When Covers Are Just As Much Fun As Originals

A playlist of some of my favorite covers part II

Recently, I remembered a post from July 2017, which featured some of my favorite cover versions of songs I dig. This triggered the idea to put together a second part. Rather than focusing on covers I already knew, this time, I decided to take a slightly different approach. Except for one instance, I picked some of my all-time favorite songs and checked whether they have been covered and, if yes, by whom. Not only did I find some intriguing renditions, but there were also a couple of real surprises.

Ella Fitzgerald/Sunshine of Your Love

Did you know that one of the greatest voices in jazz, Ella Fitzgerald, covered Cream? I had absolutely no idea! Not only did she do so, but she even named a live album after the tune: Sunshine of Your Love, released in 1969. Composed by Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton with lyrics by Pete Brown, the original was included on Cream’s sophomore album Disraeli Gears from November 1967. Fitzgerald’s orchestral version is really cool. Obviously her singing is amazing. Check it out!

Richie Havens/Won’t Get Fooled Again

Richie Havens performing The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again was another unexpected find. He recorded the tune for his final studio album Nobody Left to Crown that appeared in March 2008. The original, written by Pete Townshend, was included on my favorite album by The Who, Who’s Next, their fifth studio release from August 1971. Haven’s acoustic guitar-driven taken is great. I also like the violin. He really made the epic rocker his own.

Townes Van Zandt/Dead Flowers

Townes Van Zandt wrote almost all tunes that are on his 10 studio albums, and many of them have been recorded by the likes of Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle and Gillian Welch. One exception is the live album Roadsongs, a collection of live covers from the mid-’70s through the early ’80s, which was released in 1994. It includes a fantastic take of Dead Flowers, which has become my favorite song by The Rolling Stones, at least on most days! Co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Dead Flowers was included on Sticky Fingers, which also happens to believe is the best Stones album that appeared in April 1971. It’s almost a bit painful to listen to Van Zandt’s version, considering he had struggled with drug addiction for most of his short life.

Noah Guthrie/Whipping Post

Noah Guthrie is a 27-year-old South Carolina-based singer-songwriter. According to his website, he taught himself to play guitar and began writing songs at 14. Here’s a “quarantine” cover version of Whipping Post Guthrie recorded with his band Good Trouble in April 2020. Written by Gregg Allman, Whipping Post appeared on the eponymous debut album of The Allman Brothers Band from November 1969. While this cover stays close to the original, these guys are doing a great job, giving this classic a nice build.

Heart/Stairway to Heaven

This cover of the Led Zeppelin gem is the exception I noted above. In other words, I had known about it. Just the other day, I watched this footage again from the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors, during which Heart with Jon Bonham’s son Jason Bonham on drums honored the surviving members of Led Zeppelin. This is one of the most amazing renditions of Stairway to Heaven, co-written by Jimmy Page, Robert Plant (and Randy California of Spirit!), and included on Led Zeppelin IV from November 1971. Messrs. Page, John Paul Jones and Plant were visibly touched. Yes, it’s a bit bombastic but still so good!

Kenny Lattimore/While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Here’s a great soulful version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps by Kenny Lattimore, an R&B and gospel singer-songwriter who has released seven studio albums to date. This cover of the George Harrison tune – one of his best during his period with The Beatles, IMO – is included on his sophomore album From the Soul of Man that came out in October 1998. While My Guitar Gently Weeps was first recorded for the White Album from November 1968. Thank goodness John Lennon and Paul McCartney didn’t reject all of Harrison’s songs!

Green Day/Like a Rolling Stone

In case you’ve ever asked yourself how Bob Dylan would sound grunge style, here’s one possible answer. Green Day’s eighth studio album 21st Century Breakdown from May 2009 includes this version of Like a Rolling Stone as a bonus track. The maestro first recorded the tune for his sixth studio album Highway 61 Revisited released in August 1965.

Willie Nelson/Have You Ever Seen the Rain (feat. Paula Nelson)

The last cover I’d like to call out is a breathtakingly beautiful rendition of my favorite Creedence Clearwater Revival song: Have You Ever Seen the Rain, written by John Fogerty and included on CCR’s sixth studio album Pendulum from December 1970. Willie Nelson recorded this rendition with his daughter Paula Nelson for his 62nd studio album To All the Girls…, which appeared in October 2013. Nelson, who at age 87 remains active, has a new album coming out on February 26, his 71st! In April 2019, Nelson told Rolling Stone weed had “saved his life,” adding, “I wouldn’t have lived 85 years if I’d have kept drinking and smoking like I was when I was 30, 40 years old.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Noah Guthrie website; Rolling Stone; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: March 22

Today, my recurring music history feature is hitting a bit of a milestone with the 50th installment. While 50 sounds like an impressive number, it means I still have 315 dates left to cover! The music nerd in me tells me that’s actually not a bad thing! Plus, it turns out there’s lots of fodder for March 22, so let’s get to it.

