How do you cover an instantly recognisable song but without being a slave to the original style? One trick to rework the mould is reharmonisation; keep the melody but change the chords into a different set that still fit. The new chords don’t easily fall into the same old rut and thus blank canvas is revealed.
Rehearsing last night with Kitchen Funk Experiment, we were looking again at Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit. There was a tendency to end up back in grunge rock territory but, during one of the resulting bouts of noise, the idea struck me to change the chords (and, under that cover, an opportunity to experiment a little). The original is all power chords (roots, fifths but no thirds) but it sounds like the harmonic progression is Em Am G C (or i iv III VI – the original is, I think, in Fm). I tweaked that to Em7 F#m7 G Am7 – effectively dropping the bass note of the second and fourth chords down by a minor third and taking some ear-led liberties with how to build each chord up.
I’d say instant nirvana… but far enough removed to let us put a soul funk spin on their classic song.