From Guns N’ Roses hits and a surprise Motörhead barnstormer to a quartet of Joan Jett staples
Carrie Underwood was a teenage metalhead. Hair metal, that is. Growing up in small-town Oklahoma, the future country titan developed a love for singers like Guns N’ Roses howler Axl Rose, whose elastic voices left a permanent impression. “The way I learned how to sing was I would pick really hard vocalists to try to emulate, and his voice always mesmerized me,” Underwood told Rolling Stone in 2022. “I was like, ‘How is he doing the things that he’s doing?’” Underwood is such a GN’R fan that she’s been covering the band since 2006 — and is now opening for Axl, Slash, and Duff McKagan on select dates of the band’s 2023 tour. These are her best hard-rock covers (along with some Eighties gems too). A version of this list first appeared in 2020.
“Sweet Child O’ Mine” (Guns N’ Roses)
After years of trying to persuade Axl Rose to join her onstage, Underwood finally succeeded at the 2022 Stagecoach Festival. The result was one of the country music’s fest greatest surprises, an appearance by the reclusive Rose that also launched a friendship between the metal icon and the Nashville superstar. Underwood nailed the first verse of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and then dropped the bomb: “Welcome to the greatest night of my life,” she screamed. “Give it up for Axl Rose!”
“Patience” (Guns N’ Roses)
“I grew up listening to all kinds of music,” Underwood tells her audience in 2006, before kicking off a cover of Guns N’ Roses’ “Patience” with the admission that she sometimes wants to “rock out a little bit.” The performance that follows doesn’t rock, exactly — Underwood stays seated the whole time, strumming an acoustic guitar while her bandmates chime in on fiddle and harmonies — but it still speaks volumes, delivered by a country singer who, looking for cover songs to pad the setlist during her first headlining tour, was happy to reach beyond her own genre.
“I Remember You” (Skid Row)
While we’d love to hear her tackle something from Slave to the Grind, “I Remember You” — Skid Row’s hit combination of power-ballad drama and hair-metal muscle — is a more natural choice for Underwood, who turns the song into a punchy prom theme during this 2007 clip.
There’s no topping the period-perfect, Aqua Netted hairstyle Underwood sported during an American Idol episode in early 2005, when she first took a stab at Heart’s biggest hit. Even so, her most recent performances of the power ballad opening for Guns N’ Roses are the stuff of legend — and good reason for GN’R fans to show up early for her set.
“Home Sweet Home” (Motley Crue)
Justin Moore recorded this song on 2014’s Nashville Outlaws: A Tribute to Mötley Crüe, but Underwood’s version packs a more convincing snarl. Here, she performs “Home Sweet Home” during an outdoors gig in July 2009. Don’t let the drum machine fool you — once this song gets going, it’s the best “Home Sweet Home” has sounded since the Dr. Feelgood tour.
“Summer of ’69” (Bryan Adams)
At the request of her audience, Underwood tackled Bryan Adams’ lighter-hoisting tribute to nostalgia and oral sex during a March 2010 concert at the University of Massachusetts. The song starts off slowly, with Underwood tossing enough vocal acrobatics into the first 90 seconds to qualify for the Summer Olympics, before the drums and electric guitars kick in.
“November Rain” (Guns N’ Roses)
Sandwiched between “So Small” and “Before He Cheats,” this Use Your Illusion power ballad helped bring most of Underwood’s shows to a close during 2008, a year largely spent on the road in support of Carnival Ride. With an acoustic guitar taking the place of Axl Rose’s upright piano, Underwood keeps the arrangement sparse until the final two minutes, where she and her band kick into a snippet of “Paradise City.”
“I Hate Myself for Loving You” (Joan Jett)
At the 2019 CMA Fest in Nashville, Underwood headlined the main stage at Nissan Stadium, running through her country catalog until launching into “I Hate Myself for Loving You,” the Joan Jett hit whose melody Underwood has sung for years as the theme of Sunday Night Football. Then Underwood welcomed the onetime Runaway to the stage to join her on “Hate Myself” before barreling through “Bad Reputation (which Underwood has been using to open her sets on the GN’R tour), “Crimson and Clover,” and “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.” It was a performance joyous enough to make even the most dark of Blackhearts swell.
“Ace of Spades” (Motörhead)
Underwood knows the audience before her: The country star stacked her set list opening for Guns N’ Roses with a number of rock covers, from Heart’s “Alone” to Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation.” But the monster was the hard-charging “Ace of Spades,” Motörhead’s signature. Performing it at a GN’R stop in Montreal, steam rose from the stage as the song’s iconic opening bass line kicked in, and Underwood came out, banging her head of blonde hair. She even summons some rare grit in her voice as she conjures the spirit of Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmister — “If you like to gamble, I’ll tell you I’m your man/You win some, lose some, it’s all the same to me.” At the end, the audience cheered approvingly. Just like Kilmister: She may be born to lose, but she lives to win.
“Paradise City” (Guns N’ Roses)
With a snake dance that would make Axl proud — and a spot-on whistle shriek during the song’s intro — Underwood sank her teeth into “Paradise City” during a short, four-tune set at the 2013 CMA Festival. It was one of her biggest crowds of the year, with Underwood playing to a sold-out audience inside the Tennessee Titans’ hometown stadium.
“Never Tear Us Apart” (INXS)
Performed at the Sydney Opera House in February 2012, “Never Tear Us Apart” doubles not only as a tribute to one of Australia’s biggest bands, but also as a showcase for Underwood’s super-sized pipes, whose soul and swagger would’ve made Michael Hutchence proud. There’s a top-notch lap-steel solo halfway through the song, too, replacing Kirk Pengilly’s saxophone with something more representative of Underwood’s roots in Middle America.
“Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” (Stevie Nicks)
Underwood was still promoting Carnival Ride when she joined Keith Urban for a cross-country tour in early 2008. Although technically the opening act, she returned to the stage every night during the middle of Urban’s set, joining the headliner for a performance of the Stevie Nicks/Tom Petty duet “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” The pair will hit the road together later this year, too, wrapping up 2016 with a tour of Australian venues.
“Voices Carry” (‘Til Tuesday)
While headlining the Delaware State Fair in July 2008, Underwood — who, with just two albums under her belt, was still a bit hard-pressed to fill long sets with nothing but her own music — turned to a young Aimee Mann for help. Her version of ‘Til Tuesday’s “Voices Carry” feels like a big-budget Hollywood remake of an indie film, with Underwood extending the high notes in the chorus by several seconds.