Friday, December 12, 2003

Jim Henley recently got something started a few days ago with a list of favorite cover versions of various songs.

Late for the party as usual, here are 10 of the covers I've known and loved. This is in honor of one of the greatest interpreters in popular music history, Frank Sinatra, who would have celebrated his 88th birthday on this date. Original artist, when possible, in parenthesis-

Randy Travis-Nowhere Man: (The Beatles/John Lennon) He performed this at an all-star tribute to John Lennon back in '85, I think it was. Just him, an acoustic guitar, a symphony orchestra, and his dolorous, nasal baritone twang- and it was heart-rending, I'll tell you. All the alienation and self-doubt that John was trying to describe in this song were realized magnificently by Mr. Travis, of whom I'm not really a fan. But for this one song, at least, he was great.

Terence Trent D'Arby-Wonderful World: (Adler/Alpert/Cooke) This appeared on an EP, probably that of his then current hit "Wishing Well". The first time I ever heard Mr. D'arby, he performed this on some late-night concert show- I'm thinking it was the one filmed in Britain that Jools Holland used to host. Anyway, D'arby sings this old chestnut with a lot of feeling, almost acapella, and it absolutely works.

Rod Stewart-Mama You Been on My Mind: (Bob Dylan) Waaay back in the long ago days when Rod aspired to folk/rock/blues and was worth your time, he recorded this for his Never A Dull Moment LP with Ron Wood and his usual group of Faces. It's a warm and winning version, with a lovely steel guitar solo, of a song which Dylan never really got around to putting on an album proper but used to perform live with Joan Baez a lot.

Roger McGuinn-Dreamland: (Joni Mitchell) McGuinn recorded this 70's Mitchell tune with Mick Ronson at the production helm on what is arguably his best post-Byrds solo effort, Cardiff Rose. Great fuzzed wah-wah Ronson guitar, jamming little sax solo at the end, and McGuinn intoning Joni's cryptic lyric as the wash of sound bouys him along. Roger also did a great cover of Dylan's "Up To Me" on the same record.

Flo & Eddie-Days: (The Kinks/Ray Davies) One of the best cuts from the former Turtles' second solo album, which came out in 1973. Bob Ezrin was on hand to do the production honors, and he provides a lot of bombast and echo, making this an almost anthemic hard-rock take on an undeservedly obscure, and much quieter in its original version, Kinks tune. Elvis Costello did this many years later, and it was good as well. Good songs will out!

Joe Henry-Let Me Have It All (Sly Stone): On his 1996 album Trampoline, former country-rocker Henry surprised everyone by turning this into a harshly funky, somewhat jazzy, fuzz-guitar driven exercise. Of course, Sly's original was funky too, but Henry put an edge on it that was missing in its original incarnation.

Bowie-I Can't Explain (Pete Townshend) One of the many excellent covers that Bowie included on his 1973 album Pinups, he benefits from a wonderful arrangement by Mick Ronson, who also contributes a lazy, but cutting, guitar solo. I'm also very fond of his cover of the old McCoys tune "Sorrow", and he did very well by Tom Verlaine seven years later with "Kingdom Come" from Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps).

Steve Hillage-It's All Too Much: (George Harrison) super-hippie guitarist (and now-techno guru) Hillage didn't deviate much from Harrison's Yellow Submarine original (itself a tribute to Hendrix), but by virtue of his amazing guitar playing made this song his own on his 1976 LP L, which was produced by Todd Rundgren, himself no stranger to the cover version. In fact, it was that same year that Todd released his own half-covers LP Faithful.

Lowell George-Easy Money: (Rickie Lee Jones) George, on his only solo LP, Thanks I'll Eat It Here, covers this bluesy Jones song from her first album with style and wit.

Harry Nilsson- Zombie Jamboree (Back to Back): (Conrad Mauge, Jr.) Nilsson was as good a songwriter as he was an interpreter, and it's one of life greatest ironies that he had his biggest successes as a recording artist with covers of other people's songs. This is a uber-obscure novelty song from the 1920's, done in reggae style for his 1975 album ...That's The Way It Is, which was mostly covers anyway. Of course, by the time of this particular release his career as a million-selling recording artist was pretty much over, thanks to the dissolute lifestyle he embraced after hitting it big, and there were no hits from the record, which barely got promoted- making this doubly obscure. Be that as it may, this song is a hoot and a half, and to this day I wonder what the hell the "Moiba Ginger Beer" mentioned in the song is like.

I could probably rattle off another couple of dozen if given the time but I don't think I want to right now. These are the ones which immediately came to mind, so here they are.

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