As a musician and songwriter I'm always being influenced by other artists and musicians out there. A lot of times if a song gets stuck in my head or I get an idea for how to put my own flavor on it I'll make my own cover. Some of my favorites that I've done in the past include a bossa nova version of Britney Spears' "Toxic", and a chiptune rendition of rendition of David Bowie's "Life on Mars". I've also done covers of several They Might Be Giants songs and quite a few punk rock Billy Joel covers.
I think there are a few key things to keep when you're selecting a song to cover and I've made a quick little list of a few of the things I look for when listening or creating a cover.
1. What does this add to the song?
A good cover shouldn't take away from the original and if definitely shouldn't be exactly the same. Weezer put out a cover album a few years back and every song might as well have been the original band's studio recording. It just brought nothing to the table in terms of newness or originality.
2. You need to make it your own
One of the most noteworthy covers ever is Hendrix's version of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" At this point it's more of a Hendrix song then a Dylan song. DEVO's "Satisfaction" musically sounds nothing like the Rolling Stone's original, but has the same lyrics. Johnny Cash took an goth/emo song like "Hurt" and turned it into a reflective balad about a hard life lived. You need to think that you wrote it and the original is the cover. Don't just do the bare minimum amount of flair and call it a day. Own that shit! You listening, Weezer?
3. You should love the song
Never do a cover song ironically. It's the watered down dripped coffee served to you by a dude with a man-bun and the thinest beard you've ever seen wearing a Christmas sweater in July. Even if the song is cheesy or bubblegum pop you should sincerely love it. You wouldn't think a slow sea shanty by Billy Joel would make a punk song, but I grew up listening to it and I have childhood memories attached to it. When George Michael died I learned "Freedom 90" so I coudl do a tribute at a show I had coming up. If you can't connect with a song, don't cover it. Unless you're working in a cover band, which is a whole other situation since you're being paid to play. But even then, you should probably be in a cover band because you love the band(s) you're playing as.
4. Fuck Slo-Mo Movie Trailer Covers
Look, if you're covering a song and you're just making it slower, adding in an orchestal arrangement and having some lady whisper-sing the lyrics to a tune from the 80s or 90s you're most likely making it for a movie trailer. Fuck you. Fuck you so much. You are the worst and you should feel shame for the rest of your life. You are the exact opposite of everything good about covers and music in general. You might as well just be a brick and mortar factory because you're churning out processed garbage.
That's all I can think of off the top of my head. What makes a good cover song to you? What are some of your favorites?