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Chris Cornell's Best Cover Songs: From Michael Jackson to Led Zeppelin & Prince

Michael Hurcomb/Corbis via Getty Images
Chris Cornell of Soundgarden performing live in Toronto on Nov. 16 2012. 

Chris Cornell will forever be remembered for his towering, powerful vocals as the lead singer of Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog and Audioslave. But the late grunge godhead -- who died on Thursday morning (May 18) at age 52 in his Detroit hotel room of a suspected suicide -- was also a master interpreter of popular music.

While his lung-busting voice gave spirit to such iconic rock songs as "Rusty Cage," "Blow up the Outside World" and "Say Hello 2 Heaven," Cornell frequently stepped well outside of his rock god persona to indulge his melodic side on unplugged or stripped-down takes on songs by everyone from Prince to Bob Marley, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and the Bee Gees.

With an expressive, gravely voice that reached nearly four octaves, Cornell was able to convey emotion like few other front men in modern rock history, easily slipping from power pop confections to R&B and classic rock staples in his journeys outside his solo and band cannons. While he often paid tribute to the rock titans that influenced him as a teen, Cornell wasn't afraid to take chances, as when he took on Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" on his 2007 solo album, Carry On.

Speaking to Rolling Stone in 2009 following Jackson's death, Cornell reflected on what many saw as an unusual choice on his part. "The brilliance of 'Billie Jean' came to me when I was reading the lyrics for the first time, which was around the time that I was doing that arrangement, and the idea came from a conversation I had with my wife about the art of the cover song, because she would bring up ideas about songs I should cover, and I would always shoot 'em down, and I would explain the art of it: You can cover a song by an artist you are obviously influenced by and you will reproduce it, paying homage to it, and sticking close to the original," he said.

"So she sort of challenged me with, what would that song be for you, and I thought well, who would be the least likely artist for me to attempt to cover and the first name that popped into my head was Michael Jackson. I liked "Billie Jean" because it had that little keyboard line in it, which I thought I could turn into an electric guitar line. And it was just embarrassingly awful. When I started reading the lyrics, I realized it's a lament, not a dance track. His moonwalking and the video as well, as just the bass line and the beat, took precedence over the meaning. The lyrics are brilliant, and the way that the way the lyrics are put together. The story isn't spoon-fed to you, it's poetic."

Here's a look at some of Cornell's best covers:

Michael Jackson, "Billie Jean"

Prince/Sinéad O'Connor, "Nothing Compares 2 U"

U2, "One"

Bob Marley, "Redemption Song"

Pearl Jam, "Better Man"

Dolly Parton/Whitney Houston, "I Will Always Love You"

The Beatles, "A Day in the Life"

Bob Dylan, "The Times They Are A-Changin"

Cat Stevens/Yusuf, "Wild World"

John Lennon, "Imagine"

Credence Clearwater Revival, "Long As I Can See the Light"

Bruce Springsteen, "Thunder Road"

Led Zeppelin, "Thank You"

Bee Gees, "To Love Somebody"

David Bowie, "Lady Stardust"


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