Come on, baby, cover me

Let’s get something straight about this subject of cover versions of other artists’ songs.

When I was a teenager, I hated them. Once I heard and loved a song, I recoiled in disgust at anyone else’s interpretation of it. Jose Feliciano doing a Flamenco guitar version of The Doors’ “Light My Fire”? Puh-leeeze. My thinking back then was, Why record a song someone else already did when you can record something new?

But then I started discovering that, in some cases, the version of a song I heard first was, in fact, a cover of a song recorded earlier. I loved James Taylor’s “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” but it turned out to be a cover of Marvin Gaye’s original version. Same goes with The Beatles’ awesome “Roll Over Beethoven,” which, lo and behold, had been a Chuck Berry hit years earlier.

I eventually developed a liking for alternate versions of songs I knew if they were really different — different arrangements, tempos, instrumentation, vocals — and were well executed. The Bangles’ “Hazy Shade of Winter” barely resembles Simon & Garfunkel’s original, but it appeals to me anyway. Ditto Earth Wind and Fire’s killer 1976 version of “Got to Get You Into My Life,” a Beatles tune from their 1966 “Revolver” LP. They’re both valid.

The point is this: There were cover versions of popular songs, a ton of them, on the charts at the same time back in the ’40s and ’50s. It was a time-honored tradition back then, and it still is today. A great song is a great song, and it can usually withstand, and be fortified by, multiple interpretations by multiple artists.

For this post, I have gathered 15 relatively recent recorded cover versions of some of my favorite classic rock songs. Several of them I found on a Spotify playlist called “Acoustic Covers,” which features promising young talent, both little-known and more established. These are really great renditions that you likely haven’t heard before, but I think they’re certainly worthy of your attention.

Enjoy!

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Glen Hansard

“Coyote,” Glen Hansard, 2018 (Original by Joni Mitchell, 1976)

In November 2018, a multitude of artists convened in L.A. for a tribute concert honoring Joni Mitchell’s 75th birthday. The superb album of the concert includes some astonishing cover versions of classic Mitchell tunes — Seal doing “Both Sides Now,” Brandi Carlile nailing “Down to You” and Norah Jones perfecting “Court and Spark” — but I’m partial to Irish singer Glen Hansard covering “Coyote,” originally from Mitchell’s “Hejira” album.

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ortoPilot

“Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” ortoPilot, 2012 (Original by The Eurythmics, 1983)

There’s a somewhat mysterious artist who goes by the name ortoPilot who has a ton of followers on Twitter and other social media. He’s from Manchester, England, plays multiple instruments, sings and writes original songs but seems to prefer recording covers. I was taken by his rendition of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” the #1 single that got the ball rolling for Annie Lennox and The Eurythmics back in 1983.

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Paul Carrack

“Girl,” Paul Carrack, 2013 (Original by The Beatles, 1965)

Carrack, one of my favorite rock vocalists, got his start as front man for the British group Ace, who had a huge hit in 1975 with “How Long.” He went on to make prominent guest vocal appearances with Squeeze on the hit “Tempted” in 1981, and with Mike + The Mechanics on the hits “Silent Running” (1985) and “The Living Years” (1989). For the 2013 tribute album “Lennon Bermuda,” Carrack did a masterful version of Lennon’s “Girl,” which first appeared on The Beatles’ “Rubber Soul” LP in 1965.

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Maren Morris

“Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters,” Maren Morris, 2018 (Original by Elton John, 1972)

Morris is one of the most successful country/pop crossover artists in recent years, with “Hero” (2016) and “Girl” (2019) each spawning major hits. Morris co-writes her original material (including two songs co-written with my son-in-law Mikey Reaves!) but she also participated with other country artists on compilation LPs like “Restoration: The Songs of Elton John,” where she put her own stamp on the wonderful minor classic, “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters,” from John’s 1972 “Honky Chateau” LP.

