On October 15, 1960, the Beatles, minus Pete Best, their drummer at the time, along with two members of Rory Storm’s Hurricanes, including Ringo Starr, recorded a version of George Gershwin’s “Summertime.” This marked the first time the quartet of John, Paul, Ringo, and George would play together in what would become the best selling rock band in the world. While I have been unable to locate a copy of this cover, the Guiness Book of World Records estimates over 67,000 recorded versions of this song are in existence, many from thousands of recordings of live performances of “Porgy & Bess.” The Beatles do hold the record for studio recorded versions of a single song, with over 1,600 covers of “Yesterday” in existence.
On October 15, 1988, UB40’s cover of the Neil Diamond Song “Red Red Wine” made it to No.1 on the US Singles chart. Many perhaps never even knew the song was even a cover. Chris Isaak and Johnny Cash covered his “Solitary Man,” and the Monkeys covered his “I’m A Believer” as well. Songs like these inspired this week’s playlist, dedicated to cover songs. Perhaps a bit overly ambitious, it “weighs in” at over 400 songs, more than 24 hours of listening pleasure. Definitely meant for long trips!
I titled the blog “Cover Me,” feeling the Boss’s song summarized the theme so well, though I had to work to find a very interesting cover of his song. Among this collection of songs are some really amazing originals and covers, sometimes the cover impressively better than the original, or sometimes a very different take on the song, such as Chris Cornell’s version of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” The first time I heard his version wasn’t with him singing it, but instead David Cook singing it on American Idol Season 7 in 2008. I remember hearing the song, thinking I knew the song, but couldn’t quite place it, until he got to the refrain, that’s how creative and different a take it was on such an iconic MJ dance tune. I recently had a similar experience listening to Tommy Emmanuel, among the world’s greatest acoustic guitarists, if not the greatest, with his version, with Amanda Shire’s on vocals, of Madonna’s “Borderline” – I almost didn’t recognize it.
Some version that are perhaps arguably better than their original version, such as Johnny Cash’s version of Nine Inch Nails song “Hurt.” So haunting and lamenting. Trent Reznor, lead singer and songwriter of NIN, praised Cash’s interpretation of the song for its “sincerity and meaning”, going so far as to say “that song isn’t mine anymore.” You’ve probably seen it as a Nike commercial back in 2006. The commercial actually features one of my former Dartmouth College classmates Bob Kempainen, a former two time Olympian and national cross country champion, spewing his guts in the US Olympic Marathon trials in ’96. I remember my wife and I watching the trial, worried he wouldn’t finish the race, but in classic Bob style, he not only finished but won the race on the way to his second Olympic games in Atlanta. Bob is one of the smartest and toughest guys I know, now an orthopedic surgeon in Minnesota.
There are some amazing, classic songs that are actually covers that I never would have suspected. “Me and Bobby McGee,” with Janice Joplin actually covering a Roger Miller Song. Check out Crystal Bowersox cover, which is pretty fantastic. She is another American Idol alum from Season 9 in 2010 whom I absolutely love. I’ve seen her twice, and she never disappoints. She’s so genuine, with such a great voice. Try getting out to see her if you can.
While I knew “She’s Not There” by Santana was a spectacular cover of the Zombies original, I did not realize that their equally stunning “Black Magic Woman” was actually a cover of Fleetwood Mac.
But no cover is quite as jaw-dropping as Led Zeppelin’s cover of “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You,” a painful song when sung by Joan Baez, but metamorphosized into one of the most classic power ballads of all time. How Page and Plant had the vision to create that version from its almost unrecognizable predecessor is beyond me.
And speaking of Led Zeppelin, I knew Great White is spot on in their covers of Zep. They have 2 tribute albums, “Great Zeppelin” 1 & 2. But who knew Train could sound just like Zep? Check out “Ramble On.”
While not what most of us think of as standard covers, there are a few instrumental covers that are so great they were hard to leave off this list, and so they appear. Give Rodrigo y Gabriela’s “Stairway To Heaven” a listen. They are a Mexican acoustic guitar duo, formerly heavy metal, then moved to Ireland and incorporated flamenco and jazz styling into their guitar playing. They are among the best guitarists I’ve ever seen live, and I’ve seen Clapton and Santana. Lindsey Sterling’s version Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” and 40 Fingers version of Dire Straits’ “Sultans Of Swing” and The Eagles “Hotel California”, with the Gypsy Kings also contributing a version of the latter, are equally compelling.
