I know this is a sacred topic to most music snobs. I know this, because I am one, too. 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 ws 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.
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
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 –
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 (1971). 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 along. I mean, we are singing about voodoo, right?
It is interesting to note this cover is only a year later. Can you think of a modern parallel to that? I can’t.
Born to Run – Bruce Springsteen/Bruce Springsteen
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… because of the singer.
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 it is.
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.
Rusty Cage – Johnny Cash/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.
WAIT… before you even hear the song… look at this frame. Even in the still, he is screaming.
See, told you. Why even have lyrics. It is just him screaming for 15 years in Soundgarden. YET… he can sing his dick off. He may have the best deep voice in all of rock, and literally no one knew. 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 below. 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