1963: Please Please Me, the debut studio album by The Beatles, appeared in the UK. According to The Beatles Bible, the record was rush-released to capitalize on the success of the singles Love Me Do and Please Please Me. Both singles were on the album, along with their b-sides P.S. I Love You and Ask Me Why, respectively. The remaining 10 tracks were recorded during a marathon session on February 11, 1963, which lasted just under 10 hours. The other fun fact about the record is that George Martin initially had planned to call it Off The Beatle Track – kind of clever, though he obviously abandoned the idea. Naming it after a successful single probably was also part of the plan to maximize sales. As was common on the early Beatles albums, Please Please Me featured various covers. Here’s one of my favorites: Twist and Shout, co-written by Phil Medley and Bert Berns, and first recorded by U.S. R&B vocal group The Top Notes in 1961.

1965: Robert Allen Zimmerman, the genius known as Bob Dylan, released his fifth studio album Bringing It All Back Home. It marked his first top 10 record in the U.S., climbing to no. 6 on the Billboard 200, and his second no. 1 studio release in the UK, following The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan from May 1963. Perhaps more significantly, Bringing It All Back Home was also Dylan’s first album to feature recordings with electric instruments; in fact, on the entire A-side, he was backed by an electric band. The b-side was acoustic. Four months later, on July 25, the electric controversy turned into a firestorm with Dylan’s appearance at the Newport Folk Festival. Here’s Maggie’s Farm. It was the much faster and more aggressive performance of that song at Newport, which caused most of the controversy there.

1971: John Lennon released his fifth solo single Power to the People in the U.S., 10 days after its debut in the UK. Credited to Lennon and Plastic Ono Band, the non-album tune peaked at no. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100, marking Lennon’s second most successful single to date. In the UK, the song climbed to no. 6. It performed best in Norway where it hit no. 3. Power to the People was recorded at Ascot Sound Studios in Berkshire, England as part of sessions that also yielded tunes for Lennon’s second solo album Imagine. “I wrote ‘Power to the People’ the same way I wrote ‘Give Peace a Chance,’ as something for the people to sing,” Lennon reportedly said. “I make singles like broadsheets. It was another quickie, done at Ascot.” Quickie or not, I think it’s safe to say it wasn’t his best tune.

1974: The Eagles dropped their third studio album On the Border. After two country-rock records, the band decided they wanted a more rock-oriented sound. Therefore, most of the album was produced by Bill Szymczyk, who had previously worked with then-future Eagles member Joe Walsh and The James Gang, among others. It also marked the band’s first record with rock guitarist Don Felder. Here’s Already Gone, featuring Felder on lead guitar and Glenn Frey on lead vocals. Co-written by Jack Tempchin and Robb Strandlund, the tune also appeared separately as the album’s lead single. It’s one of my favorite rockers by the Eagles.

1975: Led Zeppelin hit no. 1 on the Billboard 200 with their sixth studio album Physical Graffiti. The double LP, which includes recordings spanning from January 1970 to February 1974, maintained the top spot for 6 weeks and marked Zeppelin’s fourth no. 1 record in the U.S. The album also topped the charts in the UK and Canada. Viewed as one of the band’s strongest albums, Physical Graffiti was certified 16x Platinum in the U.S. in 2006, which means sales of more than eight million copies – unreal from today’s perspective! Here’s the bombastic Kashmir, co-written by Jon Bonham, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. It’s one of the most unusual rock songs I know; frankly, it wasn’t exactly love at first sight for me, though over the years, I’ve come to dig it.

1977: Stevie Wonder released Sir Duke, the third single off his 18th studio gem Songs in the Key of Life. Both are long-time favorites in my book. The tribute to jazz legend Duke Ellington marked Wonder’s fifth and last no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 during the ’70s. It also topped the R&B chart and became a hit internationally, reaching no.1 in Canada and top 10 positions in Germany, Switzerland and the UK. I just love the groove of this tune. The horn work is outstanding – take it away, Stevie!

