Best Cover Songs

OK, over at arts.telegraph they’ve listed the 50 best cover songs of all time.

Obviously, this is an exercise in futility to some degree – no one will ever agree with the list in it’s entirety. But that’s part of the fun of such a list – to disagree, make your own list, support your choices and so on.

On the other hand, it seems to be a pretty good list. No, I don’t agree with all the listings; I’ve never heard some (actually, many) of the covers, and they certainly missed some important ones, in my mind. But they caught some good ones, and it’s tough to disagree with their top choice: Jimi Hendrix’s cover of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”. This was so well done that Dylan started playing the song this way.

But – just off the top of my head – here are some covers that are missing from the list that probably should be on there:

  • Highway Patrolman, Johnny Cash Cash takes Springsteen’s sparse tale of family and morality (from the Nebraska album) and makes it his own.
  • Mrs. Robinson, the Lemonheads Making immorality sound like fun! Very commercial in a very successful manner.
  • Satellite of Love, U2 Bono and the boys tackle the Velvet Underground song and make it work
  • She Came in Through the Bathroom Window, Joe Cocker Part of the Mad Dogs and Englishmen album, Cocker and a band of renown put a whole new power behind the Beatle’s staple. Actually, this whole album is rich with great covers: The Letter, Leon Russel’s Delta Lady, Leonard Cohen’s Bird on a Wire and so on. Seek out. Listen to.
  • Percy’s Song, Fairport Convention Everyone seems to have covered Dylan, and this English folk-rock powerhouse did several Dylan covers. Percy’s Song is just a favorite, mainly for the beautiful, strident voice of Sandy Denny on this piece.
  • Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, Muddy Waters and Van Morrison Not a duet; two different covers of the Sonny Boy Williamson classic. Both approach it from roughly the same direction, with Waters’ version more leering, Morrison’s more questioning.
  • Wang Dang Doodle, Koko Taylor Chicago’s queen of the blues just kicks the everloving shit out of this Willie Dixon number whenever she sings it. This is her song now, much like Aretha Franklin’s cover of Respect has made it her’s.
  • Wooden Ships, Jefferson Airplane Grace Slick and crowd take the CSN tune and, with Slick’s wonderful voice, make it a more mystic, ethereal song.
  • Whiter Shade of Pale, Annie Lennox Lennox’s Medusa CD is an album of cover songs. It contains many gems, but her take on Procol Harum’s most famous song is the most precious of all. A great version of Talking Heads’ “Take Me to the River” here, as well.

Obviously, there are many others; these are just off the top of my head (and I think I own them all).

One interesting note: Who gets covered?

Only a handful of artists get a vast majority of the covers: the Beatles (both the song when then were together and on their own); Dylan; Velvet Underground; old blues singers, such as Willie Dixon (cover by Led Zeppelin and the Stones, for example).