The Flying Lizards Play “Money (That’s What I Want)”

Listen to this track by experimental pop collective and repositioners of classic R&B songs The Flying Lizards. It’s “Money (That’s What I Want)”, a cover of the much-beloved 1959 Barrett Strong original. As often as it was covered, by both The Beatles and by The Rolling Stones among many others, The Flying Lizards made this one their own. After its release as a single, it eventually appeared on their self-titled 1979 debut album and became an (perhaps unlikely) hit single; number 5 in the UK, and number 22 on the dance charts in the States.

In some ways, it sounds as though this take on the song is trying to throw its own fight in the appealing pop music stakes. And yet somehow, the opposite effect knocked listeners out during the height of new wave when weirdly cool records were able to thrive as record companies, perhaps, were still trying to figure out the paradigm shift. Even in 1979, this sounded pretty weird coming out of the radio; a true novelty hit.

But beyond the novelty aspect of things, I think there is something underneath this version of a classic and well-covered R&B song that does more than just amuse us by being such a curiosity as a hit single.

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10 Surprising, Unlikely Cover Versions That Totally Work Anyway

Sometimes, cover versions totally make sense, an obvious fit even before you hear them. Of course that mall-punk band will try out “Another Girl, Another Planet”. That blues group will assuredly play “Stormy Monday”. That pop princess will definitely try to sing that soul favourite to establish her cred. The quality of the results are another question, of course.

But, what about the cover version that comes completely out of nowhere, that has seemingly no relation to the act in question? What about the ones that, in their original forms, actually work against the sound, scale, or the set up of that act? What if those acts are defiant, kick irony to the curb, and play it straight in their own way, and damn the consequences?

And what if it works?

To celebrate this phenomenon, here are 10 cover versions that are surprising, that perhaps really shouldn’t work, and yet do so anyway. Some of them were done live, and many not recorded formally. Others were b-sides, deep-cuts, or rarities. Some were even big hits! The popular music spectrum is well-represented here, stylistically speaking.

But, in some ways, they’re all punk rock.

Take a look.


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D.O.A Plays Edwin Starr’s “War”

Listen to this song by West Coast Canadian punk institution D.O.A.  It’s “War”, a cover version of the 1970 Edwin Starr signature tune (written by Motown songwriters Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong), and despite a view textural differences, it remains pretty much unchanged.  Who’d have thunk it?  Good God, eh?  The song is taken from the band’s 1982 album War on 45.

As has been roundly proven on this blog of mine, I love the cover version.  Not every cover version, of course.  But by this I mean I love the idea of the cover version, because the best of them takes a song out of its original context and quite often brings new meaning out of  it.  And sometimes, as in this case, the stylistic context doesn’t change the meaning at all.  War is still good for absolutely nothing (unless you’re an arms dealer or a politician whose favour in the polls is slipping…), whether it’s brassy soul-funk, or crunchy Vancouver punk rock.

Image courtesy of Bev Davies
Image courtesy of Bev Davies.  Bev took this picture of the band circa 1980, and last year made a calendar of all her shots of the West Coast punk scene here in Vancouver, of which D.O.A were instrumental in enlivening.  She continues her work as a rock photographer, and as a blogger.  Check out her website at, and her blog at

The point here is that the heart of the material is pretty intact.  War is still nothin’ but a heartbreak.  And dare I say that D.O.A lead singer Joey Shithead sounds downright soulful in his delivery here?  Punk rock is often held together in people’s minds as associated with a nihilist worldview.  Yet, D.O.A is pretty convincing here, respectful of the subject matter where they could easily just have taken the piss.  I’ve lost my stomach for ironic cover versions which do nothing but go to prove how ‘funny’ a band can be and without adding anything interesting to the material.

West Coast punk in the early 80s differed from a lot of late-70s UK punk in that there seemed to be a strong political dimension to it, and a spirit of activism which could help to explain the reasons for this cover version.   To prove a commitment to furthering the cause of a better world, Joey Shithead would go on to running provincially  as a member of the the Green Party of Canada in 1996 and 2001.  Of course he would do it under his given name, Joe Keithley.

Who says ‘no future for you’?

Joe Keithley currently runs his own label, Sudden Death Records.  Check out the line-up and investigate some of the associated MySpace pages for more music.


Thanks again to Bev Davies.

The Gourds Play Snoop Dogg’s “Gin & Juice”

Here’s a clip of bluegrass homeboys The Gourds with their take on Snoop Dogg’s slice of life snapshot of Compton track “Gin & Juice”. This cover is taken from the band’s 2001 disc Shinebox.

This is easily one of my favourite cover versions of all-time, and certainly more then just a novelty tune.  Among other things it’s a great party tune in it’s own right, and proves that even the most seemingly cover-proof tune is coverable by the talented and the determined.

Not actually from Compton
The Gourds: Not actually from Compton

The Gourds hail from Austin Texas, calling themselves something of an alternative country band, even if stylistically they’re pretty traditional.  Even so, it’s hard to argue with the fact that these guys aren’t treading a predictable path.  In addition to this cover version, they’ve also covered Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” side by side with originals and traditional material.  But, this is the song which gained them attention on college radio stations, most likely for the same reasons I shook my head in wonderment the first time I heard it.

