By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on September 2, 2023)
Since it’s Labor Day weekend, I thought I would give the original artists a day off and share 20 of my favorite cover songs. Kick back and enjoy!
The Jimi Hendrix Experience – “All Along the Watchtower”
Original artist: Bob Dylan
“And the wind began to HOWL!” Jimi’s soaring, immaculately produced rendition (from Electric Ladyland) came out 6 months after the original appeared on Dylan’s 1967 John Wesley Harding LP.
Patti Smith – “Because the Night”
Original artist: Bruce Springsteen
OK, Springsteen gave Smith first crack at it, so it could be argued that his version (recorded later) is technically the “cover”. I do feel Smith’s version is definitive (the Boss wins either way…as long as those royalty checks keep rolling in).
Issac Hayes – “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”
Original artist: Glen Campbell (written by Jimmy Webb)
Hayes deconstructs Glen Campbell’s Jimmy Webb-penned hit and adds a backstory to build it into an impeccably arranged, epic suite that eats up side 2 of Hot Buttered Soul. This is his magnum opus…symphonic, heartbreaking, beautiful.
Savoy Brown – “Can’t Get Next To You”
Original artist: The Temptations (written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong)
A bluesy take on the Temptations hit, from Savoy Brown’s Street Corner Talking album. The song features fine work from Dave Walker (vocals), Paul Raymond (piano) and founding member Kim Simmonds (guitar).
Judas Priest – “Diamonds and Rust”
Original Artist: Joan Baez
It sounds like a comedy bit: “Here’s my impression of Judas Priest covering a Joan Baez song.” But it happened, and it’s become one of Priest’s signature tunes. This is a stripped-down version (from a VH-1 broadcast) featuring a sonic vocal performance by Rob Halford.
Julian Cope – “5 o’clock World”
Original artist: The Vogues (written by Allen Reynolds)
The endearingly loopy Teardrop Explodes founder reworks a 1966 pop hit by The Vogues (appending a few new lyrics about nuclear war…I think). I love how Cope cleverly incorporates quotes from Petula Clark’s “I Know a Place” for good measure!
Ken Sharp – “Girl Don’t Tell Me”
Original artist: The Beach Boys (written by Brian Wilson)
Ken Sharp is a modern power pop renaissance man; he has authored or co-authored 18 music books, is a regular contributor to a number of music mags, has worked on music documentaries, and (in his spare time?) releases an occasional album (8 of them to date). This chiming cover of an underappreciated Beach Boys B-side sounds very Beatlesque…which makes sense when you factor in that Brian Wilson has said it was inspired by “Ticket to Ride”.
Fanny – “Hey Bulldog”
Original artist: The Beatles (written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney)
Before The Runaways, this Filipina-American rock band kicked ass and took names. They may have been too early for the party, as they never caught fire. This Beatles cover is from their 1972 LP Fanny Hill. Earlier this year, PBS premiered a great documentary portrait called The Right to Rock. It’s criminal they’re not in the R&R Hall of Fame.
Clive Gregson & Christine Collister- “How Men Are”
Original artist: Aztec Camera (written by Roddy Frame)
Clive Gregson (founder/lead singer of 80s power-pop band Any Trouble) teamed up with singer-songwriter Christine Collister to cut 5 superb albums in the 80s and 90s. This beautifully performed cover appeared on their 1989 album Love is a Strange Hotel.
Yvonne Elliman – “I Can’t Explain”
Original Artist: The Who (written by Pete Townshend)
Yvonne Elliman first gained fame in the early 70s playing Mary Magdalene in the original stage production, soundtrack album and film version of Jesus Christ Superstar. While her biggest hit was from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack (“If I Can’t Have You”, which reached #1 on the Billboard chart in 1977), she could rock out-as evidenced by this nifty 1973 cover of a classic Who number. Pete Townshend plays guitar on the track.
