Run for Cover

For no real reason other than the fact that its music day here, and I happened to have a strange number of cover songs on my mp3 player last night, here is my top-of-the-head list of favorite cover songs ever. This includes recorded music, and some concert versions I was lucky enough to catch live. Discuss.

10. Sabotage, Beastie Boys, as done by Phish: I'm not a huge Phish guy, but you have to love a hippie band doing some of the covers they do, and the version of Sabotage that I have (I forget where I got it) is fantastic, a straight ahead thrasher version that stands pretty well next to the Beasties version.

9. Highway to Hell, AC/DC, as done by Dash Rip Rock. I saw these guys open a set at the New Orleans Jazzfest with this song. It was about 2:00 in the afternoon and they were on a side stage, next to the catfish stand and the gospel tent. Gospel tent. Highway to Hell. Get it? If there's one way to send people into the gospel tent, it's starting your set with Highway to Hell in the sunny daylight. Ballsy, funny move, and a great version. Why don't more bands cover AC/DC?

8. Shining Star, by the Manhattans, as done by the Jerry Garcia Band. You know this song: "honey, you...are, my, shinin' star, don't you go away..." Say what you will about the Dead and Jerry and all that, but at least you never knew what you were gonna get. Sometimes that was good, sometimes bad, but with all the pre-fab, musical-theater-as-live-concert, lip-syncing, Ashlee Simpson, boy-band, fake rock bullshit passing for rock and roll these days, those shows are looking better and better.

7. Sexual Healing, by Marvin Gaye, as done by Soul Asylum. Remember when Soul Asylum didn't suck? Or at least we didn't think they did. That dude with the bad white-boy almost-dreads and the Heineken in his hand was dating Winona Ryder and Soul Asylum was kind of like the link between the Replacements and Lynyrd Skynyrd and Seattle grunge. Well, kind of. Anyway, somewhere in there they put out a nice, sloppy, blurry-eyed soul version of Sexual Healing. I'm not one to recommend going and remaking Marvin Gaye songs, mind you. Like the Dukes of Hazzard, there's simply no way to improve upon the original. But this is a nice try.

6. Won't Get Fooled Again, by the Who, as done by Pearl Jam. I know lots of people are sick of Pearl Jam, but they kind of stayed the course, and part of that course was pulling out old classic rock that you thought was dead and making it sound, if not fresh, then at least relevant. The round of concerts they recorded during the last presidential election includes lots of Eddie Vedder speechifying about George Bush, but none of that holds a candle to their version of this old Who classic, which I'd have to call "incendiary" if that wasn't a rock cliche by this point. Anyway, it's kind of incendiary -- even more so, given that in the end we did, in fact, get our dumb, stupid, moron American asses fooled all over again.

5. Across 110th Street, by Bobby Womack, as done by Los Lobos and Bobby Womack. The original is still an amazing song and I encourage you to get your hands on it (the Jackie Brown soundtrack is probably the easiest way to do that), but this remake, with a lead-in of the Los Lobos song Wicked Rain, is even better with Los Lobos pushing Womack along with their stripped down, propulsive, latin-rock-soul.

4. One, by U2, as done by Johnny Cash. Maybe it was the fact that his days seemed numbered -- this was his first album after being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, and it was pretty obvious that the end was near -- but somehow the Man in Black improves on the stately original by U2.

3. Take Me to the River, by Al Green, as done by Talking Heads. So good it's actually hard to remember that Reverend Al himself first recorded this song. Even better with the memory of David Byrne in that crazy-ass Big White Suit, spazzing around all over the stage in the fantastic Stop Making Sense.

2. I Fought the Law, by the Bobby Fuller Four, as done by the Clash. Has there ever been a better match for a cover song than I Fought the Law and the Clash? Great song, even better band, perfect fit.

1. Gin and Juice, by Snoop Dogg, as done by the Gourds. This was a back-in-the-day Napster special, and I have maybe four different versions, all supposedly done by different bands (Dave Mathews, Phish, Widespread Panic). But it's the Gourds. The best thing about this is its basically a cover of Gin and Juice as done by the Band with Levon Helm singing. Somehow, it totally works as a country-rock-bluegrass rave-up. And, of course, this song also serves as further proof of the theory that everything, even a country-rock-bluegrass rave-up, is better with even just a little bit of Snoop.

I know I'm missing lots of good ones. Discuss.


Kistulentz said...

I'm going to cast a block vote for one of the best song interpreters around, the ever suave Mister Bryan Ferry. His last studio album Frantic contains a great, somehow very bouncy version of Dylan's It's All Over Now, Baby Blue. There's also Taxi, his 1993 CD that includes a great title track and a sinuous, sensuous version of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' I Put a Spell on You.

There's also a high cheese factor--his album Another Time, Another Place features Bryan crooning "I'm in with the in crowd, I go where the in crowd goes," in a tone so devoid of irony I can't help but understand why Jerry Hall left him for Mick Jagger.

And on an unrelated note--I'll vote also for Matthew Sweet's cover of Walter Egan's "Magnet and Steel" (featuring great backups by Lindsey Buckingham).

And two long-neglected tribute records: Sweet Relief, a Tribute to Victoria Williams, and Listen What the Man Said, a tribute to Paul McCartney which features all things solo and Wings-era. There's Sloan weighing in with "Waterfalls," and my pals the John Faye Power Trip doing a nice version of "Coming Up."

Mike said...

I used to be quite the Phishead back in the day. One of my favorite Phish covers was "Mystery Ship (Ride, Captain Ride)" a classic-rock-station staple that I never really liked that much before hearing the Phish version. Apparntly the original is by Blues Image, which I just now had to look up online. Phish also did a great cover of "Quinn the Eskimo."

I have a recording (I think it's live -- it was an internet download and I don't know exactly where it came from) of Pete Yorn doing Springsteen's "Dancin' in the Dark" that I really like. It's a way-slowed-down version that's similar to the acoustic version Springsteen sometimes does of "Thunder Road." There's something cool about slowing down Springsteen's songs, because you realize how melancholy they really are.

Finally, I also enjoyed Ted Leo's recent cover of Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone," which has been floating around on the internet. Partly for entertainment value, but it's also not a bad little pop song. It's catchy, if nothing else.

aaron said...

Johnny Cash's cover of Trent Reznor's "Hurt" is second to none; a perfect dirge for a well-lived life soon to end--both Cash and his wife would pass on within the year.

On that same album Cash did a cover of "Personal Jesus", and I don't ever want to listen to it. Also, I found his cover of Springsteen's "Highway Patrolman" I found disappointing. He drawled out the chorus like he was drunk.

dave said...

Steve, good call on Sweet Relief. Maria McKee's version of Opelousas (Sweet Relief) is fantastic, and Soul Asylum again proves that they actually didn't suck with a great, sloppy version of Summer of Drugs.

I'm also remiss not to mention Killiany's girls the Donnas, who did a great rocking version of Too Fast for Love, and I think even had the balls to cover some REO Speedwagon.

Kistulentz said...

there's a John Wesley Harding version of Madonna's Like a Prayer out there, too