There was a spate of ironic cover versions which seemed to crop up around the same time as this tune, some better than others.  And this is certainly not meant to be taken too seriously, so much as it’s meant to get people dancing.  Yet, one thing that stands out for me is how the incongruity of it seems to point out just how far removed white culture still remains to be from black culture in the minds of many,  while at the same time pointing out how the differences between people aren’t really significant in any meaningful way.  The result comes off as being extremely funny, as the subversion of expectations tends to be.  Yet, I think there’s more there.

What I mean is that it is downright odd to hear a white, southern voice singing hip hop lyrics in the context of an Anglo-celtic musical form like bluegrass.  Yet, when you really boil it down, the events which take place – partying with friends who may indeed be of the fairweather variety – are pretty universal, barring some of the rock star excess elements, maybe. Despite the cartoon ‘bitches and whores’ in this song, to me this tune is really about the value of friendship, even when surrounded by those who wouldn’t know what real friendship is.

Luckily along with what could be considered some serious subject matter, the song rocks like a bastard as well as being interesting on a sociological level.  And it’s probably this that the band has intended things to be.

For more music and information, check out the Gourds MySpace page.

And also, investigate the official Gourds website too.


Song Rendition Showdown: Fell in Love With A Girl/Boy – Joss Stone vs. The White Stripes

So, which version of the song is better, good people? That’s the game; it’s up to you to vote now, vote often, and decide who will reign supreme; nu-soul belter Stone, or minimalist indie-blues deities The White Stripes?

The original song itself can be found on the White Stripes’ breakthrough album White Blood Cells from 2001, an anthem to love which is out of reach, but without any trace of maudlin sentiment. This is no gushy love song. It’s a barrel-gutted stomp of a song, a behemoth of fury that pulls no punches, and doesn’t forget its balls. But, what kind of fury are we talking about exactly? It depends on the version, of course. The original is a wall of angry guitar and chaotic drums, while Joss Stone’s cover is all sweaty, soulful, and desperate. Which makes the most sense to you, good people? To get things into focus, let’s do what we always do: take it one version at a time.

The White Stripes

The White Stripes White Blood CellsWhite Blood Cells was the White Stripes’ third album, with very little out of place from their debut and its follow-up. But, this time, the songs seared through the initial novelty of the band’s guitar/drums/no bass structure to reveal some of the best tunes in rock songwriting for that year. And such a simple approach too – just a guitar, bombastic drums, and a petulant whine about a girl who’s “in love with the world” and not necessarily with the narrator. Sexual frustration, confusion, and heartbreak, all in one song. Rock n’ roll.

“Fell in Love with a Girl” was not just a catchy, primal slice of unadorned rock music. It eliminated the idea that rock songwriting was a dead form, a secondary consideration in a sea of banal rap-rock and dime-a-dozen indie music which typified the early 2000s. In effect, this song offered the rock fan hope that there was life in the old girl yet. It also reminded rock audiences that songs were the thing, that they had life of their own outside of the personas and egos of bands who put them on albums. It proved that rock music, song by song, was as malleable and open to interpretation as it ever was even in the new century.

Joss Stone

Joss Stone the Soul SessionsTwo years later in 2003, soul music was given an infusion of the Old School when a teenager from the West Country in England emerged as a perhaps unlikely candidate for new soul queen; Joss Stone. Stone’s apprenticeship under 70s soul star Betty Wright, who herself was a teen soul singer, brought it and did so in a Southern Soul style in an age where R&B had been redefined by smoothed-edges and lifeless production. Although Stone’s approach is influenced by her contemporaries, the feel she gets on her take of the Stripes’ tune is fired by the fuel of a bygone age. Her debut album was entitled, appropriately, The Soul Sessions

Stone’s take on the song goes beyond a simple gender shift. The anger and confusion found in the original version is replaced by what is unmistakably identified as something a bit more carnal. The tension found in Stone’s version is less to do with confusion and frustration in being involved with someone who isn’t taking her seriously, and more to do with the sheer frisson of that situation, the excitement that only comes out of doing something you know is going to be ecstatic in the short term, but ultimately too costly in the long. Where many of her contemporaries wouldn’t have seen that possibility in the material, Stone pulls it off brilliantly, while also re-building the bridge between the rock world, and the R&B world. We’re reminded in this version that the two solitudes of pop music have never been further apart, and yet are also as connected as they ever were.


So, here we are once again, good people. Two versions of a song, both great in their way, and relying on the listener’s ear to judge which will take the number one spot.

Cast your vote below!

Jeff Buckley Performs “Satisfied Mind”

Here’s a clip of Jeff Buckley performing one of my favourites of his cover versions, Porter Wagoner’s “Satisfied Mind”. A version of the song can be found on the posthumously released Sketches (For My Sweetheart the Drunk), the follow-up album which Buckley was working on before his death in Memphis in 1997.

Jeff BuckleyOne of the things which most strikes me about this song, besides how prescient it is that Buckley covered it so close to his own death, is how old this song sounds. It could be a turn of the century folk tune, or at least a church hymn from the 20s. No. It was written in 1955 when it charted at #1 on the country charts by its writer Porter Wagoner. Along with “The Long Black Veil”, which was written around the same time in 1959, it’s a great example of a tune that seems to kick up the dust of a mythical past, even though the song itself was written in the latter half of the 20th century.

