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Top Five Hole Covers

Courtney Love has been literally everywhere—reality TV (as a guest-judge on Thursday’s episode of “RuPaul’s Drag Race”), late night TV (as a drug-addicted exhibitionist on “The Late Show with David Letterman”), ’90s tabloids (as the wife of Kurt Cobain), and even film (as a Golden Globe-nominated actress). American pop culture consumers may not know that there’s a one-of-a-kind musician, poet, and feminist under Love’s celebrity skin. In the ’90s, her band, Hole, made distinctive alt-rock magic meant to communicate the ugliest aspects of womanhood. While Hole is best enjoyed through their original songs, their covers highlight the band’s special style and their respect for other musicians.

5. “Gold Dust Woman” (1996)
Original by Fleetwood Mac (1977)
Hole’s rendition of “Gold Dust Woman” reveals the decadence of aggressive, distortion-driven alternative rock. The original song gently evokes an unsettled feeling with deceivingly dark chord changes and soft wavers in Stevie Nicks’s beautiful voice. The song takes on a slow tempo that initially feels laid back, but quickly becomes haunting. Hole ditches these subtleties entirely. Love moans and wails, refusing to mask her discomfort with pleasant singing. When Love sings the chorus, “Did she make you cry/Make you break down / Shatter your illusions of love?” she taunts this “you,” sounding outwardly accusatory, as if she’s jabbing you in the chest with an untrimmed fingernail. Guitarist Eric Erlandson, drummer Patty Schemel, and bassist Melissa Auf der Maur barrel the song forward with their powerful instrumentation, keeping the song polished, but allowing it to drip with raw emotion.

4. “The Void” (1994)
Original by The Raincoats (1979)
Hole released “The Void” as a B-side to “Doll Parts,” one of the most successful singles off of their 1994 album, “Live Through This.” The Raincoats were pioneers in the genre of lady-powered alternative rock, and Hole pays homage to them in their version of “The Void.” Erlandson smooths out the song’s opening guitar riff, which combines beautifully with Love’s murky rhythm guitar and then bassist Kristen Pfaff’s delicately dirty bass line. In typical ’90s fashion, distortion and screams facilitate the song’s transition into each explosive chorus. “The Void” provides the perfect template for Hole’s volatile style, where verses stay pretty and unassuming, while choruses blow up into organized chaos.

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3. “Clouds” (1991)
Original by Joni Mitchell (1969)
Hole’s debut album, “Pretty on the Inside,” ends with this prickly, whimsical refashioning of the Joni Mitchell classic, “Both Sides, Now.” It’s not immediately clear that “Clouds” and “Both Sides, Now” are technically the same song, so it’s even more fun to find unexpected similarities between the two versions. For starters, they’re both suspended in the world of dreams with a distinctive musical background—Mitchell embellishes the original with grand orchestral swells (and some really fun clarinet and saxophone solos), while Erlandson plays one screechy guitar riff that can be indelicately, but accurately described as sounding like “wee-ooh, wee-ooh” all the way through. Mitchell and Love have strikingly similar voices, but Love decides to speak (and scream), rather than sing Mitchell’s melody, emphasizing the beauty and strangeness of Mitchell’s poetry. Love chews on Mitchell’s words, stretching them out and turning them into something unrecognizable, in a way that is sometimes concerning and all the more striking.

2. “Circle One” (1996)
Original by the Germs (1978)
A cacophony of scribbling guitars opens Hole’s rendition of “Circle One,” a track off the album, “A Small Circle of Friends.” “Small Circle” is a tribute to the Germs, who crowned themselves punk rock royalty in the three short years they were active. Notorious frontman Darby Crash, whose suicide at the age of 22 led to the band’s dissolution, opens the song, a 110-second self-proclamation, with “I’m Darby Crash / A social blast / Chaotic master.” Love has the audacity to sing the exact same lyrics, causing some die-hard Germs fans to shrink away with disgust, and others to commend her for being so unabashed, unladylike and unapologetic, because what’s more punk rock than that? Hole harnesses the song’s frantic energy, somehow making it sound adorable, yet just as powerful as the original. Love’s scream resounds loudly throughout the song because it exemplifies the way Hole plays with the ambiguity between beauty and ugliness—screaming should sound terrible, but Love somehow makes it a gorgeous expression of pure joy.

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1. “Pennyroyal Tea” (1993)
Original by Nirvana (1993)
“Courtney killed Kurt” conspirators love to colonize the YouTube comment sections for videos of Hole’s Nirvana covers, which can make them a toxic environment for Courtney Lovers like myself. Every time a greasy man compares Love’s scream to the sound of a dying walrus, it’s clear he’s just jealous that Hole does the song better than his beloved Nirvana. While Cobain sings the song thinly and weakly, Love manages to be just as vulnerable while bewitching listeners with her deep, rich voice. Even Cobain’s scream shallows in comparison to his wife’s. Love’s scream drives the song forward with a thickness Cobain lacks. However, there’s no reason to pit Love and Cobain against one another—the two play a great version of the song together at the 1993 Rock Against Rape benefit (although, Cobain does let his wife take over lead vocals, just saying).

—Staff writer Danielle Eisenman can be reached at danielle.eisenman@thecrimson.com.

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