I love a good cover version. You know, a remake of a song that was popular for someone else? Some of them I’ve found really intriguing: “Sunshine of your Love” by the Fifth Dimension…or “Purple Haze” by Dion…or Rundgren’s “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference” by Johnny Mathis. Those are for real, and have their own unique charm. However, they don’t really come close to the original version.
SO I’ve compiled a list of my favorite 20 cover versions…at least those that come to mind. I’m not saying they’re better than the originals, but they’re fun to listen to, especially if a tune gets a modern spin and doesn’t sound dated. I’ve purposely avoided tribute albums, live cuts and cover albums. And hey, this time I’ve included links so you can give them a listen! Gee, thanks Mr.GroovyRick!
1-Jackie Blue – AM & Shawn Lee (original: Ozark Mountain Daredevils): From their 2011 debut album “Celestial Electric,” AM & Shawn Lee are songwriter and producer AM, and wiz-musician Shawn Lee. I really love the vibe to this one. It keeps many of the same elements of the original, which was always an AM radio favorite of mine. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ENPzBr5nqts
2-Green Tambourine – Love Nut (original: The Lemon Pipers): Love Nut was the brainchild of Baltimore’s Andy Bopp, a power-pop disciple. Nut’s first album in 1995, “Bastards of Melody,” produced this great cover that my brother, Randy, turned me on to a few years ago. Love Nut broke up after two albums, and Bopp then formed Myracle Brah (featured later in our list), another band that was full-tilt power pop. These days, he fronts a couple of bands and is still recording and performing. Sorry, couldn’t find a link for this one, but you can listen if you have Spotify.
3-Little Town Flirt – Electric Light Orchestra (original: Del Shannon): About 20 years before they performed together for a short time in the Travelling Wilburys, Jeff Lynne must have been a Del Shannon fan. ELO did few covers, aside from their blistering “Roll Over Beethoven,” which really put them on the map in the US. By the time the much-anticipated “Discovery” was released in 1979, the band already had a ton of hits. Lynne recorded “Little Town Flirt,” but it was kept off the album. It showed up as a bonus track on the CD re-issue of Discovery. It doesn’t stray far from the original, but has that unmistakable ELO sound. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=20FDKjGIQqs
4-Dancing In The Moonlight – Johnny Rivers (original: King Harvest): I always kind of liked this tune when it was all over AM radio, but thought it was a little fluffy. Johnny Rivers has done quite a few good covers throughout his career, but when I discovered 1975’s “New Lovers and Old Friends,” I immediately liked Johnny’s version better – a little more upbeat and a little less schmaltzy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RjZWKgStkzc
5-For Your Love – The Four Tops (original: The Yardbirds): I’ve always loved the Yardbirds version of this tune, and I’ve always loved the Four Tops. I was really intrigued the first time I saw this pop up on some website. Released as a European single in 1977, it sounds a little disco-y, but has a great vibe. Purists may not like it, but hey, you gotta agree – Levi Stubbs can make any song sound great! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6IxRruyGSc0
6-TIE – Back In The U.S.S.R./Under My Thumb – Chubby Checker (originals: The Beatles/The Rolling Stones): Chubby Checker gets a fraction of the credit he deserves, mainly because he branched out in so many directions over the years. But people still want to hear him sing “The Twist.” Too bad, because he has several little-known gems (check out the psychedelic “Chequered” if you can find links anywhere). In 1969, Chubby released the White Album’s “Back In The U.S.S.R.” as a single, and it JUMPED off the turntable. Even the Beatles had to be thinking, “Jeez, Chubby’s version kicks ass!” Fast forward to 1982, and Chubby has a one-album deal with MCA, and releases “A Change Has Come,” the title coming from his cover of the Stones’ “Under My Thumb.” It’s laid-back, like the original, but has an updated sound, and Chubby does a great job with it. A little lush maybe, but great. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGLs1chXTWM https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V7A0nECoKTU
7-Lay Lady Lay – The Everly Brothers (original: Bob Dylan): This was always such a moody, melancholy tune recorded by Dylan during his Nashville period. It got AM radio airplay, and Dylan still performs it occasionally in concert. In 1984, the Everly Brothers were making a comeback, and recorded “EB 84.” Mercury Records pulled out all the stops, got Dave Edmunds to produce, and a long list of musicians influenced by the duo wanted to help on the album. Paul McCartney added a tune and played guitar, along with a host of other credible musicians. I didn’t think anyone could match the mood of the original Dylan recording, but Phil and Don give it their own spin, Edmunds made it sound current, and a great song was had by all. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W0mcMZHjjzg