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Iron & Wine (Sam Beam)

“Time After Time,” Iron and Wine, 2016 (Original by Cyndi Lauper, 1983)

Sam Beam, raised in South Carolina in the ’70s and ’80s, adopted the stage name Iron & Wine when he made his debut in 2002. He has released nearly a dozen full albums and EPs of original and cover songs since then, including “Kiss Each Other Clean,” which peaked at #2 on US album charts in 2011. In 2016, he released a sensitive cover of the fabulous Cyndi Lauper hit “Time After Time” as a single, with just voice and acoustic guitar.

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Gavin Mikhail

“In Your Eyes,” Gavin Mikhail, 2021 (Original by Peter Gabriel, 1986)

Much like Beam (above), Mikhail debuted in 2002 and has been releasing new music independently ever since. Based in Nashville, he prefers piano as his accompanying instrument as he has sung and recorded a wide variety of low-key covers, from Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” and Oasis’s “Champagne Supernova” to Cat Stevens’ “Wild World” and The Police’s “Every Breath You Take.” Here, he offers a stark arrangement of Peter Gabriel’s iconic “In Your Eyes.”

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Catey Shaw

“Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl),” Catey Shaw, 2021 (Original by Looking Glass, 1972)

Shaw, a Virginia Beach native now in New York City, made a name for herself with a 2014 single called “Brooklyn Girls” that went viral for its vicious putdown of the borough and its denizens. Since then, her output has been sporadic with just a few EPs and a single or two. She has covered Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” Robbie Dupree’s “Steal Away” and, perhaps most startlingly, a compelling barebones version of “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl),” the Looking Glass #1 hit from 1972.

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Brandi Carlile

“Take Me Home, Country Roads,” Brandi Carlile, 2021 (Original by John Denver, 1971)

Carlile has been around since 2004, but it was in 2018 that the world finally caught on to her incredible voice and songwriting. She won all three major awards at the 2019 Grammys, for Album of the Year (“By the Way, I Forgive You”) and Song and Record of the Year (“The Joke”). She is also an integral part of the collaborative group The Highwomen with Maren Morris, Amanda Shire and Natalie Hembry. Carlile rarely performs covers, but this reflective rendition of the popular John Denver nugget “Take Me Home, Country Roads” shines as a stand-alone single.

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Sarah Jarosz

“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” Sarah Jarosz, 2021 (Original by U2, 1987)

Texas-born Jarosz has won Grammys in Folk and American Roots genre categories during her decade-long career. Her recorded work includes original instrumental and vocal material as well as unusual cover choices like Prince’s “When Doves Cry” and Radiohead’s “The Tourist.” I really enjoy the spin she put on U2’s #1 hit “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” from their 1987 multiplatinum album, “The Joshua Tree.”

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The Staves

“I’m On Fire,” The Staves, 2014 (Original by Bruce Springsteen, 1984)

Three sisters — Jessica, Emily and Camilla Staveley-Taylor — promoted themselves as The Staves, an indie folk trio out of Watford, Hertfordshire in the UK. They began recording albums, EPs and singles in 2010 and touring in support of The Civil Wars, Bon Iver and Florence + The Machine in the UK and the US. On their most successful LP, 2014’s “If I Was,” you’ll find this gorgeous cover of Bruce Springsteen’s harrowing song of passion, “I’m On Fire,” from his “Born in the USA” album.

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The Brook & The Bluff

“Don’t Worry Baby,” The Brook & The Bluff, 2020 (Original by The Beach Boys, 1964)

Originally a two-man acoustic act out of Auburn University, The Brook and The Bluff is now a four-man group of self-professed “choir nerds” who place heavy emphasis on vocal harmonies for both original tunes and covers. Not surprising, then, that they would choose to do their own version of Brian Wilson’s tender ballad, “Don’t Worry Baby,” one of The Beach Boys’ most popular early songs.

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Phoebe Bridgers

“Friday I’m In Love,” Phoebe Bridgers, 2018 (Original by The Cure, 1992)

One of the Grammy nominees for best new artist in 2020, Bridgers has recorded on her own as well as with the groups The 1975, boygenius and Better Oblivion Community Center. Three years ago, the L.A. native turned heads with this radically different arrangement of The Cure’s 1992 commercial pop hit “Friday I’m in Love.” She’s currently among the most popular artists, with ten different songs receiving 10 million or more hits on Spotify.

