You’ve got to love cover songs. Few hit the mark, most miss it. Here is my take on the 5 best and worst rock cover songs. In no particular order…
5 Rock Song Covers that worked
1. Pinball Wizard
Original Artist: The Who (1969). Covered by: Elton John (1975)
The original was written for The Who’s rock opera album ‘Tommy’, Elton John appeared in the film adaptation of Tommy in 1975. Watch the film excerpt, sure, its weird. Elton John has less hair then than he does now and Roger Dalterey had enough hair for everyone in the band. John replaced the acoustic guitar of the original with his unmatched piano playing ability. The song has become a stalwart ever since at both The Who and Elton John concerts in their respective forms.
2. Black Magic Woman
Original Artist: Fleetwood Mac (1968). Covered by: Santana (1970)
Santana has really made this song his own and that’s saying something considering the original artist is none other than Fleetwood Mac. In this performance he is still using a Gibson Les Paul Guitar, having not made the switch to his now signature Paul Reed Smith (PRS) guitars until the 80s.
3. Live & Let Die
Original Artist: Paul McCartney & Wings (1973). Covered by: Guns N Roses (1991)
Best James Bond theme, hands down. Big call considering the popularity of ‘Goldfinger’ by Shirley Bassey. Just something about this song that appeals to me, I think its the frenetic changes in tempo. Any cover with Slash on lead guitar is halfway destined for success. Interestingly, both versions of the song were Grammy nominated, although neither won.
4. Proud Mary
Original Artist: Creedence Clearwater Revival (1969). Covered by: Ike & Tina Turner (1971)
Look at her dance. Umm… she is 70 years old in this concert video from 2009. Singing live, dancing like a 20 year old and not missing a beat. Comparable to nobody, only Beyonce could give her a run if she is still performing in 2050.
5. Baker Street
Original Artist: Gerry Rafferty (1978). Covered by: Foo Fighters (1997)
The original version of this song was epic. The saxophone riff is probably the best you’ll ever hear. Rafferty passed away in January last year. The Foo Fighters version might not top the original, but it sure comes close. Put a hard rock tilt on it and strip away the memorable saxophone solo and replace it with high note squealings right at the top end of the frets. The Foos also did an ok cover of Wings ‘Band on the Run’, but came undone in the chorus.
Slash cites Baker Street as his inspiration for the guitar solo he wrote for Sweet Child O’ Mine.
5 Rock Song Covers that didn’t work
1. D’yer Maker
Original Artist: Led Zepplin (1973). Covered by: Sheryl Crow (1995)
This is not hating on Sheryl Crow because her original music is pretty good. But she has done some shocking rock covers doing equal injustice to Guns N Roses (Sweet Child O Mine) as she has to Led Zepplin. Sweet Child O Mine is just as bad as this song, but insulting Led Zepplin is more sacrilegious than doing it to Guns N Roses.
2. Dancing in the Street
Original Artist: Martha & The Vandellas (1964). Covered by: Mick Jagger and David Bowie (1985)
On paper this seems like an excellent idea. Take two of the stalwarts of rock, both in the prime of their long careers and have them do a duet. What really happens is a screaming match and possibly the worst choreographed music video in history. The drunken dancing seals the deal.
3. Shook Me All Night Long
Original Artist: AC/DC (1980). Covered by: Celine Dion & Anastacia (2002)
I’m embarrassed for them. Anastacia should have known better. The only salvageable piece of this clip is the guitar solo ripped by the Joan Jett lookalike, Meredith Brooks* (on a Fender no less) – only to be ruined with cutaway shots of Celine Dion practicing for the World Air Guitar Championships. Facepalm.
* You’ll remember Meredith Brooks from her 1997 hit song “Bitch“. Possibly the best opening lyrics of a song ever… “I hate the world today”. I remember it as the song we weren’t allowed to listen to at school. Funny that it’s now completely benign compared with the song lyrics of today.
4. Song 2
Original Artist: Blur (1997). Covered by: Robbie Williams (1999)
Wee-HOOO! The Robbie Williams abomination is full of lols, from the ridiculous high pitched ‘Wee-hoos’ to the guitarist hitting many bum notes. The original by Blur was probably the best rock song to come out of Britain for the whole of the 1990s. A needlessly short song that leaves you wanting more.
5. American Pie
Original Artist: Don McLean (1971). Covered by: Madonna (2000)
The original American Pie could be one of the longest rock songs ever recorded. Its rock in a folk-rock sense. At 8min 33sec, you’re unlikely to have heard the full version on mainstream radio, ever. Its deep in a poetic way and open to much interpretation as McLean failed to provide much insight into the lyrics (Like we needed another Hotel California style mystery). We do know it’s about the ‘day the music died’ (the plane crash in 1959 that took out the rising talents of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper). Madonna turned it into a dance song but cut it up in such a way that it lost all its meaning. A bit of the first verse and all of the second and sixth ones. It ended up being a hit, but failed with little consideration to the meaning of the original.