In any case, the song is about the folly of materialism, and the immeasurable worth of a clean conscience and happy spirit. I like to think that Buckley covered it because he was striving toward it, or perhaps even had it, before he drowned in the prime of his life and at the height of his popularity a little over 11 years ago on May 29, his body discovered on June 4. Appropriately, this song was played at Jeff Buckley’s funeral.

Rest in Peace, Jeff.

Jeff Buckley image courtesy of Merri Cyr

Song Rendition Showdown: ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’, Rufus vs Iz.

Which version of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ will triumph? Chamber pop-prince Rufus Wainwright or gentle giant Israel ‘Iz’ Kamakawiwo’ole? You decide!

‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ is probably most associated with Judy Garland, and with the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. The song was written by legendary American songwriter Harold Arlen and lyricist E.Y Harburg specifically for the film, a tale of a dreamer who wishes for a new world beyond the drabness of her own. Since the film, the song has been interpreted by others many times. In at least two separate shows, I’ve seen it done to great effect; first by Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir who I saw in 1992, and then by the Flaming Lips in 1999 while touring their the Soft Bulletin album. Both times, the crowd was hushed hanging on every note. I think it’s because no matter who is performing this song, it strikes a chord with everyone. I think everyone at times hopes that somewhere, there is a world that is a happy and safe place, that it is the place that our own world should be. As such, it’s pretty universal song that transcends time and genre. It’s been recorded by artists as diverse as Ray Charles, Carly Simon, opera singer Placido Domingo, and cartoon punk band Me First & the Gimme Gimmes, among many others.

But, for our purposes today, which two versions of the song listed here will gain your vote?

Israel Kamakawiwo’ole

Israel Kamakawiwo'ole Facing FutureThis version of the song has graced the soundtracks of a few films, much like the original version served as the centerpiece to The Wizard of Oz. Israel Kamakawiwo’ole infused it with passion, albeit as a Hawaiian folk song and not a Hollywood show tune. The man himself released it along with his album Facing Future in 1993. Since then, it’s appeared on a number of recent soundtrack albums such as 50 First Dates, Fred Claus, Meet Joe Black, and many others. The track is a stripped down take on the tune, with just Iz’s voice and ukulele accompaniment. His voice is both hushed and strong at the same time, and the starkness of the arrangement brings out the gentle simplicity of the song, and its connection with childhood innocence which lays at the heart of it. The spirit of the tune, which is really about optimism, is further accentuated by adding a bit of Bob Thiele’s “What A Wonderful World” into the mix, which was the subject of another song rendition showdown not too long ago.

Iz would have his career and life cut short in 1997 at the age of 38 due to a weight-related illness. But, this version of the classic song is a worthy tribute to his talent as a musician and interpreter.

Rufus Wainwright

Rufus Wainwright Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie HallIt’s been firmly established that Judy Garland is one of Rufus Wainwright’s musical heroes, and it’s also of no surprise perhaps that his version is closer to the Garland original which was first recorded in October 1938, and released the next year to become her signature tune until her death in 1969. In the Wainwright version, recorded for his Rufus Does Judy At Carnegie Hall album in 2007, the song lives and breathes again, imbued as it is with Garland’s dramatic delivery . The concert and live album reproduces Garland’s 1961 performance at the same venue note for note, featuring his own soaring tenor against lush strings and sumptuous orchestral backing.

Because he sticks so closely to that latter-day Garland arrangement, he captures something of a different take on the song at the same time. No longer is the song about an innocent looking for a better world, but rather it is the yearning of someone who has been run over by life, scarred by bitter experience, knowing that such a world is out of reach. The song becomes less the optimistic vision, and more the tale of disappointment and weariness. It is the song of someone who knows that the innocence once enjoyed, and the dreams that once came so easily are gone for good. Perhaps this idea is also underscored by the fact that Wainwright is conjuring a fantasy world of his own, a glitzy tin-pan alley Hollywood Musical world which has long since gone, and perhaps never really existed.


So, good people. Which version of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ gets your vote? Is it the folky simplicity of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s version? Or, is it the lush theatrical Rufus Wainwright version? As always: you decide!

Song rendition showdown: “Around and Around” by Chuck Berry, The Animals vs David Bowie

This week’s showdown is between Tyneside bluesmeisters the Animals and rock n’ roll messiah Ziggy Stardust, as played by David Bowie. The song? Chuck Berry’s 1958 hit “Around and Around”.

Like a lot of Chuck Berry songs, this one is an ode not only to rock n’ roll, but also to the culture it created. This is a song about good times and police intervention. In 1958, rock n’ roll was considered by many to be a cultural threat, and in many ways they were right. Communities which had been apart were drawn together because of the popularity of the music, and the peace was often disturbed.

Where the song here focuses mostly on how the music affects people, causing them to rise out of their seats with the feeling that they “just had to dance”, the underlying themes here are undeniable too. When the police knocked, those doors flew back. Rock n’ roll here is both joyous and fraught with danger at the same time. For this alone, it’s a classic. And as the cover versions which came about proved, it was a very interpretable classic too.

The Animals

The Best of the AnimalsThe Animals had credibility among their peers as R&B experts during the British blues-boom in the 1960s. The group boasted the authentic blues voice of lead singer Eric Burdon as well as the gospel-infused organ of Alan Price, who arranged the band’s most famous recording; their version of ‘House of the Rising Sun”. The group’s love of the Chess Records catalogue was obvious too of course, and their debt to Chess artists is even more obvious. They scored hits with two John Lee Hooker songs – “Dimples” and “Boom Boom” – and this tune by Berry as well which appeared on their debut album The Animals in 1964.