Continental Drifters – “I Can’t Let Go”
Original artist: The Hollies (written by Al Gorgoni and Chip Taylor)
This L.A.-based band formed in the early 90s, and at one time or another over its 10-year lifespan featured members of The Bangles, The dBs, The Dream Syndicate, and The Cowsills. This cut (also covered by Linda Ronstadt, who had a minor hit with it in 1980) is taken from a 1995 tribute album called Sing Hollies in Reverse, which featured indie rock artists covering their favorite Hollies songs (Evie Sands released the original in 1965, but the song was popularized by The Hollies, who covered it in 1966). Fantastic harmonies.
Chris Spedding – “I’m Not Like Everybody Else”
Original artist: The Kinks (written by Ray Davies)
Spedding is the Zelig of the U.K. music scene; an official member of 11 bands over the years, and a session guitarist who’s played with everybody since the 70s. This Kinks cover is from his eponymous 1980 album.
Me First and the Gimme Gimmes – “Leaving on a Jet Plane”
Original artist: John Denver
Definitely not as originally envisioned by John Denver…but you can mosh to it! This outfit (specializing in covers) is a side project for members of various pop-punk bands.
Paul Jones – “Pretty Vacant”
Original artist: The Sex Pistols
The gimmick of doing ironic lounge covers of punk songs may be hackneyed now, but in 1978, this take on a Sex Pistols anthem was a novel idea…and it works quite well.
David Bowie – “See Emily Play”
Original artist: Pink Floyd (written by Syd Barrett)
Bowie was always ahead of the curve; even when he went retro. All-cover albums weren’t the rage yet when Bowie issued Pin Ups in 1973 as a nod to the 60s artists who influenced him.
Gary Moore – “Shapes of Things”
Original artist: The Yardbirds (written by Paul Samwell-Smith/Jim McCarty/Keith Relf)
This Yardbirds classic has been covered by a number of artists (including The Jeff Beck Group and David Bowie), but for my money, this dynamic arrangement by the late great Irish guitarist/vocalist rules them all.
The Isley Brothers – “Summer Breeze”
Original artist: Seals & Crofts
You could always count on the Isleys to put as much heart and soul into covers as they did for their original material. This take on a Seals & Crofts classic is no exception. Ernie Isley’s guitar solo is amazing.
Julee Cruise– “Summer Kisses, Winter Tears”
Original artist: Elvis Presley (written by Fred Wise and Ben Weisman)
David Lynch’s favorite chanteuse (who passed away in 2022) recorded this haunting Elvis cover for the soundtrack of Wim Wender’s 1991 film Until the End of the World.
Nazareth – “This Flight Tonight”
Original artist: Joni Mitchell
Reportedly, Joni Mitchell loved Nazareth’s 1973 cover of a song featured on her 1971 album Blue. Lead singer Dan McCafferty gives his pipes a real workout . Nancy Wilson once confessed in an interview that Heart copped that galloping intro riff for “Barracuda”.
Ronnie Montrose – “Town Without Pity” (instrumental)
Original artist: Gene Pitney (written by Dmitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington)
I had the privilege of seeing this extraordinary guitarist perform in San Francisco in 1980, and in Seattle in 2011 (sadly, he took his own life in 2012). He was one of the best. This cover of Gene Pitney’s 1962 hit was featured on his 1978 all-instrumental album Open Fire.
Headin’ out to San Francisco
For the Labor Day weekend show
I got my Hush Puppies on
I guess I never was meant for glitter rock ‘n’ roll
And honey, I didn’t know that I’d be missin’ you so
I was sad to learn that singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett has passed away. On Labor Day weekend, no less. I’m not a Parrothead, yet I inevitably find myself merrily singing along whenever “Come Monday”, “Margaritaville”, or “Son of a Son of a Sailor” pops up on the oldies station (cat could write a chorus). Raise your margaritas for a toast. In memoriam, here’s his laid-back (natch) cover of C,S,N, & Y’s “Southern Cross”. RIP.