The Who Played by Others

When it comes to popular bands whose songs have widely been covered by other artists, The Beatles are always the first who come to mind, and it’s no wonder. Fellow blogger Hans from Slicethelife has been doing a long-running series “Under the Covers” (see one recent installment here) and I believe has yet to find a Fab Four tune that hasn’t been covered by somebody else. While in my completely unbiased opinion, The Beatles are the best band that ever existed [ 🙂 ], obviously, there are many other outstanding groups with terrific songs. One of my favorites in this context are The Who. Following is a playlist featuring renditions of some of their songs.

David Bowie/I Can’t Explain

I’m doing this list chronologically by date when The Who first released the featured tune. First up is David Bowie’s cover of I Can’t Explain, off his seventh studio album Pin Ups from October 1973. Like all other tracks in this post, I Can’t Explain was written by Pete Townshend. It was the first single that appeared under the name of The Who in December 1964. Interestingly, the song came out in the U.S. before it did in the U.K. where it was released in January 1965. I’ve always loved it. After listening to Bowie’s slower take twice, I find it intriguing as well, especially the neat saxophone work that was largely done by Bowie himself!

Green Day/My Generation

One of favorite early tunes by The Who is My Generation, the title track of their debut album from December 1965. I still get amazed by John Entwistle’s bass solo, even though I’ve listened to it countless times. With its aggressive sound, My Generation really is an early punk song. So perhaps it was only fitting that Green Day included a cover on their sophomore studio album Kerplunk that appeared in December 1991 – not bad!

Vanilla Fudge/I Can See For Miles

I Can See For Miles became the only single from The Who’s third studio album The Who Sell Out – love that tune! Released in September and October 1967 in the U.S. and UK, respectively, it reached no. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and no. 10 in the UK. Yet Townshend was disappointed, feeling it should have been a no. 1 – oh, well! Regardless, it’s one of the gems in The Who’s catalog. Here’s a nice funky take by Vanilla Fudge from their most recent 2015 studio album Spirit of ’67. Apparently, the band is still around, with three of its original four members remaining in the current line-up.

Elton John/Pinball Wizard

Elton John’s version of Pinball Wizard is a great illustration of how the piano man could rock. Since I heard it first many years ago, I’ve always thought this is the length the original should have had instead of what feels like a premature ending where the tune suddenly fades out. Pinball Wizard first appeared in March 1969 as the lead single of The Who’s fourth studio album Tommy released in May that year. John’s rendition became part of the soundtrack of the rock opera’s 1975 film adaptation. It also appeared separately as a single, climbing to no. 7 in the UK on the Official Singles Chart.

Rush/The Seeker

In March 1970, The Who released The Seeker as a non-album single. I dig this tune that was subsequently included on their 1971 compilation Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy. While I’m not much into Rush, the Canadian rockers recorded a neat version on an EP they released in June 2004 titled Feedback. Check it out, this nicely rocks!

The Dear Abbeys/Baba O’Riley

Baba O’Riley is the majestic opener of The Who’s fifth studio album Who’s Next, which just passed its August 14 50th anniversary release and hasn’t lost any of its magic. Here’s an incredible a cappella version by The Dear Abbeys, an all-male acapella group who according to their website were formed in February 1992 at Boston University and “have gained a reputation in the a cappella community for musical precision, complex and unique arrangements and an energetic style of live performance that’s difficult to match.” Well, they certainly passed my audition with Baba O’Riley, which was included on an album from January 2007. It sounds pretty neat!

The Natural Mystics/Love Reign O’er Me

This groovy version of Love Reign O’er Me was done by The Natural Mystics, a reggae band who recorded the song for a self-titled album released in June 2013. Originally, it’s the closer of Quadrophenia, The Who’s mighty sixth studio album from October 1973. It also became the second single off that record released the day after the album had come out.

Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’/Squeeze Box

In May 2017, Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ issued a great collaboration album titled TajMo. It includes this fun Cajun version of Squeeze Box, a tune The Who recorded for The Who by Numbers, their seventh studio album from October 1975. Listening to Taj Mahal’s deep vocals in the chorus, one can literally picture a swamp alligator – really dig that rendition!

The Binghamton Crosbys/You Better You Bet

How about some more a cappella action? Ask and you shall receive. Meet The Binghamton Crosbys, aka The Crosbys, a group formed in 1983 at Binghamton University in Binghamton, N.Y. Wikipedia lists 13 albums released between 1987 and 2016. Their 2006 record Roadtrip to Munzville includes this fun rendition of You Better You Bet. The Who recorded this tune as the opener of their ninth studio album Face Dances that came out in March 1981. The song was also released separately as the record’s lead single, giving The Who their first top 10 hit in the UK (no. 9) since 1976 when a reissued single of Substitute reached no. 7. In the U.S., You Better You Bet topped Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart and climbed to no. 18 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Casey Wickstrom/Eminence Front

Let’s do one more: Eminence Front, a track from The Who’s 10th studio album It’s Hard that appeared in September 1982. Unlike for most other songs in this list, I found numerous covers of the tune. I was particularly drawn to this bluesy take by Casey Wickstrom, a young artist from California. According to his website, he is a multi-instrumentalist and live looping artist, vocalist, music producer, writer, and film editor. He sings and plays guitar, lap slide guitar, cigar box guitar, bass, harmonica, and other instruments. Wickstrom released Eminence Front as a single in June 2019.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Dear Abbeys website; Casey Wickstrom website; YouTube


19 thoughts on “The Who Played by Others”

  1. While I was aware of the Bowie, Elton and Green Day covers- I never dreamed that Rush had covered a song by the Who! Was also unfamiliar with some of the other covers!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I only knew of the Elton John and Taj Mahal/Keb’ Mo’ covers, which I both like. Somehow I had missed Bowie!