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Ed Sheeran

“Candle in the Wind,” Ed Sheeran, 2018 (Original by Elton John, 1973)

Sheeran has been wildly successful in the UK since 2011 and in the US since 2014, with multiplatinum albums and original singles including “Thinking Out Loud,” “Castle on the Hill,” “Shape of You” and “Perfect.” He is also fond of collaborating with other popular artists and recording covers, including this classic Elton John tune from the 2018 compilation “Revamp: Reimagining the Songs of Elton John and Bernie Taupin.”

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Shawn Colvin

“Baker Street,” Shawn Colvin, 2015 (Original by Gerry Rafferty, 1978)

Colvin has been a major singer-songwriter since her 1989 debut “Steady On,” and won a Song of the Year Grammy in 1996 for “Sunny Came Home.” She enjoys recording covers as well, doing songs by artists like Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Warren Zevon and Bruce Springsteen. On her 2015 album “Uncovered,” she dares to try Gerry Rafferty’s huge 1978 hit “Baker Street” without the signature sax riff, and makes the song her own. Listen closely and you’ll hear David Crosby doing harmonies.

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Michael Stanley

“Romeo and Juliet,” Michael Stanley, 2016 (Original by Dire Straits, 1980)

Stanley was a hometown musical hero in Cleveland who passed away a few months ago but left a huge recorded legacy, not only with the Michael Stanley Band (1975-1987) but as a prolific solo artist in the ensuing years. He preferred recording originals, but he has done convincing covers of The Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody” and Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane”. On his 2016 LP “The Hang,” he did a magnificent job on one of Dire Straits’ finest tunes, “Romeo and Juliet,” from their 1980 LP “Making Movies.”

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Look what they’ve done to my song, ma

I spend a lot of time on this blog exhuming fantastic “lost classics” and “diamonds in the rough” — rock songs that never got the airplay they deserved. I love shining the light on such tracks, bringing them to my readers’ attention.

This week, I have a more distasteful act of service to perform. I need to be brutally honest and admit that some of my former favorites have been blackballed from my playlists because, over the years, I’ve heard them way, WAY too often. There are few things more exasperating to me than outstanding songs ruined by radio overexposure.

I could list hundreds, maybe thousands, of overexposed tunes that I never liked in the first place. I’ve featured some of the worst offenders as “cringeworthy songs” in past posts on Hack’s Back Pages. This week, though, I’m talking about songs I really enjoyed upon first hearing but now avoid like the plague (or coronavirus, these days).

These days, with Sirius/XM radio offering multiple listening options, and streaming music platforms that can feature your own playlists, overexposure to songs is less of a problem. But still, favorite songs from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s were ruined for us long before such forums appeared. And we’re always vulnerable to exposure when in stores, public transport and other places where we can’t control the music being played.

I have picked 15 songs for this list of “songs that need to be temporarily retired,” some of which will no doubt generate debate. One friend suggested The Stones classic “Satisfaction,” but for me, I just can’t get tired of that one. So there’s no accounting for different emotional appeals and which songs reach the point of fatigue — for me, but perhaps not for you. These are my choices.

Oh, and no playlist with this post. I mean, why would anyone in their right mind ever want to hear all these overexposed songs in one excruciating sitting?

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“More Than a Feeling,” Boston, 1976

In the ’90s and 2000s, it became a running joke for me. It seemed as if every time — EVERY time — I got in the car and tuned in to my classic rock station, this song was playing, or about to be played. Surveys used to show that “Freebird” and “Stairway to Heaven” were the most played songs on the radio, but for me, it was “More Than a Feeling.” The Boston debut album was so strong, and I played it a lot at home at first, but I had to shelve it away, pretty much for good, thanks to the radio overkill of this track, “Peace of Mind” and “Long Time.” What a shame, one of the best album sides ever, tainted by mind-numbing repetition…

“Dreams,” Fleetwood Mac, 1977

When I polled a few friends about which songs were ruined by overexposure, more than one said, “the whole ‘Rumours’ album.” It’s true — this LP has 11 tracks, and I think nine of them have been in suffocating rotation on classic rock radio ever since 1977. It’s a close contest between “Don’t Stop,” “Go Your Own Way,” “You Make Loving Fun” and “Dreams” as to which most needs to be retired, but I’m going with “Dreams” as the one that annoys me the most at this point, mostly due to Stevie Nicks and her nasal delivery.