Berry’s influence is felt all over the rise of British R&B. But what is most striking about this version is the sense of menace in Burdon’s delivery. You really get the feeling that there is impending violence in the events that unfold in the song. That’s my favourite part about this version; Burdon’s voice is so compelling, so believable, you know that he’s not just talking about a night out. He’s talking about confrontation. The Animals’ take on Berry’s song seems to allude to impending change, proving the song to be something of a prophecy, whether they intended it or not.

The ensuing years would prove that the British establishment feared rock n’ roll as a means of stirring things up, just as it had been feared in America as well. Jail sentences and drugs charges plagued rock royalty by the end of the decade in an effort by the police to make examples of them. Members of the Rolling Stones, and the Beatles were raided, and some were even put up on criminal charges. Jagger and Richards even went to jail before they were exonerated in late 1967. The seeming effort to suppress social change ultimately failed, and although the social changes of the time are difficult to accredit to rock musicians, the music they made did seem to create an environment where it was possible to break out of cultural doldrums by embracing new experiences and new cultures. And what is this song by Berry talking about if not crossing the tracks to the other side in some fashion? In many ways, it’s the perfect countercultural anthem.

David Bowie

David Bowie Sound and Vision Box setIf anyone was aware of cultural shifts and changing times, it was Bowie who first made a splash on national TV when he debuted his song “Starman” on Top of the Pops in 1972, dressed like a glittery androgyne from outer space. The performance was a shock to some, and a delightful wake-up call to others, as Bowie knew it would be. By this time in his career, he had Mick Ronson aiding Bowie’s glam-rock sound on guitar, which is effectively a sound fueled by 50s American rock n’ roll. This of course makes the choice of this cover version a pretty obvious one. Yet another aspect of this of course is the tension in the song – the crowded club, and the arrival of the police who mean to knock the doors down and do who-knows-what after they do.

His take on the Berry song, found on the boxset Sound + Vision (called “Round and Round”) is along the same lines as the Animals, in that this is more than just a story of an overcrowded night club. This is about fear and supresssion on the part of the authorities. Bowie’s delivery is not as menacing as Burdon’s, but there is a heightening sense of tension in his voice, something almost maniacal when he reaches the line “those doors flew back!”. And Ronson’s haphazzard guitar solo makes this sound like a riot is breaking out, which is perfect for the material. Like a lot their work together, Ronson’s guitar is the wave on which Bowie’s voice rides. And the “Around and Around” on this version is about disorientation, more than it is about dancing. Bowie would cover this ground on his own of course with his song “Changes”. But on this track, we’re not getting a patient explanation that the generation coming out of the time is “immune to the consultations” of police and government. This is anarchy. This is revolution.

It stands to reason that such a song would become so important to many with regard to changing one’s views on authoritarianism. And where I don’t think that records alone can change the world, I think that singing them and hearing them sung tends to be an indicator of what are on people’s minds. In the 1960s and 1970s in Britain after the war, rationing, classism, and a mass amount of immigration from places which had formerly been a part of the Empire, change was in the air just as it was in America in the late 1950s. The doors were about to “fly back” as it were.

But the question today is this, good people. Which version is best? British R&B disciples the Animals? Or meta-performer Ziggy Stardust?

As always, you decide!

10 Beatles Cover Songs Which May Be Better Than The Original

The Beatles as a favourite band may be an unoriginal choice. But, there it is. Sometimes, a band chooses you, not the other way around. If you’re a regular reader of the Delete Bin, you’ll know that the Fabs tend to come up a lot, despite my own fairly wide tastes. My own preferences aside, I think one of the things which can be said of the Beatles is that their songs have a quality that go beyond individual performances, even their own. They are great songs, no matter who is performing them.

This is a handy thing since they’ve been covered so much by so many artists from different backgrounds, genres, and (let’s face it) levels of competence. But, here are 10 notable cover versions. Some of these are so good, they threaten the originals for the number one spot . Others are unique statements of their own just by being in existence, so much so that they simply deserve a mention for their temerity.

Hey Jude – Wilson Pickett

Wilson Pickett Hey JudeThe Wicked Pickett covered this song in 1969, the year after the original Beatles single which had stayed on the number one spot for 9 weeks, despite it being over 7 minutes long. Pickett included it on his album named after this cover version, Hey Jude. The arrangement dials up the gospel overtones of the original, while also bringing in the truly supernatural guitar chops of Duane Allman. Wilson Pickett made a career of singing soul music as if fighting for his life, and this is a great example of Pickett’s approach – a rough and ready tone that belts out the lines of encouragement in a way that Paul McCartney would have done it, had he been born a Southern Baptist preacher. The soulful evocations of “It’s gonna be alright!” in the famous coda section, along with the heavenly horn section and Allman’s fiery guitar make this a contender for best version ever.

Allman’s work on this track gained the attention of Eric Clapton, who would work with Allman on the Derek & The Dominos album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs in 1970. Wilson Pickett would continue to have an impact on the rock world by covering “Fire and Water” as written and recorded by (the very underrated) British blues-rock band Free, who had written and the song recorded themselves all the while with Pickett’s voice in mind.