    As noted in the post, while I’m not much into Rush, I think they did a nice job with their rendition.

    I noticed with your ongoing Beatles series you do not seem to have a lot of trouble finding covers. Overall, I can’t say the same about The Who.

    For example, I couldn’t find one cover from “Who’s Next”!


  3. I didn’t know about a lot of these… I’ve listened to all and the one that popped out perfectly is Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’ … it’s earthy and sounds and feels perfect. I do like the Green Day version…they caught the spirit of the original…
    What’s not to like about any of them? Great source material.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I only knew the Elton John and Taj Mahal/Keb’ Mo’ covers.

      The Who get far less covered than The Beatles. It took me quite a while to compile this list.

      I completely agree with you on Squeeze Box. I can highly recommend the entire TajMo collaboration album. While it’s billed as a blues album, it’s really a blend of blues with other genres. At the time, Taj Mahal called it “happy blues.”

      I saw these two guys during the tour that supported the album. Max, this was hands-down one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.

      Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ had such great chemistry together on that stage. Mahal also turned out to be quite the showman, joking and making funny faces while playing. I really had a ball that night!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. They sounded like they wrote the song…that is the mark of a great cover!
        I guess Who songs like Who Are You, Won’t Get Fooled Again, etc are so different…you can’t just pick up a guitar and play them…you can but you won’t get the same effect. They take some planning to get them right…

        Now their earlier songs yea…they could be covered pretty easy…I wish more people would.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. My favorite would be I Can’t Explain by Bowie, along with Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere from the same album, which I still don’t understand why people don’t like because Pin Ups is one of his greatest albums. I love Vanilla Fudge and I didn’t know they covered this song. It’s almost as good as their Beatles or Supremes or any of their other great cover songs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. When I heard Bowie’s rendition of “I Can’t Explain” for the first time, I felt it was a bit lagging. I really love the original, which is obviously faster. But when I listened to Bowie’s rendition the second time, I also started to like his take. The slower speed does work. What it really sold it to me was the great horn work.

      When it comes to “PinUps”, I guess I’m somewhat guilty as charged. It’s not that I dislike it. I simply haven’t paid as much attention to the album as it probably deserves.

      I’ve heard and dig his renditions of “See Emily Play” and “Friday On My Mind.” I also like “Sorrow”.


      1. The slow speed is the thing that makes it awesome. It’s the thing that makes it sound weird and creepy, and that’s what makes it great. It’s creepy. lol.
        I think about half the songs he covered on Pinups are as great as any songs he’s ever written himself. The ones that you mentioned and also Shapes of Things and Where Have All the Good Times Gone and a couple others. And I think the band is great on that album.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Ive been listening to them for years and other than a few songs from Tommy the film I havent heard to many people tackling them. All these are interesting and hats off. Just something so unique about the band. I watched a program where Townshend did Quadrophenia with the London Symphony. It was very good. Pete had a different singer who was up to the challenge but I kept thinking Roger.
    On the reverse, The Who do so many great covers. Interesting take Christian.


  6. Interesting post. Who knew Vanilla Fudge were still around? Bogert and Appice of course teamed up with Jeff Beck for one of my favorite albums. Alas, Bogert died earlier this year. I liked everything here but my favorites were the acapella. There’s a college station around here that plays a capella on weekends and it’s almost all college groups. I love how they can recreate impossible sounds. I don’t own a copy of Pinups but I’ve always liked it, especially ‘Sorrow’ and ‘Friday On My Mind.’ I have to say that ‘Seeker’ and ‘Squeeze Box’ are two of my least favorite Who songs. But, done nicely here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jim. I agree acapella renditions oftentimes are pretty incredible. I certainly like the ones I found here!

      I realize opinions about “Squeeze Box” seem to be divided. I know it’s a simple song with a chord progression that has been done a million times but I still have always liked it.

      I love TajMo version, especially Mahal’s deep voice in the chorus. I can literally see a swamp alligator!


      1. Yeah, don’t hate it but can take or leave it. Taj Mahal does bring a whole new dimension. Sonny Boy and I saw him a few years back at a Hendrix tribute. He sounds Southern but he’s from Massachusetts. He is the Official Blues Artist of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’m also okay with “Centerfold” and “Freeze Frame” but agree their old songs are the best. Their live album from ‘72 is probably my favorite.

        Unfortunately, I only saw them once and without J. Geils, but it was still fun.


      3. We last saw them at Fenway with Aerosmith. And my daughter – then at Boston University- was there with the BU marching band. They played along with those songs! Odd, eh? They got around. For some reason the BU band was chosen to go on Wheel of Fortune when they recorded here. I forget why exactly.


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