1980: Pink Floyd scored their only no. 1 hit in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 with Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2), where it would stay for four weeks. Given the Roger Waters song, off Floyd’s 11th studio album The Wall, was their most pop-oriented, radio-friendly tune, perhaps that’s not exactly a surprise. It also became a chart-topper in the UK, Austria, France, Germany, Switzerland and New Zealand. I can confirm firsthand that it was played to death on the radio in Germany. On a lighter note, I also recall a funny incident at a school party when I was in seventh grade. For some reason, which I can’t remember, we had a little get-together in our classroom. When our English and homeroom teacher walked in, the song was blasting out of a boom box. He couldn’t suppress a brief smile before looking serious again. What happens when you think you don’t need no education is now vividly on display among some young people in the U.S. and other countries, who continue to hang out in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic as if nothing had happened.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Beatles Bible; This Day In Music; Songfacts Music History Calendar; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: January 12

This may still be a new year and we’re even in a new decade, but some things don’t change, at least not on this blog. One of them is this recurring rock music history feature. By now, I guess I must have put together more than 30 installments; but as a music nerd, this tells me I have more than 300 other dates left to cover! Let’s start with January 12 and the debut single by a then-teenaged Etta James.

1955: The first single by Etta James, The Wallflower, was released. It was co-written by James, who was only 16 years at the time, together with Johnny Otis and Hank Ballard. While due to the lyrics the song’s original version was considered “too risque” to be played on pop radio, it became a hit on the Billboard R&B Chart, which it topped for four weeks. The same year, the tune was covered as Dance With Me, Henry by Georgia Gibbs for the pop market. James released her own cover version of Dance With Me, Henry in 1958. Here’s the scandalous original tune, for which James received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 2008.

1968: George Harrison recorded the origins of what became The Inner Light at a studio in Bombay, India (now known as Mumbai). He had traveled there to record the soundtrack for Wonderwall, a psychedelic picture by Joe Massot co-starring 21-year-old Jane Birkin. According to The Beatles Bible, by January 12, Harrison had almost completed the work on the soundtrack and found himself with additional studio time he did not want to go to waste. He decided to record some additional ragas, one of which formed the basis for The Inner Light. The tune was completed at London’s Abbey Road Studios in early February of 1968 and appeared as the B-side to the single Lady Madonna. I think it’s the most beautiful Indian music-influenced tune Harrison wrote. I also love the lines, The farther one travels/The less one knows/The less one really knows. This is how I often feel when it comes to exploring music!

1969: Led Zeppelin released their mighty eponymous debut album in the U.S. The recording took place at Olympic Studios in London in September and October that year. Since the band had not secured a contract yet, the album was self-produced by Jimmy Page. He also paid the £1,782 for the 36 hours of studio time it took to complete the sessions. A key reason for the short recording time was a well-rehearsed band that had just performed as the New Yardbirds during a Scandinavian tour. Much of the music was recorded live in-studio. While Led Zeppelin initially received some poor reviews, the album was an instant chart success, peaking at no. 10 on the Billboard 200 and climbing to no. 6 on the UK Albums Chart where it spent a total of 71 weeks. Here’s the great opener Good Times Bad Times, which is credited to Page, John Paul Jones and Jon Bonham.

1974: The Steve Miller Band abracadabra scored their first no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with The Joker. Co-written by Eddie Curtis, Ahmet Ertegün and Steve Miller, the tune also was the title track of the band’s 8th studio album that appeared in October 1973. Ertegün is best-known as co-founder and president of Atlantic Records, and I admittedly had no idea he also was involved in writing classic blues and pop songs! The farther one travels…More than 16 years later in September 1990, The Joker again flew like an eagle and rose to the top in the UK, after the tune had been used in a Levi’s TV ad. According to Wikipedia, this makes it the single with the longest gap between transatlantic chart-toppers – wow, it’s amazing what people track!

1993: The eighth annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony took place in Los Angeles. Honored inductees included Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Doors, Etta James, Van Morrison, Sly & the Family Stone, Ruth Brown and Cream, who reunited for the event for the first time in 23 years. And what would the spectacle be without some drama? John Fogerty refused to perform with his former CCR bandmates Doug Clifford and Stu Cook. But fans still got to hear some CCR music. Fogerty recruited session musicians on drums and bass, and also got some help from Bruce Springsteen and Robbie Robertson. Here’s Cream’s performance of Sunshine of Your Love from that night. Boy, did Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker sound mighty sweet! While apparently Bruce and Baker were interested in touring at the time, solo projects and I imagine some other issues prevented reunion shows until early May 2005 when Cream performed a series of concerts at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

Sources: Wikipedia; This Day In Music; This Day In Rock; Songfascts Music History Calendar; YouTube