ironically, that sunny outlook of his had a seismic impact on modern music because Tiny Tim was the man who convinced Bob Dylan and his fellow Greenwich Village cohorts to be more individualistic with their output.

His own individualism was, actually, relatively creepy. This makes ‘People Are Strange’ just about the perfect song for him. It’s a dark tale about the peculiarity of life riding on a secretly sunny melody—and that premise almost makes it seem like Jim Morrison was writing it specifically so that Tiny Tim would one day sing it. 

‘Anarchy in Timperley’ – Frank Sidebottom (The Sex Pistols)

When Jon Ronson was recruited to play keyboard in Frank Sidebottom’s band, he was asked one simple question, ‘can you play C, F and G’, he said, ‘Yes’, Frank said, ‘You’re in’ – does it get more punk than that? This comic cover is a paragon of DIY artistry. It turns the punk genre on its head by placing anarchy in the humble town of Timperley and pairing the riotous ways of the Sex Pistols with quips about saving up to buy your mam a washing machine. 

As the back cover of Ronson’s book, Frank, states: “In the late 1980s Jon Ronson was the keyboard player in the Frank Sidebottom Oh Blimey Big Band. Frank wore a big fake head. Nobody outside his inner circle knew his true identity. This became the subject of feverish speculation during his zenith years.” It turns out it was just some bloke called Chris Sievey having a daft laugh, aside from the name that much should’ve been apparent all along, and it’s a joy to behold. 

‘Unforgettable’ – Jackie Chan & Ani DiFranco (Nat King Cole & Natalie Cole)

The street fighting songbird, Jackie Chan, has produced over 20 different albums, singing over 100 songs in over five languages. Somehow this seems to have almost entirely escaped the consciousness of pop culture. Just what are these songs? Where are they? And why is the martial arts master quietly scurrying away in recording studios?

These are mysteries that will go down alongside Jack the Ripper, but one thing for certain is the billowing charm in this reimagined classic. Taken from the album When Pigs Fly that prides itself on presenting unlikely covers, the song shows that a warm heart is simply inevitable when you’re dealing with the works of Nat King Cole. 

‘Rocket Man’ – William Shatner (Elton John)

“What makes a great performance?” Woody Harrelson once mused, “I suppose it’s the level of vulnerability.” Harrelson had Ulrich Mühe’s performance in The Lives of Others in mind when he proclaimed that, but you can just as easily apply it to William Shatner tackling Elton John while coolly smoking a cigarette. 

A truly great cover can unearth things that you never noticed in the original—this classic reveals reams of absurdity. Take, for instance, Bernie Taupin’s nonsensical lyrics: being high as a kite works in reference to being on drugs, but in terms of a rocket launch, 50m above ground level is a dangerously low altitude (and there is no poetic meaning being missed here). In short, it’s the perfect song for Shatner to be himself with, sweetened all the more in recent times by the fact that the actor has just been fired into space by the billionaire book salesman Jeff Bezos. We live in a strange world.

‘Everyone Is Horrid Except Me (And Possibly You)’ – Quilloughby (Morrissey)

Morrissey has recently bemoaned the lack of attention that his latest efforts have gotten, but with ‘Everyone Is Horrid Except Me (And Possibly You)’ he’s back to his best. The morbid frontman has returned to his crooning comfort zone with lyrics like “Every day I draw my bath / And I hope that I drown.” It recaptures the earnest melodic solemnity where he is at his paradoxically maudlin yet rhythmic best.

The song was sung by Benedict Cumberbatch and the voice of Lisa Simpson, Yeardley Smith. Cumberbatch voiced a character named Quilloughby, a moody frontman of The Snuffs, who becomes Lisa’s imaginary friend after she develops an interest in vegetarianism in the Simpsons episode entitled, ‘Panic on the Streets of Springfield’. The track was, in fact, written by Bret McKenzie, but it bore enough of a likeness to Morrissey to almost prise a lawsuit. He’d have been better off applauding; this is some of the best quasi-Morrissey work for years.