Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Top 10 Rock Covers - Part 1

"..Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery..."

An interestingly obscure quote - typically credited to Charles Caleb Colton in 1820.  Which may itself be an imitation as a form of flattery.  But I digress.  For a long time I've been threatening offering to put together a top-10 list of (mostly famous) rock songs which as covers greatly exceeded the promise of the originals.  Now seems like a good time to get started (and is far less research than I typically do when writing on politics).

These songs are my opinions only.  I'm not listing the songs in any particular order - although I might sometime in the future. Feel free to agree or disagree - although if you choose to voice disagreement, may I ask your thoughts as to why???

And I promise to get writing on more political and social issues after I get settled into Pensacola over the weekend.

Blinded By The Light - Manfred Mann's Earth Band

Originally released on (and the first single from) Bruce Springsteen;s 1973 "Greetings From Ashbury Park NJ"; this was a fairly forgettable song as recorded by Bruce.  Reworked a couple of years later by Manfred Mann and released on 1976's "The Roaring Silence" (BTW, a great and under-appreciated album") it became a #1 hit in the U.S. and Europe.  Manfred Mann brought an energy and vibrancy to the song which Springsteen's version sorely lacked.

This particular video is from the TV show "Midnight Special" in 1976 (incorrectly labeled 1975):

All Along The Watchtower - Jimi Hendrix

Originally written by Bob Dylan and recorded on 1967's "John Wesley Harding", this song took on an entire new and vastly different persona when handled by The Jimi Hendrix Experience.  At the time the song was penned, Dylan had been recovering from a motorcycle accident, and by all accounts experiencing a bit of spiritual re-birth.  There is documented similarities when the lyrics of the song are juxtaposed with Isaiah Ch. 21, v. 5-9.  Whether this speculation is true or not, there was a sparseness to Dylan version that was not well received by his audience, and thus the song was never a commercial success.

Jimi Hendrix, to which spareness was not generally a concern, brought this song to full blossom.  In later years, Dylan acknowledged to song as rightfully becoming "Jimi's song", and for decades changed the performance of the song to mirror Hendix's arrangement over his own.  Only in the past few years has Dylan returned his live performances to their original syntax.
Dylan has described his reaction to hearing Hendrix's version: "It overwhelmed me, really. He had such talent, he could find things inside a song and vigorously develop them. He found things that other people wouldn't think of finding in there. He probably improved upon it by the spaces he was using. I took license with the song from his version, actually, and continue to do it to this day."
This video is from his Isle Of Wright concert in 1970 - shortly before Jimi's death. While not as iconic as other performances such at Woodstock or Monterey, this performance shows more of Jimi the man - a musical genius who was lost to us far too soon...

Hurt - Johnny Cash

This is a case where the past usurps the present.  In 1994s "The Downward Spiral" Nine Inch Nails released a somewhat forgettable version of "Hurt" (which, being a HUGE Trent Reznor fan, is hard for me to admit).  In 2002, shortly before his death, Johnny Cash covered "Hurt" on the acclaimed 2003 album "America IV: The Man Comes Round".  Cash received a CMT "Best Single" award, CMT's #1 Best Video of 2003, and Billboard's #33 "Best Single" of 2003.  It was simply one of the best performances in any genre during that decade.

Sadly, Johnny Cash passed away on September 12, 2003.

Trent Renzor (an egotist is one ever existed) admitted in a Rolling Stone interview that Johnny Cash had made the song his - gnashing his teeth with every word.  For your consideration, the original Cash video.  I can't for the life of me dispute that Cash owns this song - another case where a superior performer made someone else's words his....

To my son:
If I could start again 
A million miles away 
I would keep myself 
I would find a way


  1. Lip,

    Good project; I love top tens and this should be good -- but I am a ditz when it comes to covers. How about the cover of the Kink's "Girl, You Really Got Me Going" (forget who did it) and, of course, Elton John's cover of Pinball Wizard. It is the mainstay of my bike training ride playlist -- along with "White Wedding".

    But I digress; some commenter over at HA! said Springsteen doesn't sing, he just whines about getting hurt.

    ..well, it seemed funny at the time.

  2. I am in total agreement re Johnny Cash's superlative rendering of Hurt.

    And although this may be stretching the definition of "cover" a bit, I nominate Led Zeppelin's version of Whole Lotta Love. The litigation was eventually settled in favor of Willie Dixon, who wrote the darn lyrics after all. Willie having been made whole, our enjoyment of the song need no longer be troubled by allegations of plagiarism, we can think of it as an homage, or a cover.

  3. And another thing!

    Sometimes an artist reinterprets their own music so completely that it qualifies as a cover. To wit: Eric Clapton and his acoustic Layla, and Aerosmith's orchestral Dream On (for which I actually bought the soundtrack to Last Action Hero.)

  4. Lilac:

    Both valid points and duly noted. I'm thinking of doing something later in the vein of your first comment. There's a lot of music out there which has been re-recorded by some or all the original artists and become vastly different songs.

    Thanks for the suggestions!


  5. You comments on All Along The Watchtower are spot-on. Hendrix also did the same thing with Hey Joe [my favorite Hendrix song].

    The Rolling Stones's Love In Vain is superior to Robert Johnson's original. They capture the sadness and despair of the lyrics much better. Jagger is wailing in sorrow at several points and that really brings it home.

  6. There's one more cover that merits attention. Roger Waters gave a pair of Iranian brothers living in Canada permission to turn Another Brick in the Wall into a protest video. The band, called Blurred Vision, reworked the song slightly (hey Mullahs, leave those kids alone) and interwove scenes of the band playing with scenes of the street protests and violence which followed the 2009 Iranian election. I mention it on my little blog, and you can watch the video there or on YouTube.