Not only was Chris Cornell one of the most prolific frontmen of the 90s. He was also an incredible solo artist. He started his musical career with Soundgarden, later recognized as one of the leading groups from the Seattle grunge era. Later, he started the group Audioslave with former members of Rage Against the Machine. Cornell’s work’s more soulful side first appeared in the 1990s side project, Temple of the Dog, and later continued into his solo career. Cornell had a voice that sounded like poetry set to music. Unlike many musicians, he needed little more than guitar and light drum groove because he could do more with his voice than many of his contemporaries. Aside from his extensive catalog of work, Cornell also covered various songs from many different genres. Each time he did, he left the song’s integrity intact while infusing it with his unique soulful voice and style. According to Revolver magazine, “the singer’s exceptional gifts allowed him to transform and personalize well-known songs by a diverse range of musicians.” These are the top 10 Chris Cornell covers of all time.
10. Stay With Me Baby – Lorraine Ellison
Ellison’s version of this song was a bluesy jazz infusion much in the style of Etta James with intense intervals of symphonic brass. Instead of relying on a brass section, Cornell opens the song with a modern infusion of guitar and drums. Additionally, his voice adds to the original’s overall blues feel, giving it additional moodiness and soul. There are brighter lifts that hold true to the original throughout the song but modernize the music substantially.
9. Redemption Song – Bob Marley and The Wailers
There is little difference between Marley’s original and Cornell’s cover, except the voice of the latter gives a richness and depth absent in the first version. Yet, Cornell sings more personal poignancy instead of the global consciousness in Marley’s version. Additionally, Cornell finishes the song with an acoustic guitar solo which feels like a signature.
8. Patience – Guns and Roses
Guns and Roses open their version with whistling over gentle guitar riffs much like a cloudless spring day. Unlike other songs in the group’s catalog, this song remains slow with delicate instrumentation. At the end of the Axl Rose’s voice elevates in the final chorus, but the guitars do not follow a more complex guitar solo. Instead of whistling, Cornell chooses an intro that melds electronic and symphonic elements, fading into an acoustic guitar. There is a darker grittiness to his voice which creates a smokier sound absent from the original. Additionally, there’s more of a haunting urgency versus a melancholy refrain.
7. Nothing Compares To You – Prince
Prince’s version relies more on electronic instrumentation and a background chorus. Even though the song is a sad love song about feeling lost without the one you love beside you, his voice is less melancholy and more upbeat. However, when Cornell sings the music, there is a plaintive mournfulness that echos in every note and guitar riff. His voice folds into each note with full impact. This song is much like All Along The Watchtower, one artist wrote the music, and another brought it to life.
6. Imagine – John Lennon
Lennon’s wish for peace is a timeless message of hope and urgency. He urges us to find a world with less strife and more understanding. Harmony is based on the fundamental principle that we are all people on a planet we’ve been charged to protect. Cornell seems to channel the deceased frontman of one of the most storied groups in rock history. It’s difficult to tell the two apart. The best part of Cornell’s cover is it introduces an anthemic classic to a new generation who might have missed its message.
5. Thank You – Led Zeppelin
Zeppelin’s version starts out with a warm guitar solo and a mellow drum groove which segues into Robert Plant’s gentle and resonant voice. Most of the song stays level with several minor drum and drum solos that stand out without being jarring. Cornell’s version relies on guitar and vocals. His voice is more evocative than Plant’s, with an unhurried cadence. Moreover, his version is stark with leave your heart on the floor experience.
4. A Day In The Life – The Beatles
When the Beatles recorded this track was mildly discordant, showcasing Lennon and McCartney’s distinct styles blended together with a guitar and drum solo. The ending was a collection of instruments that can only be described as symphonic cacophony. Cornell’s version is more cohesive. He takes on both parts of the song and gives them their own distinctions without sounding like they belonged in two different pieces despite a guitar and string solo that crescendos into the second part. Additionally, his version has a stronger emphasis on Lennon’s style. Cornell’s ending to the song sounds more like a primal scream than a collection of instruments.
3. Billie Jean – Michael Jackson
The beginning of Jackson’s version is a combination of drum licks and subtle guitar riffs that sound like footsteps. Even though there is a steady drum grove, much of the song utilizes a synthesizer to move the music forward. Unless you listen closely to the lyrics, Cornell’s version sounds nothing like the original. Instead of a stylized pop song from the 80s, Cornell turns the music into a bluesy closing time song.
2. Get It While You Can – Howard Tate
Tate’s version is a ballad that fits neatly into the soul genre with sweeping vocals, which stand out against a background of slow instrumentation with interludes of brass. Cornell starts his version with a synthesized beat that sounds slightly eerie. Much of this song feels like a throwback to his days with Soundgarden. Even though the song maintains the original feel, it’s powerfully updated, replacing much of the classic instruments with electronic overdubs and adding a brightness absent in the original version.
1. One – Metallica
The beginning of Metallica’s powerful song about PTSD and a broken man starts with a slow interlude but quickly elevates into the group’s signature speed metal style. However, Cornell maintains a steadier rhythm that conveys the lyrics of the song more than a genre. His version is a troubling ballad about a destroyed psyche after experiencing unspeakable tragedy throughout the song, his voice threads through the emotional lyrics with grace and emotion.