Few people were area that Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” is actually a Prince cover that I though was hands down beyond compare, but then Chris Cornell came along and did his thing, and wow, so good. And in a similar vein to Chris Cornell’s “Billie Jean” are “Noah Guthrie’s covers of Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U” and LMFAO’s “Sexy And I Know It,” the song that went viral on YouTube, and wound him up on a season of “Glee” as well as “America’s Got Talent.” Noah is great to see live as well, such a down to earth, easygoing guy with a great voice that doesn’t quite fit his look.
And while some will argue over which is better, Aerosmith’s or the Beatles’ “Come Together,” others might have a similar argument over Run DMC’s or Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way, or even Earth Wind & Fire’s or The Beatles’ “Got To Get You Into My Life.” And what of the Kinks’ or Pretenders’ “Stop Your Sobbing”, or Van Halen’s or the Kinks “You Really Got Me?” Van Halen’s or Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman,” David Lee Roth’s or The Beach Boys’ “California Girls,” or George Thorogood’s, The Doors’ or Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?” Stevie Ray Vaughan’s or Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” SRV’s or Jimi Hendrix’ “Voodoo Child?” Each of the interpretations of these songs are so great in their own right.
My uncle Joey, who was a lifelong musician, turned me on to Monte Montgomery, among the most amazing acoustic guitarists, whose version of Hall & Oates “Sara Smile” is stunning, its guitar strains perfection.
So no one can surpass or even match Hendrix’ “Little Wing”, but check out Monte’s version, and Sting’s very different, etherial take on the song. Same goes for Jimi’s Purple Haze, though take a listen to Jesse Kinch’s version, his vocals and guitar are ridiculous when just 16 years old. I first heard Jesse when channel surfing and stumbling upon Season 1 of Rising Star. He was the season winner hands down. Check out his performance with his band “Peace Bullet” at a talent show in junior high. What kid looks or sings like that at 14 years old???
And his performances on Rising Star at just 20 years old were equally spectacular. Check out his audition, covering Creedence Clearwater’s (though the original is by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins).
And then his very polished finale, a rendition of “Love, Reign O’er Me” that I prefer to Roger Daltry’s with the Who.
Sadly, Jesse was diagnosed last year with an aggressive brain cancer, and not only has been rendered unable to play guitar, but is fighting for his life. I and many fans are pulling for him, praying for him, and wishing him the best. Such a talent.
Joe Cocker is my cover hero. He has so many amazing covers, “With A Little Help From My Friends,” “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window,” “You Are So Beautiful,” “Many Rivers To Cross,” “You Can Leave Your Hat On,” “Feelin’ Alright,” “The Letter,” “Unchain My Heart,” “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word,” “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me,” I had to restrain myself from filling the list with his songs, “limiting” him to just 10 covers. Usually, his renditions are better than the originals. I never realized “You Are So Beautiful” was a cover of a song by Billy Preston, who had an impressive career in his own right, playing music spanning from R&B, rock, soul, funk, and gospel, playing with the likes of Little Richard, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, the Everly Brothers, the Rollings Stones, the Beatles, Eric Clapton, and George Harrison.
Chris Cornell, as a solo artist or with Soundgarden, comes in at a close second to Cocker, covering 9 songs on the list, and additionally has 1 covered Temple of the Dog song on the list. And right on his heels is my man, Jesse Kinch with 8.
The most covered artist on my list? Big surprise – the Beatles, covered by other artists 8 times. And if you look at John Lennon with the Beatles and solo, he appears 15 times, covering 4 songs, and having 11 of his or the Beatles songs covered by other artists.
Some covers are not available on Spotify. Garth Brooks is not on Spotify or iTunes, so his cover of Billy Joel’s “Shameless” has to be heard elsewhere (luckily, I own it!), or when he played with Billy at the last concert at Shea Stadium in 2008 – an amazing concert, with Billy singing with the likes of Tony Bennett, John Mayer, Steven Tyler, Roger Daltry, John Mellencamp, and Paul McCartney, in addition to Brooks – definitely worth a watch. While I am a huge Billy Joel fan (he was my first concert in 1982 – Nylon Curtain tour), Garth’s version of “Shameless” is so much better than Billy’s, with his wife at the time Christie Brinkley even commenting that is was her preference as well!
Also missing is Jon Bon Jovi’s excellent cover of one of my all-time favorite Elton John songs, “Levon.” Often when songs are part of tribute albums or compilations, they are sometimes absent from streaming services. So while I’ve included Elton’s version on the playlist, you’ll have to listen to Bon Jovi’s version here:
Elton John, also highly covered by other artists on the list, coming in at 7, just behind the Beatles 8, also covered the Who song “Pinball Wizard” that became a huge hit for him. Also give a listen to Sting’s version of “Come Down In Time” – he makes it so much his own that it sounds like Elton wrote the song just for him.
