I’ve just got back from dropping someone at the station and at the traffic lights I was flipping through the radio stations when it latched onto some unknown source and it was a singer and his band doing a cover medley of Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On?’ and ‘Mercy, Mercy Me’. Both are excellent songs and like all the best songs should be approached with caution if you’re going to do your own version. To say that this mystery band were murdering the songs is to make murder sound like quite a nice thing to do to something. These songs had been taken with a struggle, locked in an isolated barn, tortured for a few days and then chopped into pieces and fed to the pigs. Whoever this group of ‘musicians’ were they should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves and, like I say, if you’re ever going to cover a song you must thing long and hard about whether it’s really worth it. If a song is already a classic it’s just not worth touching at all. On the other hand Ed Sheeran has three albums worth of songs that you’re very welcome to butcher because you won’t make them any worse. Anyway here’s 10 covered songs that get it so, so right. And Jeff Buckley’s ‘Hallelujah’ is no where to be seen.
- Wilson Pickett – Hey Jude. A masterclass on how to take a highly over rated, really rather tiresome song and set it on fire. With a funky set of horns, a wizard guitarist and a voice like a shot gun full of hot gravel Mr Pickett chats up McCartney’s girlfriend at a bar and then gives her a jolly good bonking as well. Tremendous music and gets my vote for the best cover version of any song. Ever.
- The Beach Boys – I Can Hear Music. All it takes is for Carl Wilson to open his mouth and pat the god of music on the head and they’re away. Music rarely gets better than in the hands of true masters; The Beach Boys have few rivals.
- Aretha Franklin – Border Song (Holy Moses). Aretha Franklin could have covered The Lighthouse Family and made it work. This is an inspired choice of an early Elton John number and although the original is no slouch Franklin nails it just so.
- Creedence Clearwater Revival – I Heard It Through The Grapevine. All power vocals and churning rhythm and more evidence that Creedence were one of the tightest little units of all time. If there’s any criticism it might be that it goes on a bit too long but that’s like saying the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel isn’t up to much because it’s too ‘painty’.
- Fairport Convention – Percy’s Song. You have to be extra careful when you cover a Bob Dylan song. Why? Because it’s a Bob Dylan song. Hendrix got it right with ‘All Along The Watchtower’ while Adele got it wrong with ‘Make You Feel My Love’. Fortunately Fairport Convention were young and hungry and packed full of top end musicians so they escaped unhurt.
- Ryan Adams – Wildest Dreams. When Adams covered Taylor Swift’s album ‘1989’ in it’s entirety he was really plonking his reputation on the line (he’s now in trouble for potentially being a sex pest, so it’s all relative). But it’s a great album and this is one of several highlights. Slag off Taylor Swift at your peril!
- The Czars – Where The Boys Are. If anyone has any reservations about John Grant’s sexuality then this effort should clear things up. On an album chock full of covers this is one of a few that really hit the mark. It’s so gay you half expect him to launch into a version of ‘In The Navy’ half way through. If you love John Grant’s voice (and I can’t really see why you wouldn’t) then you are advised to start poking your ears around in The Czars catalogue at your own convenience.
- The Gypsy Kings – Hotel California. A perfect example of a superb song covered in such a way that doesn’t ruin all the fun you had in the first place. It also doesn’t hurt that it is used to excellent effect in ‘The Big Lebowski’; that being a film which should never be re-made or re-imagined, for it is almost perfect.
- Talking Heads – Take Me To The River. Al Green is someone I admire rather than go all gooey for and I prefer this version because there’s something quite sharp and industrial to it, which adds a couple of layers of oomph hitherto missing. If that doesn’t help you then just give it a listen. Of course, seems obvious.
- Roy Buchanan – Hey Joe. A cover of a cover of a cover really and to found in it’s best incarnation on his ‘Live In Japan’ album or in Austin, Texas on YouTube. He goes from seeming half asleep to high voltage faster than seems humanly possible and all without seeming to make much effort. A month on and I’m still learning more about this secret genius.
There, that’s a nice little covers play list to fill and hour of your life. And not a profanity in sight. You are very welcome.
G B Hewitt. 23.02.2019