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!

***************************

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.

****************

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.

********************

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.

**********************

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.

************************

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.

************************

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.”

***********************

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.

************************

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.

************************

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.”

************************

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.

************************

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.

**********************

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.

*********************

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.”

**********************

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.

***********************

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.”

********************

2 comments

  1. Ted Molter · June 12

    Thanks for sharing the list. A couple new great finds for me! I am sure you have heard the Carpenter’s tribute album “ If I Were a Carpenter”. One of my favorite songs is “Superstar” and Sonic Youth has an even darker version on the record. I recently listened to Kim Gordon’s book “Girl in a Band” and appreciated her perspective on Karen and the open letter she wrote as a tribute to the departed artist. Sonic Youth also recorded “Tunic (a song for Karen)” that recognizes her struggle.

    Like

  2. brucehhackett · June 14

    Yes, that Carpenters tribute album came out 27 years ago, and I bought it then. Some of it is almost a parody, not at all to my liking, while other covers are quite good, like Sonic Youth’s “Superstar,” Dishwalla’s “It’s Gonna Take Some Time” and American Music Club’s “Goodbye to Love.”

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s