With A Little Help From My Friends – Joe Cocker

Joe Cocker With A Little Help From My FriendsJoe Cocker recorded his first album With a Little Help from My Friends named after this cover version , in 1969. On doing so, he employed several musical luminaries which include Jimmy Page on lead guitar, Merry Clayton on vocals, Carole Kaye on bass, Henry McCulloch on guitar, and Steve Winwood on organ, among many others. The record is aptly named, then. And Cocker is a powerhouse vocalist, probably one of the most gifted blue-eyed soul vocalist Britain had yet produced. His delivery here is muscular-yet-vulnerable, backed by an imaginative arrangement, some fine playing from Page, and a great interplay between Cocker’s lead, and the back-up vocalists. Like the Pickett version of “Hey Jude”, this cover of “With A Little Help From My Friends” seriously threatens to overshadow the Beatles original from Sgt. Pepper.

Cocker would of course go on to record two other famous Beatles cover songs in “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” and “Something” on his second album Joe Cocker!, which again ratchets up the bluesiness of the songs in question. Having reached the heights with these covers, and those covers of songs by Traffic, Bob Dylan, and Leonard Cohen, Cocker would find greater fame in his recording of “You Are So Beautiful” and “Up Where We Belong” in the late 70s and early 80s respectively. But this first single and his first two albums remain to be his best work.

Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds – William Shatner

William Shatner the Transformed ManThis is a legendary recording, possibly for different reasons than were originally intended. William Shatner of course is no singer – he’s an actor of stage and screen, possibly most famous for his role as James Tiberius Kirk, Captain of the starship Enterprise from the original Star Trek series. Here, the Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” becomes less thelysergic anthem from Sgt. Pepper, and more of a (very) dramatic reading of the song’s lyrics (which actually turns out to be pretty trippy too…). Where this version of the song may not rival the original as some of the others in this list, it remains to be something of a bold approach, if unintentionally humourous at the same time. And to me, this is why it warrants inclusion. And because it throws a wrench in the works as far as what you were expecting of this list – right?

The version was a part of Shatner’s album The Transformed Man, released in 1968 at the height of his tenure as the Captain of the Enterprise, while also pulling from his stage acting background. Shatner would make more of these types of recordings through out his career, even into the present day with his spoken word album Has Been, made with songwriter Ben Folds in 2007.

We Can Work It Out – Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder Signed, Sealed, and Delivered“We Can Work It Out” is a pretty dark tune in the end. It’s about a struggling relationship, possibly on its last legs. The narrator of the tale is becoming pretty tyrannical in his approach to making his relationship better – “why’d you see it your way?”, “think of what I’m saying…”. In his 1970 cover version of the song found on his Signed, Sealed and Delivered, Stevie Wonder infuses this love-gone-wrong tune with an effervescence that draws a striking contrast to the darkness and desperation in the lyrics. You find yourself smiling at this tale of a man trying to push all of the blame on his partner. Who knew that narrow-mindedness and trivializing the opinion of a lover to get your own way in a relationship could sound so joyous?

Stevie Wonder would go from here to create some of his own pop classics, and of course make a contribution to a song which talks about relationships of another kind in duet with the author of “We Can Work it Out” – Paul McCartney. That tune of course is the immortal “Ebony and Ivory”, taken from McCartney’s excellent 1982 Tug of War album. Now, that song is annoying beyond belief, of course. But, at least the two voices behind each version “We Can Work It Out” were expressing the value in respecting different perspectives in a relationship, side by side on the piano keyboard as they are.

Eleanor Rigby – Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin Live at the Filmore WestIn keeping with the trend of a dark theme against a celebratory arrangement, Aretha Franklin’s “Eleanor Rigby” is downright chirpy. The original song, found on The Beatles 1966 album Revolver, is about a lonely old spinster – the titular Eleanor Rigby – who “picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been”. This is a person who has missed the happiness in life enjoyed by others, left behind to live only off the remnants of what others have enjoyed, lonely, isolated, and ultimately doomed. Yet, Aretha’s Eleanor has the funk, pushed along by pulsing basslines, push-me-pull-you vocal exchanges, bold hornshots, and a tempo that just won’t quit.

Found on her Live at the Filmore West album released in 1971, the live version is my absolute favourite take on the song just because it’s so incongruous. When listening to it, I often wonder what she was thinking when she arranged it. Maybe, she wanted to reveal that Eleanor Rigby had a richer inner life that no one knew about, and that when she was “wearing a face that she keeps in a jar by the door”, it was the face of someone who was not lonely, but content in being alone.

Come Together – Ike & Tina Turner

Ike & Tina Turner Proud MaryJohn Lennon allegedly wrote “Come Together” initially for a political campaign anthem for LSD guru Timothy Leary. While nothing came of Lennon’s involvement in the campaign, or indeed of Leary’s political career, the song was the lead track off of the Beatles final album Abbey Road. What doesn’t come off quite as clearly in that version is the double entendre in the phrase come together, which it surely does in Ike & Tina’s version. This 1971 cover version is simply dripping with coital sweat, a fully loaded sexual explosion of throaty vocals, stabbing guitar lines, and a rhythm section that goes like a train. As such, this version makes the song into something entirely new, less a series of absurdist images, and more about sheer physicality which makes the words secondary to what lies underneath.