Guns N’ Roses puts in a couple of fantastic covers of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”, and Wings “Live And Let Die.” And Motley Crue’s version of “Smokin’ In The Boys Room” in my opinion surpasses its original recording by Brownsville Station.
I can’t decide if I like John Mellencamp’s cover of Van Morrison’s “Wild Night” or the Doors or Hendrix’s version of Them’s (Van Morrison early band) “Gloria” more than the originals. So hard to decide. Luckily I don’t have to, I can listen to them all!
If you’ve never heard Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole, you’ll get to experience him first on this playlist, with his version of “Over The Rainbow” on ukulele. He also was well known for his rendition of “What A Wonderful World.” Sadly, he passed onto somewhere over the rainbow in 1997, at the age of 38.
Pet Shop Boys technopop cover of Willie Nelson’s “Always On My Mind,” previously made popular by Elvis Pressley, is a brilliant ‘80s interpretation of such a classic song. The Fine Young Cannibals do the same with Elvis’ “Suspicious Minds.” Hendrix recorded a crazy, bluesy version of Big Mama Thorton’s song “Hound Dog” first made famous by Elvis. And my girl and American Idol Alum from Season 10 in 2011 Haley Reinhardt has a widely heard cover of Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling In Love” thanks to a Wrigley’s Gum commercial.
Metalica’s version of Bob Seger’s “Turn The Page?” Just ridiculous. And who knew Seger’s “Old Time Rock & Roll” was a cover? And Disturbed’s “The Sound Of Silence” cover of Simon And Garfunkel’s song is, well, disturbingly good.
“I Shot The Sheriff” – better cover by Clapton, or original by Bob Marley, who, by the way, died of malignant melanoma (skin cancer), not a drug overdose, as many people presume – hard to say.
Lenny Kravitz’ version of “American Woman” perhaps surpasses its orginal by The Guess Who. Reggae versions by UB40 with Chrissie Hynde (of the Pretenders fame) of Sonny & Cher’s “I’ve Got You Babe,” by UB40 of Neil Diamond’s “Red Red Wine,” by Big Mountain of Peter Frampton’s “Baby I Love Your Way,” by Club Nouveau of Bill Wither’s “Lean On Me” are all just brilliant.
Interestingly, I have 3 covers on the playlist of artists covering their own songs originally recorded in a “previous life” with a former band – Eric Clapton’s very different, acoustic, unplugged version of the powerful, rocking Derek & The Dominos’ “Layla;” Phil Collins’ more jazzed up Motown-esq version of Genesis’ “Behind The Lines” (after having recorded a jazzed up version of Diana Ross & The Supremes “You Can’t Hurry Love”); and The Eagles in their reunion tour with a crazy good flamenco inspired acoustic guitar intro with Joe Walsh and Don Felder of “Hotel California.” Though perhaps not true covers, they are different enough iterations to be worth including.
And one of my all-time favorite harmony songs, the Eagles “Seven Bridges Road” is a cover that surpasses Steve Young’s original recording.
Carole King could be on this list multiple times with several songs, as the brilliant songwriter she is, though only “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”, “You’ve Got A Friend”, and “Up On The Roof” appear here.
Jimmy Cliff covering Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now?” Old Crowe Medicine Show covering Darius Rucker’s “Wagon Wheel?” Cyndi Lauper’s cover of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”(I know, sacrilegious to some of you!)? Phil Collins cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors?” Spencer Davis Group or Willie Nelson’s covers of Ray Charles’ “Georgia On My Mind?” – tossups!!!
Have fun exploring all of these covers – it will take days to weeks to get through them all! If you’re enjoying all of this, check out a great website that is an encyclopedia of cover songs, secondhandsongs.com. I actually found the original version of a cover I had first heard by Kenny Loggins, “For The First Time,” in the movie “One Fine Day” with George Clooney and Michelle Pfifer – a great watch. I stumbled upon Rod Stewart’s first version, which wasn’t listed on their site – submitted it, and now get a footnote:
And the moment you’ve all been waiting for, the playlist. Each cover is followed with its original version, sometimes well-known, other times obscure. FYI – each playlist released is indexed in the Playlists section of the blog, under the sub-headings Genre Playlists, Theme Playlists, and Word Playlists, as well as visible by searching William Storo on Spotify.
I hope that this music and my blog truly serve as a “revival: a new presentation of something old,” a springboard to return to the music of your youth, or perhaps to find artists you want to discover anew. Rediscover the passion of music in your life.
Live in the moment
Enjoy the moment
Love the moment
Listen to the MUSIC!