Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., June 13, 14 or 15
For every mention that a reader recognizes with an “Ah, yes!” there are songs that are reminiscent of other tunes thought much better. Musing about music this way is a great excuse to return to search long-stashed and forgotten records, tapes and CDs, or the Web, or brains’ memory banks.
It’s all in the ear of the beholder.
(After all, there was the exceptional “I Am Sam” soundtrack of various covers of various Beatles tunes, and there was even an audience for “Hooked on Bach.”)
Personally, the most memorable coversions of songs bring something new – a fresh twist, a different enthusiasm or special touch that lets the “remake” stand on its own. They’re creative, if not original.
Noting that Jeff Beck appears three times and the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix both twice as remakers, here are two dozen gems highly recommended to check out online (or on vinyl!), a starting point, perhaps, to your own memory mining or beer-soaked dispute (call those “barguments”):
24. Linda Ronstadt with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra in 1986 singing “Am I Blue” (written in 1929 when Ethel Waters made it a hit).
23. Jeff Buckley’s plaintive 1994 “Hallelujah” (written and released by Leonard Cohen in 1984 and since done by dozens of artists).
22. Whitney Houston’s 1992 signature song “I Will Always Love You” (done first by Dolly Parton in 1974).
21. Three Dog Night’s peppier, pop 1970 cover of Randy Newsman’s “Momma Told Me Not to Come” (written for and first released by Eric Burdon & the Animals in 1967).
20. Jeff Beck’s “Superstitious” on the 1973 LP “Beck, Bogert & Appice” (from Stevie Wonder, who originally offered it to Beck before producer Berry Gordy insisted on Wonder releasing it first, in 1972)
19. Jimi Hendrix’ 1966-and-thereafter “Hey Joe” (written by Billy Roberts and first released by the Leaves in 1965)
18. The Rice University Marching Owl Band’s “Louie Louie” from Rhino Records’ 1983 “The Best of Louie, Louie” compilation (penned and first released by Richard Berry in 1957, then Rockin’ Robin Roberts, and made a 1963 hit by the Kingsmen, although reportedly recorded by more than 1,000 entertainers over the years)
17. The Grateful Dead’s 1972 rendition of “Johnny B. Goode” (from Chuck Berry, 1958)
16. The Byrds’ 1965 version of Mr. Tambourine Man” (Bob Dylan wrote it and released it earlier that year)
15. Jeff Beck and Sting’s 2009 take on “People Get Ready” (Curtis Mayfield/the Impressions, 1965)
14. The Beatles’ infectious 1964 take on Leiber and Stoller’s “Kansas City” (done most famously by Wilbert Harrison in 1959)
13. Jimi Hendrix 1968 “All Along the Watchtower” (written by Bob Dylan, who released it the previous year)
12. Willie Nelson’s 1982 Grammy Award-winning “You Were Always on My Mind” (first done by Brenda Lee a decade before)
11. Commander Cody & The Lost Planet Airmen’s 1971 version of “Hot Rod Lincoln” (Charlie Ryan in 1955)
10. The Beatles’ wild 1963 “Twist & Shout” (done in 1961 by the Top Notes, then a year later as an Isley Brothers hit)
9. Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) did a distinctive 1973 version of Chuck Berry’s 1956 “Roll over Beethoven” (also covered admirably by the Beatles), with strings and keyboard as well as guitar and drums. It was ELO’s only hit not written by Jeff Lynne.
8. Jeff Beck, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons and bassist Tal Wilkenfeld’s superb (2012?) rendition of “Sixteen Tons” (available on YouTube, originally done in 1946 by Merle Travis, but made famous by Tennessee Ernie Ford and covered by many, including the unheralded Don Harrison Band)
7. Bonnie Raitt & Was (Not Was) in 1988 performing “Baby Mine” (originally sung by vocalist Betty Noyes for the 1941 Disney movie “Dumbo” and nominated for an Oscar)
6. Spooky Tooth’s 1970 version of “I Am The Walrus” (The Beatles, 1967)
5. Johnny Cash’s 2002 “Hurt” (Nine Inch Nails, 1994)
4. The Flying Burrito Brothers’ 1970 heart-wrenching “Wild Horses” (actually released a year before the Rolling Stones’ more familiar version, although the number was written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards – who was friends with the Burritos’ Gram Parsons)
3. The “Fathers & Sons” jam band (including Muddy Waters, Otis Spann, Paul Butterfield, Mike Bloomfield, Buddy Miles, and Donald “Duck” Dunn) in 1969 doing a two-part “Got My Mojo Working” in 1972 (written in 1956 by Preston Foster and first released that year by Ann Cole, but popularized a year later by Muddy Waters himself).
2. Mitch Ryder & Detroit’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll” (originally Lou Reed & Velvet Underground). Ryder, in the only LP put out by his post-Detroit Wheels band called, simply, Detroit, in 1971, makes a high-energy celebration out of Reed’s more sullen, somber 1970 style.
Number 1. Jazz flautist Herbie Mann’s 1969 “Battle Hymn of the Republic” (traditional)
[PICTURED: Opening frame from YouTube's clip of Jeff Beck and ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons doing "Sixteen Tons"]