Ike and Tina’s version of the song can be found on for their Proud Mary compilation. They would make a number of cover versions of popular rock songs, which in many ways brought them full circle having inspired many of the artists who would write those songs, including the Rolling Stones and Rod Stewart, both of which Tina Turner would tour with in the ensuing years after her partnership with Ike ended.

For No One – Emmylou Harris

Emmylou Harris Pieces of SkyThis version of the song from Emmylou’s 1975 album Pieces of the Sky endures because I think this tune was always meant to be a country song, specifically a hurtin’ song. Everything about the way it’s arranged here – the spare instrumentation, the slow tempo, and Emmylou’s own plaintive delivery – is entirely true to the material, which is documents the feelings of sadness that go along with one person of two who has fallen out of love. Where Aretha re-invents Eleanor Rigby, Emmylou drills to the emotional centre of a song that is ultimately about helplessness. The clip here is a later take on the tune, yet the approach remains the same.

It is amazing to me that the same guy who wrote the patronizing lyrics to “We Can Work It Out”, also wrote this tune, with lyrics that are about respecting someone’s space, about letting go. McCartney was 24 when this song was recorded, which probably worked against him. Yet, the song he came up with works across the board, particularly as a country song sung by the best in her field.

Anytime At All – Nils Lofgren

Nils Lofgren Night Fades Away By the early 80s, the era of a possible Beatles reunion was crushed. Yet, it was also a time when the songs the group recorded were being looked at again as being examples of great songwriting beyond the era to which they had been attached. In 1981 on his Night Fades Away album, Nils Lofgren took an unassuming album track (found on the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night), and made it into a stadium anthem. The pure joie de vive of his version reveals it to be a mark of the time in which it was written. But, it also captures the feeling that the innocence of young love is ultimately pretty timeless.

After you’ve worked with Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen which Lofgren had, I guess the next logical step is to try the Beatles out. This song would remain to be a concert favourite. What I love about it is that Lofgren’s fondness for the Beatles, for Lennon, and for this song, just burns through. It’s infectious.

Blackbird – Dionne Farris

Dionne Farris Wild Seed Wild FlowerPaul McCartney’s “Blackbird”, orginally recorded for the band’s self-titled album (otherwise known as “The White Album”) has been interpreted in a political way before of course. Nina Simone recorded it, and the implications are pretty undeniable as a statement about equality and dignity for the black community in America. I have no idea whether or not Dionne Farris meant this to be a political statement or not when she recorded it for her Wild Seed — Wild Flower album in 1994 (I suspect she did, given other political content on the album). But for my money, this is a shining jewel of a version which made me wonder whatever happened to Dionne Farris, frankly, until I found the Dionne Farris MySpace page.

Where very few takes on this song (if any) can touch the original, I marvel at this, a solid R&B version with a bit of an acoustic blues flavour that keeps this from being the overproduced mess that has plagued (and plagues even today) other examples of the genre. The clip here is a live version which turns the song into a bit of a singalong. But the album version is a stark voice and guitar arrangement that is entirely different from McCartney’s own similar building blocks for his original recording.

Across The Universe – Fiona Apple

Fiona Apple Across the UniverseFiona Apple’s take on this song originally found on 1970’s Let It Be was featured in the closing credits of the film Pleasantville, the story of two modern-day teens who are thrust into the black & white world (in all senses of the term) of a 1950s TV show universe. The teens introduce new ideas into the minds of those who live in that world, revealing new possibilities to them. And the inhabitants cease to be characters in a TV show, and are transformed into real people. Fiona Apple’s take on Lennon’s song (written in India in 1968 while studying TM) about the complexities of love and the mystical nature of universal connection is the perfect, perfect, addition to the themes of the movie. This is not even mentioning Apple’s languid, dreamy delivery, which fits the song like a velvet glove.

The lines which are repeated in the song are all the more powerful given their cinematic context – “Nothing’s gonna change my world”. Apple’s version reveals that one’s world is changing all the time, that we’re all dependent on each other, moving as we are from one moment to the next. As a result, this song is given new life for me.


When people tell me they don’t like the Beatles, I just don’t believe them. To me it’s like saying “I don’t like kissing”. The very statement is preposterous, to the point where I think that there must be something wrong with someone who would say something like that. I have perspective of course. I know that those are just my perceptions. Yet one thing remains which is hard to deny, whether you like the Beatles or not. Beatles songs are universal, and wonderfully open to interpretation. They’re like Shakespeare that way.

Here you’ve seen 10 examples. I could have talked about a number of others, including Earth Wind and Fire’s joyous “Got To Get You Into My Life”, or the Breeders’ ferocious “Happiness is a Warm Gun”, or even Elton John’s Lennon-abetted version of Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds. All different, all wonderful. Saying the Beatles is your favourite band may be unoriginal. But the choice is pretty clear, leading as it does to great music of all kinds.

10 Cover Songs You Thought Were the Originals

The best cover versions have souls of their own, a life beyond their original origins. And here are a few exceptional cover versions that embody this principle so well, that you didn’t know that they weren’t the originals, did you.

Well, OK. Maybe you did know a few of these. But you’d be surprised. Many don’t!