8-I’ll Be Around – What Is This (original: The Spinners): What Is This got their start in California, and prior to securing a recording contract with MCA and releasing their debut album in 1985, featured two young members named Flea and Anthony Kiedis. When the latter two went on to form Red hot Chili Peppers, the band recruited another couple of members, secured Todd Rundgren to produce their debut effort, and released this cover as one of the first singles. It sank without much of a trace, as did What Is This. Guess those Flea and Kiedis fellows had a better idea. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oR9-0tx2kcg
9-Too Many People – Myracle Brah (original: Paul McCartney): If you’re going to take on a McCartney tune, you’d better have some chops. As stated earlier, Andy Bopp has those chops. I don’t know that I like this “Ram” classic better than the original…it’s just different, and sometimes that’s enough. Check out Myracle Brah when you have a chance. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHijjfy3PnI
10-Day Tripper – Otis Redding (original: The Beatles): The Beatles were so influenced by American black artists that when the Fabs started invading America, many black music fans were saying, “You like this Beatles song? You should hear the original version!” Sadly, it wasn’t enough, so those artists started covering Beatles tunes to start cashing in on what they felt was probably theirs in the first place. There is no way you can compare Otis Redding’s version of Day Tripper with the Beatles’ original. It takes the song to the next level…or two. GREAT cover! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7nUGmo71SfE
11-I Started A Joke – The Wallflowers (original: The Bee Gees): Sometimes you’ll find a great cover on a movie soundtrack, and so it goes with this gem. I always loved this gentle, plaintive Bee Gees hit. Then The Wallflowers recorded an updated version for the “Zoolander” movie in 2001. A more modern sound, a little more weight, and I’m sure Barry Gibb even felt that it was a great version. Then he cashed the check. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zK-DpbBxIes
12-Till The End Of The Day – Big Star (original: The Kinks): It’s a fact – the Kinks are a greatly overlooked British Invasion group. Their early sides were so edgy that it prompted member Dave Davies to later quip, “It wasn’t called heavy metal when I invented it.” This tune was an early rocker in the same vein as “All Day and All Of The Night “ and “You Really Got Me.” Big Star was formed in Memphis in 1971 after Alex Chilton was done churning out hits for the Box Tops. He got together with Chris Bell and put together some of the best power pop to come out of the US. “Till The End Of The Day” was recorded during sessions for what would become the album “Third/Sister Lovers,” but didn’t make the album until it was included as an unreleased track on Rykodisc’s 1992 CD release of the album. Jody Stephen’s high-energy drumming is probably what makes this tune really cook. Great stuff. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QsZEq524YH4
13-Baker Street – Foo Fighters (original: Gerry Rafferty): You’ve probably heard this one. It was recorded during sessions for the Fighters’ second album, 1997’s “The Colour and the Shape.” It finally saw the light of day on the CD re-issue in 2007 as a bonus track…and in true Foo Fighers fashion, this tune smokes! Again, it’s almost impossible to compare this one to the original, which is just a great song. I guess it comes down to whether you’re more of a sax fan or screaming guitar fan. I’m both. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-DmIk05vmMc
14-I Go To Pieces – Del Shannon (original version: Del Shannon/Peter and Gordon): Typically, when an artist covers themselves, it’s a either a last-ditch effort to regain their former glory (ie: Chicago’s 1986 version of “25 or 6 to 4”), or they feel like the original version wasn’t as good as it could have been. At any rate, it’s usually a recipe for disaster. Del wrote “I Go To Pieces” in the mid-60’s for an R&B singer he was managing, but the song went nowhere. He recorded it himself, but it just became an album track. Peter and Gordon, riding in on the British Invasion, recorded their version of the song and it became a big hit for them. Fast forward to 1989, and Del felt he had written some new songs that could restore his career. He recruited fellow Wilbury Jeff Lynne and Mike Campbell from Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers to produce and play on the album, and decided to take another shot at “I Go To Pieces.” Unfortunately, Del committed suicide before the album was released. It may not have restored him to his former glory, but it’s a damn fine album. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8GjAwJhD4y8
