editors note – this is a rare cross post from my music writing site.
I know this is a sacred topic to most music snobs. Let’s face it, plenty of times, the cover is better than the original Like ANY time that ANY band did ANY song that was a Lou Reed song. I thought about this piece as an idea on the way home. Without doing any research, I wrote down several that came to mind.
Then, and only then, did I consult the interwebs. What I found online were obvious, and so a little disappointing. What I think the internet lists generally chose were versions that were more successful. Me & Bobby McGee is the perfect example of this. Janis KILLS that song! It truly became her signature song. It is super tragic that it didn’t come out until a week after she died.
Still, it will always be her song. Is it better? It’s not better than this bootleg version I have that I can’t find online. It’s just Kristofferson and an acoustic. It is more spoken work, and SO sparse… it really tells a more powerful tale.
I did find this excellent demo from Janis, though. No production or overdubs… just her catching where to lay the syllables against the chord changes. It’s pretty sweet.
Another song that tops the list is Hendrix’ over of ‘All Along the Watchtower’ Also, it is great. Interestingly, it was Hendrix ONLY hit. Did you know that? He didn’t break through with Foxy Lady, or Purple Haze. Sure, the freaks found him that way… but the way America discovered him was covering Dylan.
Bad Brains – Day Tripper
I defy ANYONE to tell me this version isn’t superior to the original. So much so, that cover songs should be called ‘Bad Brains-ing it. The last year or so, I have been heavy in to Bad Brains (again). It is a great time to be a Bad Brains fan. There is this documentary, which is AMAZING. Also, they were just nominated to the Rock and Roll HOF. Also, there is a new Bad Brains biography out, called ‘Finding Joseph i’. It is the history of the band told anecdotally… and revolves about HR… and the many many problems HR (their singer) has caused. Also, there is a new documentary that is done with HR as a companion to the book. Right now, it is being shopped around by producer and excellent guy Jay Mohr. That should be out somewhere by summer. Bad Brains could have been one of the greatest bands of all time. On many levels, they are. Problem is, their singer (HR) is nuts… and has submarined every opportunity they have had. That is another story, and I have written about them here, and here.
Still, though, this cover is fucking amazing.
Africa – Toto/Mike Masse
Local Colorado guy, plays bars and does covers (just like my stupid band). Except, this guy is incredible. Watch this video below. Dude has 8 million hits! We are actually going to see him finally play live at Lodo’s in Highlands Ranch this weekend (Sept 2016)
Btw, since we are talking about this song… this is pretty great. It’s Dax Shepard and his wicked hot and talented wife making their own video for the song. It’s dumb. Really, really dumb. But… they get it. It’s a great watch. Between these two clips (both over 8 million), Toto is cool again.
Black Magic Woman – Fleetwood Mac/Santana
I know you don’t know this is a cover. It wasn’t a Santana song, but Fleetwood Mac. Now, we are not talking about the Fleetwood Mac you know, run by Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. No, this was WAY before then when they were a British Blues band. Here are both –
Ok… now for the version you know, the Santata cover
Fleetwood Mac (the Peter Green version) 1970
There is nothing wrong with that version. In fact, it probably could have been the famous version except for Peter. See, Peter Green was a genius, and also nuts. Nuts. Not nuts in a romantic way… I mean nuts in a way that he literally disappeared for 30 years. The only thing to compare it to is Syd Barrett and the whole Pink Floyd mess.
Here is the Santana version (1970). Note… the cover version came out the SAME year as the original. Name the other time that happened? You can’t. In fact, in the hundreds (or thousands?) of live shows I have been to, I have only seen it happen once. When we saw Audioslave, they covered ‘Seven Nation Army‘, while it was still getting modern rock airplay. Just more proof how great Chris Cornell is/was.
Oh, recognize any of these guys? You should. They all quit Santana’s band to form Journey. To me, it is superior because I feel it really found its legs in the latin inspired groove that left like it should have been there all
God, I love this song. I am honestly not much of a Bruce fan. I don’t think I have a single CD of his. Yet, I regard this song as probably the best rock song ever written. Here is that song, in all of it’s 1977 glory.
Now, how can I put this on the cover list? First off, it’s not a cover. Second, the song is absolutely fucking perfect. On every level. Well, this guy Bruce Springsteen does a pretty good cover. Really, I count this version below as a cover because it is so stunningly different and beautiful. Also, I think it took balls of steel for Bruce to take his biggest hit and tear it apart. This newer version is an elegy of sorts. The original version is about being young and perfect and getting ready to breakout and have all the opportunities in the world.
This version below, though, is a resignation. Note, fast forward to the 4 minute mark. Bruce just goes full Bruce on this version. Not that ‘America is #1 ‘Bruce… but this telling is from the guy who wrote the line ‘end up like a dog that’s been kicked too much’.
Am I Evil – Diamond Head/ Metallica
To me, there just is no discussion. There is Metallica’s version. That is it. So, here is the original, and I think it mostly sucks.
While the guitar riff rocks perfectly cromulently… this singer guy is full glam. There nothing evil here at all. Below is Metallica’s take. This song couldn’t possibly be more Metallica than this.
Let me put this in the parlance that my 16 year old self would understand it. He would say the original was simply ‘gay’. Now this one, below… this is just the sound of pure fucking evil. When my parents found my Ozzy records and growing my hair out… they worried. They thought this (song above) was what I was listening to. Kinda funny how incredibly tame Ozzy compared to this. The only subversion in Ozzy’s records is serious and thoughtful Christianity. Below the full proper evil version from Metallica.
Just added – Jan 2018. Can’t believe I forgot this.
Romeo & Juliet – Indigo Girls/Dire Straits
I have to admit, this is another one where I knew the cover for years before I found out about the original. really, they are two completely different songs. With Knopfler, it is his too cool for cool reading. Almost a Lou Reed speaking job, never showing too much hand or emotion. By contrast, the Indigo Girls version is perhaps the greatest love song ever sang. Their passion is stunning and powerful and goose pimply. When I finally discovered the original, I was quite disappointed. A decade or two later, I now truly appreciate the original. Anyhow, here is both.
First… my favorite by a mile. the Indigo Girls.
ok, now the original. I swear, only the words are the same.
Rusty Cage – Johnny Cage/Soundgarden
There is nothing wrong with the original. It’s great. However, Rick Rubin and Johnny Cage change the meaning of every single word with their new telling… yet they don’t touch a word. Here is the original. Sadly, it does not feature Chris Cornell singing. Very very few Soundgarden songs show him singing. Instead, in Soundgarden, he only screamed. anyways here, here is the original
See, told you. Why even have lyrics. It is just him screaming for 15 years in Soundgarden. YET… he can sing his dick off. Listen to this secret acoustic outtake of ‘Like Suicide’ When I heard this, I was frustrated. It was like the first time I heard him to Seasons. I thought ‘wait, he can sing? He could sing he whole time? Why the hell did he never even try until he was ‘retired’.
Sorry, back to my point. Rick Rubin (who to me deserves as much credit as Johnny Cash here) and just let’s Johnny go all Johnny Cash on it. This was towards the end of Johnny’s life. I believe June had already passed… and you can hear Johnny dying a little in every verse. Luckily for us, Cash knew his time was very limited. So, he and Rubin spent his last years together just recording at a gonzo pace. Here this. Feel this.
And if that doesn’t give you feelings… watch this video. I assume this was made post Johnnys’ passing. It is fucking beautiful and perfect on every level. This may be the beautiful and creepy and perfect video ever made. Though this has nothing to do with covers, it is a good place to leave you for the day