“Another Brick in the Wall,” Pink Floyd, 1979

I loved Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” and “Wish You Were Here” albums, but I couldn’t get into the 1977 LP “Animals,” so I was hesitant to drop the necessary bucks for the double LP behemoth “The Wall.” But once I heard “Another Brick in the Wall” and its sublime guitar solo at the end, I had to have it. I didn’t anticipate it would become not only a single, but an international #1 single, played incessantly until I felt like one of those children in lock-step marching off a cliff in the music video.

“Dream On,” Aerosmith, 1974

As far as I’m concerned, Aerosmith is one of the Top Ten most overrated rock bands of the classic rock era. Sure, they’ve had their moments, but in those rare cases where these guys have come up with a decent tune, rock radio grabbed it by the throat and choked the life out of it. “Dream On” is a case in point. Upon first hearing, I was mesmerized. By the 50th hearing, it had completely lost its luster for me, never to return. The fact that I still like it better than anything else in their catalog is a sad commentary indeed.

“Carry On Wayward Son,” Kansas, 1976

First time I heard this on the radio, I ran out and bought “Leftoverture,” the album it came from. Kansas had a certain American prog-rock groove that seemed to fit in nicely with the British prog-rock I was crazy about at the time (Floyd, Genesis, ELP, Tull). However, this kind of music is not meant to be heard ad nauseam every time you turn on the radio. I almost can’t listen to “Wayward Son” anymore (nor “Dust in the Wind” either, for that matter), although I still enjoy the deep tracks from this LP…

“Layla,” Derek and the Dominos, 1970

As a fan of Cream, Blind Faith and Clapton’s first solo album, I immediately bought the double album by Eric’s new group, Derek and the Dominos, upon its release in late 1970. I immersed myself in all the great blues tracks, but “Layla” was the one that stood out, with Clapton and guest Duane Allman collaborating, followed by the piano melody grafted on afterwards. It didn’t become a Top Ten hit until two years later, and then once it had a second life in its “Unplugged” form in the ’90s, it reached saturation point for me. Now I tend to turn it off so as to preserve some of what grabbed me back in 1970…

“The Joker,” Steve Miller Band, 1973

I’ve grown to dislike Steve Miller. A lot. He’s shown himself to be kind of an asshole, and he’s a master at stealing riffs from other (better) songs — you can hear Free’s “All Right Now” on the intro to “Rock ‘n Me,” and Joe Walsh’s “Rocky Mountain Way” is the basis of “The Stake.” I recommend checking out his early stuff from the late ’60s when he was more original and Boz Scaggs was in his band. As far as “The Joker” is concerned, it’s fun, wry, amusing, almost a novelty hit with the “woh-wow” sound effect, but that stuff long ago stopped being cute and is now just irritating.

“Old Time Rock and Roll,” Bob Seger, 1978

I’ve had a love/hate thing going with Seger from the beginning. Starting with “Night Moves” in 1976, I would hear his records, enjoy them for a hot minute, and then my interest would wane just as the radio would begin playing them WAY too often. When disco was dominant in the late ’70s, I totally related to the lyrics on “Old Time Rock and Roll,” which yearned for the soul and passion of roots rock. But the song is really simple, 4/4 beat, with Seger’s vocal growl growing more tiresome with each listen.

“Stairway to Heaven,” Led Zeppelin, 1971

A majestic work, to be sure, which makes its overexposure all the more criminal. The band members knew at the time they were writing, arranging and recording “Stairway” that it was going to be pretty special, but its exceptionalism soon wore off for them, and for all of us, I think. This is a textbook example of a brilliant record that has lost its ability to thrill me. Robert Plant’s vocals, Jimmy Page’s guitar work, the way the arrangement builds and builds… It’s right up there as one of rock’s best. But because we heard it too damn often, I pass when it comes on.

