Sometimes someone writes and records a really
great song. Sometimes it’s a hit, and other times
it’s a B-side or an album track never issued as
a single. Sometimes some other artist will come
along and record a cover version of the previous
artist’s hit, or the B-side or album track. Sometimes
the cover version sucks mightily. Sometimes the
cover version is just as good as the original.
Sometimes the cover version is even better than
the original. So here we have 15 cover tunes that
I think are well worth hearing, and none of them
suck mightily. There are some recognizable choices
here, but for the most part, you’ve probably not
heard a bunch of these. Sometimes that’s what makes
great cover versions ultimately the coolest.
"Shake Some Action," Cracker (Clueless
The Flamin’ Groovies are indeed one of the coolest cult bands ever, but Cracker took their signature tune "Shake Some Action" and made it even better. Guitarist Johnny Hickman sings lead with David Lowery supplying the backing vocals. The classic riff is even tighter in this version. It’s definitely an overlooked gem in Cracker’s catalog, and isn’t a bad gateway into exploring The Flamin’ Groovies, either.
"Big Yellow Taxi," Pinhead Gunpowder (Jump
Jesus. How many times has this Joni Mitchell classic not been covered? One of the more recent bands to butcher it to hell and back was Counting Crows (big surprise). However, Pinhead Gunpowder’s take – featuring Billy Joe Armstrong of Green Day on vocals – is a nice kick in the sack for the old workhorse. This tune always had a really nice bit of energy in it, and that’s what so many other artists seem to forget when they decide to record it as well. Thankfully that’s not the case for this cracking version.
"People = Shit," Richard Cheese (Aperitif
You’ll never be able to explain the popularity of a band as ludicrous as Slipknot to a guy like me. Thankfully we have Richard Cheese to put the faux-heavy meddle wanksters in their rightful place. One listen to his version of the ‘Knot’s "People = Shit" in a swingin’ style, and the ridiculously juvenile lyrics are put in their proper spot and everyone has a great laugh. Oh yeah, Slipknot’s version wasn’t an eighth as catchy as Dick’s, baby.
"Be Thankful for What You’ve Got," Yo
La Tengo (Little Honda)
Hoboken’s Yo La Tengo have been doing whatever the hell they’ve felt like for a long time now. They are also always choosing groovy songs to cover (Who else is doing the Kinks’ classic "No Return" these days?). Here they take William DeVaughn’s classic cut and put the gangsta lean on it way, way back. You almost feel like you’ve taken some sort of groove drug as it slides on by without a care. Yo La Tengo are the shit.
"Mt. Airy Groove," Leaders of the New
School (Rubaiyat: Elektra’s 40th Anniversary)
The Leaders actually made their recorded debut on this collection of "newer" Elektra artists covering "older" Elektra artists’ material. Originally, this was a big instrumental hit for Pieces of a Dream, but here Leaders of the New School sample it, loop it, and throw a great rap on top of it. Terrific stuff, and easily the best thing on the whole compilation. For those not in the know, Busta Rhymes started out in the Leaders and became larger than life after they dissolved following the release of their second album.
"Oh! Darling," Phil Vincent (It
Was 40 Years Ago Today: A Tribute to The Beatles)
A lot of artists want to cover a Beatles tune. Most of them usually fail, but Phil Vincent took the McCartney classic from Abbey Road, cranked up the energy and power pop-rocked the hell out of it. A lot of times, the best Beatle cover versions are ones that don’t try to adhere note-for-note to the original recordings, and Vincent’s passes the test gleefully. The programmed drums get a little goofy near the end, but all in all it’s a great take.
"Time After Time," INOJ ("Time
INOJ has made a career of issuing dance singles of classic tunes for a while now. Her 1998 version of the Cyndi Lauper hit is, dare I say it, better than the original. Okay, I just said it. Where the original always had a bit too much sappy drama in it for my ears, this one floats by elegantly and sweetly. And yeah, you could do a nice slow dance to it, too.
"Picture Book," Young Fresh Fellows (This
One’s for the Ladies)
The first time I ever heard this Kinks classic was on the album this selection was taken from. Man, it rocks up a furious storm. Perhaps you can understand my disappointment then when I finally heard the original and its slower, folky atmosphere. It’s grown on me since, but nothing beats the Fellows’ version. That fuzzed-out guitar is just the most, kids.
"Show Biz Kids," Rickie Lee Jones (It’s
It’s Like This is Rickie’s second all-covers album and includes a wide array of tunes from "Trouble Man" to "The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys." Also included is this cover of the Steely Dan classic done up all slow and jazzbo-like. Quite simply, the tune cooks, which is nice, as the Dan are not always the easiest dudes to cover. The stripped-down arrangement was a good choice and the song is a highlight of the album.
"What Is and What Should Never Be," Helen
Keller Plaid (The Song Retains The Name)
Who the hell was Helen Keller Plaid? Who cares? The only thing that matters is they have the absolute best cover tune on this Led Zeppelin covers album featuring a bunch of indie bands. It’s a heck of a sight better than the godawful Encomium tribute album, but that’s not saying a lot. Anyway, Helen Keller Plaid takes this chestnut from Led Zeppelin II and turns it into a psychedelic sex machine. It rawks.
"It’s Alright," Huey Lewis and the News
Huey and pals had been singing this song live for ages before they finally recorded it for the People Get Ready Curtis Mayfield tribute album. They’ve always done this song up nicely, and here it sounds just like any other time they’ve done it. A crowd pleaser, to be sure, but hey, we’re talking about Curtis Mayfield here, so how can you lose?
"Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll
Go Mine)," Todd Rundgren (Faithful)
Todd’s version of this great Dylan tune showed up only a year after it was "officially" released on Bob and The Band’s album The Basement Tapes. I always thought this had a punchier performance compared to the original, and the organ certainly stands out more, which I also dig. Todd’s vocal impression of Dylan is comedic, but then the whole song was a bit humorous to begin with.
"Substitute," The Ramones (Acid Eaters)
The Ramones destroy the hell out of this Who classic, complete with Pete Townshend screaming his heart out on backing vocals. Christ, did Townshend ever sound so powerful and exhilarated on any of his own recordings? It doesn’t seem like it. This album wasn’t well-received by really anyone, but it also includes great versions of "Surf City" and "My Back Pages," along with others.
"Blinded by the Light," Manfred Mann’s Earth Band (The Roaring Silence) The granddaddy of all cover versions! Mann took a second-rate, annoying-as-hell Springsteen song from The Boss’s craptastic debut and turned it into a synth-driven, annoying-as-hell FM radio epic that also managed to be catchy as hell. Damn you, Manfred! Seriously, though -- if you want to get a taste of how bad Springsteen’s version of Dylan was, just listen to his original recording of this tune. It’ll make you wanna punch something, guaranteed.
"All the Young Dudes," World Party (Clueless
We’ll close this mix with another cut from the Clueless soundtrack. This time it’s a Bowie number that was made famous when he originally gave it to Mott the Hoople and helped them score a moderate hit with it. Here, World Party makes it even better, if not the best all-around, period. Hey, I’m a dude. You should be one as well, if you’re so inclined. Now go boogaloo.