Once in a while I enjoy playing this game called 15/15 that I believe was invented by my friend Henry Mena. What he does is write a note to all his fellow music geeks, picks a music category and asks for 15 entries in 15 minutes. Some have included “15 greatest guitarists,” “15 great 80’s songs,” and the other day “15 favorite cover songs.” He had Peter Frampton’s cover of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” by The Stones on his list, to which I responded, “Even Superman had Kryptonite.” I got into the list so much that I felt it required a bit more than the Andy Warhol allotted time frame, so I decided to look into my musical collection (not an easy thing to do) and pick my actual 15 favorite covers of all time.
Here we go in no particular order:
1- "Someday One Day/Algun Dia" - Soda Stereo (Queen) I remember Henry Mena stating so eloquently once what it is that makes a good cover song. So eloquently in fact, he was never able to remember exactly what he said again. One criterion was the ability to somehow add something to an already great song. I believe that you have to make the song your own as much as you can. If you don’t, then you are just doing someone else’s song, and making no artistic contribution whatsoever. I admit I never heard the original of this song, but Soda Stereo happens to be one of my all time favorite bands. I can tell you that this song sounds like it could have very well been written by Soda, as it totally sounds like what they do, and they are nothing like Queen at all. I think that would be pretty much illustrating both Henry’s point and mine about a good cover in a nutshell.
2- "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" - Marvin Gaye (Smokey Robinson & The Miracles) OK...Technically The Miracles recorded it first, then Gladys Knight & The Pips recorded it a few months after Marvin Gaye did, but released their version a year earlier. It was a modest chart hit for Gladys, but come on; I think we all know who is better associated with this song...and if you don't, read some of Marvin Gaye's interviews on the subject and he will remind you.
3- "Sweet Jane" - Cowboy Junkies (The Velvet Underground) Lou Reed has never been to keen on anyone covering his songs, and over the years he has been uncharacteristically vocal about it. I guess if I were one of the greatest song writers in music I would have a bug up my ass about it too. But this is one cover that he actually endorsed.
4- "Hurt" - Johnny Cash (NIN) The fear and pain in this is even more powerful than the original. And as haunting as the song is, the video leaves an even bigger impression on your psyche. Shot right before the death of his wife June, both of them seem to be living on borrowed time, a large full banquet table where only they sit, contemplating what the great mystery holds for them both, seemingly resigning themselves to their fate. She died a few weeks after the video was shot, and he followed a few weeks later. I’m not a big believer in love, but whenever a couple die of “natural causes” that close to each other, it kinda makes you think that one couldn’t possibly live without the other, it kinda makes you believe in soulmates.
5- "She Sells Sanctuary" - Keane (The Cult) Blasphemy considering this is my all time favorite song, but this is a great cover. A very good modern version of this song.
6- "Wild Horses" - The Sundays (The Rolling Stones) I remember listing a few of my favorite Stones covers a while back, and this one made my list for the same that same reason a good cover is a good cover. I still resent the fact that it was in a Budweiser ad a few years ago, but I am slowly learning to accept that commercials are the only place to hear (ironically enough) non-commercial sounding alternative rock.
7- "I Want Candy" - Bow Wow Wow (The Strangeloves) I actually didn’t even know this was a cover song for decades after I heard it. If anything, I thought it borrowed more from Bo Diddley than any other band.
8- "Good Times" - INXS & Jimmy Barnes (The Easybeats) Same thing as the last one. I never thought this had been done before, much less written by someone else, although the references to so many characters in older songs like Long Tall Sally and Short Fat Fanny should have been a dead giveaway. The contrasting vocals from the smooth Michael Hutchense to that rough and raw, Australian outback, Bon Scott-esque Jimmy Barnes plays perfectly here.
9- "Crimson & Clover" - Joan Jett & the Backhearts (Tommy James & The Shondells) If there is one person who I always thought was totally underrated and ahead of their time, it’s Tommy James. He used that “wall of sound” idea just as good as anyone, and his songs have been covered for decades. But worse, while Madonna is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Tommy James is not.
10- "Money (That's What I Want)" - The Beatles (Barrett Strong) Didn’t know this was a cover did you? It’s OK neither did I for the first few years.
11- “Nothing Compares 2 U” – Sinead O’Connor (Prince) Before Sinead was ripping up the Pope’s picture and impersonating a cue ball, she made some very interesting music. One of the first to collaborate with hip-hop artists and having a totally uncompromising, original voice. Once again, although I admittedly saw Prince’s stamp on this, she totally made it her own. Have you ever heard the cliché “So sad it makes you wanna cry?” Yeah it’s usually never true, but in this case it is. Few songs actually have that power; I assure you this one does.
12- “Dancing Days” – Stone Temple Pilots (Led Zeppelin) On Mena’s list I put STP’s cover of “Revolution” by The Beatles, but this brings me to the second part of what makes a good cover, and that is, don’t waste your time doing someone else’s signature song, or something close to it, because you might do a great version, but will never truly make it your own. This is not “Stairway to Heaven” so this can be covered. STP balances the tone of the original with a nice modern alternative vibe, not an easy thing to do.
13- “Satisfaction” – DEVO (The Rolling Stones) I didn’t put it on Mena’s 15 because he already had it on, and I didn’t wanna overkill it, but this really is one of the greatest covers of all time. Not necessarily one of my favorite songs, but the concepts of what makes a great cover are all illustrated on this one more than on any other. DEVO does something totally original with someone else’s song here, and really, can you watch Joe Pesci doing a mountain of coke then putting someone’s head in a vice in the movie “Casino” without this in the background?
14- “Wild Night” – John Mellencamp & Me'Shell Ndege'ocello (Van Morrison) Fuck you I liked it!
15- "Little Red Rooster" - Rolling Stones (Howlin' Wolf/Willie Dixon) Who wrote this first is actually lost to history. Look, in case you missed it, the Rolling Stones are the greatest band of all time, and their covers, particularly of blues songs, have at many times, eclipsed the original versions. Even their cover of “I Wanna Be Your Man” is better than the original, and that one was written by two guys named John Lennon and Paul McCartney. I almost wanted to put Bo Diddley’s “Mona” on here instead, but I love the original too much, coupled with the fact that I got to see Eric Clapton come on stage and do ”Little Red Rooster” with the Stones, in a place that doesn't even exist anymore (Decades after this pic was taken of course, Jesus I'm not that fucking old!).