“Hotel California,” The Eagles, 1977

“Anything by The Eagles” was the most frequent response from friends I asked about songs ruined by overexposure. Maybe because most of The Eagles’ hit singles were the ones you heard every 12 minutes for weeks, months, years… I don’t think any Eagles tune got more airplay than “Hotel California,” which WAS a masterpiece, especially the lyrics and the amazing guitar interplay between Joe Walsh and Don Felder that continue to impress me. But man, I just can’t anymore. Just STOP.

“Sweet Home Alabama,” Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1974

I’m not really much of a Skynyrd fan, but something about this song appealed to me for maybe the first three or four times I heard it. By the fifth or sixth listening, its simple structure (basically three chords) became simplistic and boring, and I started hating it. Then I moved to Georgia, and wow, down there, it’s an anthem of mindless regional pride that pretty quickly bugged the hell out of me. Can’t listen to it at all anymore…but it’s inescapable. Arrrgh.

“Long Train Runnin’,” The Doobie Brothers, 1973

Boy, I still really love the early Doobies albums, especially “Toulouse Street” and “The Captain and Me.” Pretty much every track grabs me. Tom Johnston and Pat Simmons wrote and sang beautifully, from “South City Midnight Lady” and “Ukiah” to “White Sun” and “Toulouse Street”…but “Long Train Runnin'” has definitely worn out its welcome for me. Truth be told, I think radio ought to retire “China Grove” and “Black Water” as well…and don’t get me started on “What a Fool Believes” from the Michael McDonald era…

“Bohemian Rhapsody,” Queen, 1975

I recall going to the house of a new friend one day in the spring of 1976. He had an unbelievable stereo system, and he wanted me to hear it. He chose to play Queen’s “A Night at the Opera” album. I didn’t know Queen, and thought they were another glam rock group I wouldn’t like. I was blown away by the sound, particularly on the album closer, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” If it had remained an album track instead of a single, I might still like it, but it eventually took on “larger than life” status, reaching the Top Ten not once, not twice, but three times, with blanket radio coverage in each instance. Now all I need to hear are the first words — “Is this the real life?” — before I lunge for the radio to change the channel.

“Brown-Eyed Girl,” Van Morrison, 1967

A great song from my youth, but a song that Morrison himself eventually refused to perform because he’d grown so sick of it. Van the Man has 50 albums of material, most of it gorgeous ballads or energetic R&B tunes, but all we hear, day after day, is “Brown-Eyed Girl,” and maybe “Moondance.” It’s a crowd-pleaser that I still sing around the fire pit, but when I hear it in the grocery store, I cringe. Please, not again…

“Band On the Run,” Paul McCartney, 1973

When he had John Lennon nearby to rein in his penchant for cutesy pablum, McCartney was capable of astonishingly great songs. But since he went solo, nearly every LP has been an exercise in frustration for me. One or maybe two strong tunes per album, and then a bunch of shallow, unlistenable dreck. “Band on the Run” is recognized as his most consistent project, and I really liked it a lot upon release, but then the title track with its insipid intro got played five or six times a day everywhere I went. I’d much rather listen to his surprisingly strong latest album, “McCartney III,” which successfully takes risks, trying new sounds instead of the same old same old (although there are still a few of those too).

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Honorable mentions:

Celebration,” Kool and the Gang, 1981; “You’ve Got a Friend,” James Taylor, 1971; “Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,” Bachman-Turner Overdrive, 1974; “Nights in White Satin,” The Moody Blues, 1967; “Have You Ever Seen the Rain,” Creedence, 1971; “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” Elton John, 1973; “Aqualung,” Jethro Tull, 1971; “Color My World,” Chicago, 1970; “Follow You, Follow Me,” Genesis, 1978; “Honky Tonk Woman,” Rolling Stones, 1969; “Do It Again,” Steely Dan, 1972; “Hey Jude,” The Beatles, 1968.