A good cover song pays homage to the original while the band doing the ‘cover’ puts their own distinct stamp on it. The tao of the band should tryst lustily with the soul of the original. A great cover manages that while taking the song to a different place. The following are the five best since 1970.
1) Sid Vicious, My Way
While Sid might not have been the anti-Christ, he can certainly be termed the anti-Sinatra. He takes Frank’s signature tune and turns it into a snarling, spitting anthem that defines him just as it did ‘ol Blue Eyes. That this song could also serve as Sid’s epitaph adds to its gravity, while at the same time making it somewhat pathetic.
2) Devo, (I can’t get no) Satisfaction
First, it is a fun, totally Devo-ed, herky-jerky version of the Stones’ classic. It’ll make you laugh and groove at the same time, great for a mixed tape when you actually want everyone to stop and listen. On the other hand, one can analyze it with an egg-headed approach. The song itself describes one’s inability to connect with society and its expectations (Are your shirts white enough and are you smoking the right cigarettes?). The disjointedness of Devo’s signature vocals and music indicate a relationship between the individual and society that has further deteriorated. The overall oeurve of Devo’s version reveals the anomie suffered by modern man. Either way, it’s a great party song.
3) Barrence Whitfield and Tom Russell, Cleaning Windows
Boston strongman Barrence Whitfield and Texas legend Tom Russell take a contemplative, steady Van Morrison song and rave it up into a workingman’s Friday night. Roots rocking at full force, the back-and-forth vocals bring out the heart of the lyrics. This is the version you’d want to hear playing in your local “down joint” after a hard week at anywhere but the office.
4) John Mellencamp, Jailhouse Rock
Mellancamp takes Elvis’s romp and slows it down, letting spare vocals emerge from behind a haunting, restrained backbeat. This is what would play in your head at light’s out if the cell to your left contained Pam Smart and the one on the right held Maynard, Zed, and The Gimp.
5) The Clash, Brand New Cadillac
The original version, done by Vince Taylor and the Playboys, is plaintive rythym and blues, in which the singer laments the loss of his girl, who laughingly drives away in a brand new Caddy. One imagines the singer is down and out, both emotionally and economically. The Clash don’t lament, however. They turn the amps up to eleven and roar. Their girl is certainly tougher and the Clash don’t take it so well. The guitars and vocals are electric and reeling. The song is imbued with an urgency that reveals a band at its full-throttle best with a song they could have written themselves.
Lifetime Achievement Award>>>The Blues Brothers, Soul Man
John Belushi is not a great vocalist, but he puts his heart into it here, backed by an excellent band. This version doesn’t stray far from the original, but it does employ a bit more wattage. What makes this version so great is what it accomplished: A revitalization of the blues. This song, the album it came from, and the subsequent movie brought a back-burnered style of music to white, suburban America. And give people credit for knowing what to do when they heard it. Blues music has never been more popular than it is now, and we’ve got the Blues Brothers to thank for it.
Songs that made the discussion:
X, “Soul Kitchen” (The Doors)
The Bangles, “Hazy Shade of Winter” (Simon and Garfunkel)
The English Beat, “Tears of a Clown” (Smokey Robinson)
David Bowie, “Waterloo Sunset” (The Kinks)
The Bouncing Souls, “Better Things” (The Kinks)
Kd Lang, “Crying” (Roy Orbison)
Cheap Trick, “Ain’t that a Shame” (Fats Domino)
Van Halen, “Pretty Woman” (Roy Orbison)