15-Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town – The Killers (original: Kenny Rogers and the First Edition): Originally written by Mel Tillis, this tune was recorded by Johnny Darrell before The First Edition had a hit with it in 1967. The song is about a soldier who comes home paralyzed from “that crazy Asian war”, and begs his wife/girlfriend not to go out on the town while he sits at home and wonders if she’ll be faithful. Not a terribly uplifting tune, but The Killers, who are usually good with a cover (check out their version of the Raspberries’ “Go All The Way” at the end of Johnny Depp’s Dark Shadows movie – clearly the best part of that flick), had this version appear on their “Sawdust” album in 2007, a collection of outtakes and B-sides. They stay pretty true to the original, but give it a little more modern sound. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PhP0cwGHA8Y
16-Magnet and Steel – Matthew Sweet (original: Walter Egan): This was a nice little pop song with a throwback sound that hit AM radio in 1978. It sounded a little schmaltzy, but was still a really good pop tune from Walter Egan’s second album, “Not Shy.” Sweet’s version showed up, in all places, on “Sabrina the Teenage Witch – The Album.” Sheesh, what a way to make a few bucks. Matthew is great with a pop tune, and gives a lot more bite to Egan’s tune. I wouldn’t recommend checking out the whole album – just this tune. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Us4LFfH-MdA
17-For The Love of Money – Utopia (original: The O’Jays): I’m sure you’ve noticed throughout my posts and blogs…I’m a major Todd Rundgren fan. Whether it’s a Todd solo effort or one of the great albums he did with Utopia, it’s all great stuff in my eyes. When Todd does something, it’s not half-assed. This album features one of my favorite Todd-tunes, “Lysistrata,” so there are other great reasons to check out the album. But this cover is killer – more uptempo than the original and a little more edgy. Not to knock the O’Jays version – it’s a classic. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-aDbIW10F8
18-You Showed Me – The Lightning Seeds (original: The Turtles): Another soundtrack tune, this time from an “Austin Powers” movie. Not sure which one, I’ve never seen any of them. Hate Mike Meyers. But enough of my movie/actor critiques. This song was originally written by Roger McGuinn and Gene Clark of the Byrds as a bit more of an up-tempo song. But when the Turtles producer, Chip Douglas, played the song for them to think about recording it, all he had to play it on was an old pump organ with broken bellows, so he had to play it slower. The Turtles liked the slow groove better and had a hit with the song. The Lightning Seeds sampled much of the original and released it as a single before allowing its use on the soundtrack. It has the same groove, the same mood, and I really like the beat in the background. Would this version, or even the Turtles’ version be nearly as cool if Chip Douglas had a decent set of keyboards at his house? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JvcLJ38EdM0
19-Nights In White Satin – Bettye LaVette (original: The Moody Blues): This tune is a stone-cold classic, and probably should never be messed with at all. I can’t say enough about how much I love the Moody’s version after all these years. Then I heard Bettye LaVette’s version. Bettye has been recording since the early 1960’s, but has never really had what you would call a hit. Over the years, she’s done a ton of performing, a ton of recording, and apparently works enough to still make a living. In 2010, she recorded “Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook.” On the album, she covers everyone from the Beatles and Stones to Traffic, Zep and Pink Floyd. She also does a slow-burning version of “Nights.” She pumps plenty of soul into it, making it tough to compare it to the original. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K6raFWDBZLI
20-Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) – Tom Jones (original: Kenny Rogers and the First Edition): I saw Tom Jones in concert a couple of times through the 90’s, and the thing that really impressed me was that he would do a few hits, then do something like “Are You Gonna Go My Way” by Lenny Kravitz – and make it kick ass! The guy wants to stay relevant! Kenny would kind of make fun of this tune when he would do a piece of it during his Christmas concerts. But if he took some notes at a Tom Jones show, he would learn that you can still do this type of song and make it sound current. Hats off to Tom…see ya later, Kenny. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jsvu4TnyHnQ
Well, there you go. Thanks for going with me on these little musical journeys of mine. I’m sure you can probably think of dozens more, just like I probably will right after I post this. Feel free to leave comments, criticism, and cookies for Santa.