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The Lost Art of the Cover Tune

The top fifteen cover tunes according to S.E. Shepherd.

by S.E. Shepherd
February 23, 2001

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The Lost Art of the Cover Tune_S.E. Shepherd-The top fifteen cover tunes according to S.E. Shepherd. Once upon a time, long, long ago, Rock ‘n’ Roll artists recorded each other’s songs. They believed rather than racking their own brains to come up with 10 or 12 songs to fill an album, why not “borrow” a few already proven hits and make ‘em their own. In the years to follow, this became increasingly out of vogue; musicians became more arrogant, thinking they could put out an album of ten decent songs, even if it did take them four or five years to do it. As a result (in my humble opinion) albums became spotty, with really good songs being surrounded by a lot of junk.

So, in the name of honoring the tradition of the cover song, and to create controversy (which a making a list always does) I have composed a list of my top 15 favorite cover tunes. And just for fun, I’ve also included my 5 least favorite cover tunes. You may disagree with my choices, but that’s the point of this article and this magazine/website. Enjoy!

1. “All Along the Watchtower” – Jimi Hendrix. One of Jimi’s greatest; so impressed by this version was Bob Dylan, that he re-recorded it in Jimi’s style. Does anyone even know what the original song sounded like?

2. “Slow Down” – The Beatles. I know I’m going to take a lot of flak for this, but this is the best Beatles’ cover. Yes, “Twist and Shout” is a classic, but there are many people (myself not included) who think the Isley Brothers original is much superior. I have never heard the original version of “Slow Down,” but I can’t imagine anyone attacking this song with the ferociousness of John Lennon.

3. “Blue Suede Shoes” – Elvis Presley. Elvis stole Carl Perkins’s career with this song, taking Perkins’s biggest hit and making it his own.

4. “Close to You” – Stevie Ray Vaughn. Much has been said about Vaughn’s guitar work, little about his vocal style. Many people have covered this blues classic, but I like Stevie’s version the best.

5. “(Could it be) I’m Losing You” – Rod Stewart. If only Rod had stayed with this style of music instead the schmaltzy stuff like “Forever Young” and “Infatuation.”

6. “Proud Mary” – Ike and Tina Turner. Tina takes CCR’s easy-paced song about life on a riverboat and turns it into an anthem of feminine power. Pure magic.

7. “Gloria” – Shadows of Knight. Gee-El-Oh-R-I-A! Maybe it’s because I’m from Chicago, but this relatively obscure garage band from the Windy City has the definitive version of this early Van Morrison tune.

8. “Route 66” – The Rolling Stones. Again, people will site the numerous Chuck Berry covers over this song, but how can you undermine the genius of turning this Nat King Cole song into a great little rocker?

9. “My Back Pages” – The Byrds. A much more profound song than “Mr. Tambourine Man,” this Dylan tune also benefits from the Byrds’ lush sound.

10. “Black Magic Woman” – Santana. Who knew this Santana staple was originally a Fleetwood Mac song (before the days of Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks)? Who cares?

11. “Crossroads” – Cream. Another blues classic; this shows, in a surprisingly brief song, how good Cream really was.

12. “I’ll Feel a Whole lot Better” – Tom Petty. Speaking of the Byrds, Tom Petty does a pretty good job with one of their tunes. Maybe it’s the better recording systems or maybe Tom sounds a little more bitter than Roger McGuinn, but this version surpasses the original in my book.

13. “Shakin’ All Over” – Chad Everett & The Guess Who. Another song that was covered by quite a few groups, including the Who. But I like this early Guess Who recording the best.

14. “Over Under Sideways Down” – the 77’s. Christian Rock’s best kept secret takes a stab at a secular Rock classic on their live album “88.”

15. “Hazy Shade of Winter” – The Bangles. The Bangles take one of the smaller Simon & Garfunkel hits and give it a big rock beat.

I’d like to add an honorable mention to the list. Selena gets high praise for her version of the Pretenders, “Back on the Chain Gang.” Technically, “Fotos y Recuerdos” is not a cover, as it’s in Spanish and not a literal translation. But it is kind of cool to hear on the Spanish stations.

And now for the worst:

5. “Helter Skelter” – U2. “Charles Manson stole this song from the Beatles, and tonight we’re stealing it back!” Bono cries defiantly. Well, no he didn’t, and no you didn’t.

4. “Sweet Child O’ Mine” – Sheryl Crow. When Guns ‘n’ Roses released this song, I always thought someone else could do a better vocal than Axl. I meant someone besides Sheryl Crow.

3. “When a Man Loves a Woman” – Michael Bolton. Or any song Michael Bolton covers for that matter.

2. “I Saw Her (Him) Standing There” – Tiffany. I will never, never forgive Tiffany for this.

1. “Fixing a Hole” – George Burns. Everything about the movie “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was horrible, but this was downright spooky. To hear Paul McCartney sing about “fixing a hole where the rain gets in/to stop my mind from wandering” is beautiful psychedelic pop. To hear a 70-year old man sing this smacks of senility. Add to the fact that in the movie Burns is singing this song to young children, and it becomes the stuff of nightmares.

Well, that’s my list. I know it is indisputable, because I spent a good three or four hours doing the research. But if you disagree, write your own list and submit it to the Partial Observer. Or just write letters to the editor. After all, opinion is what the PO is all about.

Comments (2)

Post a Comment

One Blessed With A Sense of Hearing writes:
February 25, 2001
It's surprising that on his worst list S.E. Shepherd negelected the sorry career of one George Thorogood, who butchered Bo Diddley's Who Do You Love? and Hank Williams' Blues/Country/Rock (before there was rock) masterpiece Move It On Over. Thorogood's Deleware Destroyers band is a competent group, but his rotten voice single-handedly ruins songs.

[The author responds:

I am sorry you feel so strongly against Mr. Thorogood. While I actually kind

of enjoy his version of Move it on Over (perhaps because I heard it

first), I can understand someone being annoyed with Thorogood's bullfrog

voice. I would, however, like to ammend my 5 worst, by moving Tiffany out of the number 2 spot, and replacing her with Reba McIntire's country version of Every Breath You Take. While I still find it hard to forgive Tiffany, I'm sure everyone can agree making this Police hit a country song is a greater


Distinguished Rock Critic writes:
February 27, 2001
Mr. Shepherd, it is highly disappointing that you neglected Bob Dylan's version of Eric Clapton's Knocking on Heaven's Door, Bob Marley's version of Clapton's I Shot the Sherrif (was Clapton a genius or what?), or the Rolling Stone's cover of Marianne Faithfull's As Tears Go By.

[The author responds:

You forgot to mention the Beatles cover of the Stones' I Wanna Be Your

Man. Anyway, as distinguished as you claim to be you did not write the

article, so therefore you are wrong. My list is absolute and will not change

(see response below).]

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