I love cover versions. Not all of them, mind you. I could admittedly do without a few of them (I’m looking at you, Lenny Kravitz. You too Michael Bolton…). The art of the cover version isn’t as appreciated as it once was. It used to be the order of the day at one time of course. Either a professional writer wrote your hit, or you covered an existing one written by some other artist. Where I would be the last to denigrate the singer-songwriter, I will say that you can really judge the greatest writers by how they do that one cover version of a song you love. Because it’s on the cover that they reveal what turns them on in the music of others. It reveals the music fan in them, and the enthusiasm and joy that goes along with that.

So here they are. 10 cover songs you (might have) thought were the originals.

Hound Dog – Elvis Presley

This song, which many associate inextricably to the King, was actually recorded by Big Mama Thornton in 1953, which Elvis probably heard on WDIA radio in Memphis. Thornton’s take on the song was decidedly direct. The ‘hound dog’ in question on her version is a guy who only shows up at her door when he wants some, and is otherwise unreliable at any other time. Obviously, Elvis couldn’t sing a lyric like that. Let’s face it, a lot of guys would love a woman to want nothing more from them than sex and not be around any other time. So, they presumably had to tailor the lyrics accordingly.

Of course what they came up with makes no sense at all – “you ain’t never caught a rabbit and you ain’t no friend of mine” instead of “you can wag your tail but I ain’t gonna feed you no more”? WTF? Totally meaningless. To me, the song gets by purely on the strength of Elvis’ performance, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller get paid even more for the butchery of their original song, and Elvis’ fame shoots heavenward. Hear the Original!

Try a Little Tenderness – Otis Redding

Otis ReddingOtis Redding routinely proves the cliché that a good singer makes every song they sing their own. ‘Try a Little Tenderness’ dates back to the 30s, when Bing Crosby covered it, modeling it on the original recording by the Ray Noble Orchestra in 1932. Otis recorded it for Stax in 1966 with the MGs and the Memphis Horns backing him, and made it a (rightful) soul classic. Otis’s version inspired a cavalcade of subsequent cover versions, spanning the musical spectrum from Rod Stewart to Tina Turner. It was famously covered again in the 1991 film The Commitments, which was a direct nod to Otis’s version.

Respect – Aretha Franklin

Recognized as her signature tune, this track from her 1967 album I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You is actually an Otis Redding-penned song recorded by Redding the year previous on his equally famous Otis Blue album. The arrangement turns the point of view of the song on its head, with the woman waiting at home demanding respect rather than the hard working guy coming home, as in the original version. As such, it takes Otis’ rather conservatively-toned song into something of a Women’s Movement anthem. In this version, the woman will not settle for her lot. She wants respect. In fact, she demands it. She’s giving the orders here – “find out what it means to me”. Yes, Ma’am.

On the same album, Aretha interprets Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ and Ray Charles’ ‘Drown in My Own Tears’, which established her as a giant in the field of interpretation all around. But, it’s ‘Respect’ which is her strongest statement, aided and abetted by the backing vocals by her sisters Erma (famous for her own solo cover of the Doors’ ‘Light My Fire’) and Carolyn which give the tune an extra push-me-pull-you punch. They are the best backing vocals on any record ever. Hear the Original!

All Along the Watchtower – Jimi Hendrix Experience

Jimi HendrixHendrix had long been a fan of Bob Dylan’s work, particularly of Bob’s ability as a lyricist. As such, Hendrix took the song ‘All Along the Watchtower’ from Dylan’s late-1967 album John Wesley Harding and ran with it to the point where even Dylan considers the result to be the definitive version of his song. The original recording is a dusty, spare, sepia-toned parable, which is in keeping with the rest of the JWH album. But the Experience’s version (a highlight on 1968’s Electric Ladyland) is epic, the soundtrack to an impending battle between the forces good and evil. Everything about it demands attention, from the opening strummed chords from Dave Mason of Traffic who guested on the track, to Hendrix’s own soulful vocal and towering guitar-work.

Years later, Bob Dylan would arrange the song in accordance with Jimi’s take on it for his Rolling Thunder Revue tour in 1975. It remains to be one of Dylan’s most-performed songs, covered as it has been by the likes of U2, XTC, the Dave Matthews Band, and the Grateful Dead, among many others. Hear the Original!

Blinded by the Light – Manfred Mann’s Earth Band

In the early to mid 1970s, Bruce Springsteen was lauded as ‘the New Dylan’ (as many have been labeled since…) mainly because of a similar love of language and seemingly nonsensical imagery which he displayed in his early songwriting. One great example of this is his 1973 song ‘Blinded By the Light’ which appears on his Greetings From Asbury Park album. It was covered in 1976 by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, with some of the lyrics altered slightly, which was the bigger hit, and known as the definitive version. Springsteen would of course come into his own later in 1975 with his Born to Run album, and even get on the cover of Time. But, this tune would be celebrated as an AM radio and classic rock staple, and be associated with Manfred Mann’s take on it primarily.

Maybe one of the most famous things about this version would be the fact that it repeats the lyric a number of times, yet what the singer is actually saying still is a bit dubious. Part of the problem is that the original version has the line in question as “cut loose like a deuce, another runner in the night”. The MM version, as it turns out, is “revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night”. But for a long time, people were famously trying to guess what the lyrics were, in some cases to comic effect. Hear the Original!

Tainted Love – Soft Cell

Soft CellBy the early 70s, the state of dance music was in jeopardy in Britain being as it was in the middle of an era of progressive rock music from the likes of Yes, ELP, and Gentle Giant, among other bands. But, there was a movement which started in the clubs in the North of England which celebrated lesser known singles put out by American soul singers, largely forgotten in their own country. This movement and the music associated with it became known as Northern Soul, and Gloria Jones was one such artist linked to it. Her single, “Tainted Love”, which was recorded in the mid-60s, was a Northern Soul staple. And Soft Cell singer Marc Almond was a Northern soul fan.

The influence Northern Soul and Gloria Jones’ song would have on his own work in the Kraftwerk-meets-cabaret stylings of Soft Cell can certainly be viewed as inevitable. The group covered the tune in 1981, and their version became an international hit based on its distinctive electronics, and Almond’s plaintive, theatrical vocal. In 2007, Almond would perform the song with Gloria Jones at a Marc Bolan tribute concert. And Marilyn Manson would cover the song as well, inspired by the Soft Cell version. Hear the Original!

China Girl – David Bowie

David Bowie 1983One thing that makes Bowie such a talent is his ability to spot talent in others and add his own touches to it. Bowie’s involvement in the career of Iggy Pop is a prime example of this, first having involvement in the production and mixing of The Stooges landmark third album Raw Power. In addition to this, Bowie teamed up with Iggy again in 1977, producing Pop’s album The Idiot, while also co-writing the songs on the record. Where this record wouldn’t exactly be Iggy’s breakthrough to the mainstream, sessions for the album yielded the song “China Girl”, which was duly included.

Flash forward to 1983 and Bowie’s own Let’s Dance LP, which was certainly Bowie’s breakthrough album to the mainstream, at least where North America was concerned. Although he’d had radio play with other singles, the Let’s Dance album was an enormous smash, yielding multiple hits including a re-vamped “China Girl”, the version on Bowie’s album superceding the one he co-wrote and produced for Iggy years before. Hear the Original!

There She Goes – Sixpence None the Richer

Sixpence None The RicherThis one may look a little strange to readers in the UK who already know this. But the breakthrough song ‘There She Goes’ by fey American outfit Sixpence None the Richer (also known for their hit “Kiss Me”) which enjoyed great success in 1999 was a cover version by legendary one-album wonders The La’s. The sweet vocal from Sixpence’s Leigh Nash assure the listener of the joys of love ‘racing through my brain’, somewhat belying the fact the original version of the song is alleged to be about the initial rush of a heroin high. But whether there is any truth to this interpretation or not is secondary. This cover version proves that delivery certainly affects interpretation on the part of the listener, and that such interpretation is just as valid as any intention that may or may not have been intended by the original writer.

The La’s version of the song (which is the definitive version in the UK), whether it is about heroin or not, remains to be one of the most perfect pop songs ever written. Not to knock Sixpence or their version, but it would have been hard to mess that up. Too bad the notoriously perfectionist songwriter Lee Mavers who wrote the song doesn’t agree. In this opinion, not even his version matched what he had intended the song to sound like. Hear the Original!

The Man Who Sold the World – Nirvana

Through out his career, Kurt Cobain wanted to keep the DIY, outsider ethic of punk alive in his own work and life. By the time this song was recorded for Nirvana’s 1992 MTV Unplugged appearance, he’d become disillusioned by his own success. The band’s cover version David Bowie’s ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ (found on Bowie’s 1970 album of the same name) was a big part of how he was attempting to express that feeling – that he had sold out, given up a world of musical purity and dedication to his own view of himself as an outsider. Unfortunately, it soon became apparent to him that the mainstream audience he had gained thought that this was an original song by Nirvana. They hadn’t understood, and that made him a part of the problem in his mind.

Cobain was many things, but one thing that we can put in the ‘positive’ column is that he was a dedicated music fan. It’s too bad that he had such expectations of himself that he would take his own credibility in the mainstream as a criticism to be self-applied, rather than as an opportunity to enlighten his fans about where his music had come from. This is a tragedy to me. Hopefully by now, Nirvana fans have explored the music further, as I’m sure Kurt wanted them to do when he was alive. Hear the Original!

It’s My Life – No Doubt

No Doubt Singles 1992-2003American pop band No Doubt have famously praised British music as being a prime breeding ground for the sound they crafted for themselves in the 1990s and in the early part of the new millennium. For their singles collection in 2003, they included a song which would become a radio hit for them – It’s My Life. But what many among their audience might not have known right away is that the song was a major radio hit for the otherwise avant-garde British group Talk Talk in 1984 as well, on the album of the same name.

The No Doubt version is a faithful reading of the Talk Talk version, with vocalist Gwen Stefani following the keening lines of original Talk Talk vocalist Mark Hollis almost exactly. You get the feeling that the band’s devotion and debt to British new wave and post-new wave music is much like the same devotion British bands had to Chicago blues in the 1960s. I love that kind of cultural turnaround! Hear the Original!


The cover version; an offense or a tribute? It can go either way. But the best cover versions at very least make us wonder about the original versions, make us want to seek them out. And any force in the world that makes us want to find more music can’t be all bad! Here’s hoping that some of the cover songs I’ve listed here will start you on a journey to becoming a fan of music that you may not have otherwise considered. Happy hunting! And please report back; I’d love to hear your thoughts, good people.