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Wednesday Jukebox: Pulling Back the Covers

April 20, 2011

I love you, but do not release anymore covers of classic 70s tunes.

Driving late one night, bumping This Is Me… Then I came across a troubling track – J-Lo’s cover of Carly Simon’s “You Belong to Me” – in all its over produced, backing vocal happy glory. I thought something was wrong with my iPod. The battery going dead was the only way I could account for the mangled version of one of my favorite Carly tunes streaming through my speakers. The world does not lack for unfortunate cover songs. Botched versions of popular songs that never quite reach the highs of the original are certainly no novelty; yet each time I hear one it feels just like the first time. (Looking at you, Hall & Oates “You Lost that Loving Feeling”.) Fortunately, we’re not going to spend any time on those! We’re going to be exploring and sharing – yes, you’ll be sharing – great songs that also have benefited from lovely covers. In fact, the covers presented after the jump in some cases give the original a run for the money!

“It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City”

Generally, I’m not a fan of folks sullying the Boss’s catalog – even deep cuts – nevertheless Bowie’s version of “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City” is one of my favorite Bowie songs. I think the jauntiness of the musical arrangement is what nails it for me. This is not really a humble song, no matter how softly arranged and lit Bruce likes it. It’s all about the bombast.

“This Woman’s Work”

I’ve always been a sucker for this song, primarily due to its use in She’s Having a Baby where it absolutely tears your heart out. It’s the perfect use of music and image and Kevin Bacon. Maxwell was clearly a careful study of the original because his cover is flawless. There is a serious KEY CHANGE, which always makes me faint, where Maxwell slips out of falsetto into a lower octave. It makes me melt. I associate this cover with La Mommie drinking coffee, Lady Alexis Carrington Colby barking in appreciation and me pretending to play the piano on my bedspread.


“Warm Leatherette”

This cut was a minor goth club hit, which I was forever confusing for the vastly superior “Lady Shaves” by Fad Gadget. “Warm Leatherette” didn’t come alive for me until I discovered Grace Jones’s amazingly discolicious cover, which is much, much better.


“More Love”

This is a tough one, because Smokey Robinson is a legend and his voice silky perfection. So for me it’s more about the performance. Kim Carnes had far more to prove with her version than Smokey did with his, which, well was kind of phoned-in. But not in a bad way. Carnes goes for broke with her version – synth intro, disco arrangement and husky, rich vocals that sell every lyric in the song. And of course – because no 80s jam could be without one – a sax solo!

What are your favorite popular or obscure covers? More importantly, is there anyone who likes J-Lo’s cover of “You Belong to Me” for reasons other than it makes them feel more confident about attempting the song at karaoke?

One bonus: A little Bonnie to get you chair dancing!

49 Comments leave one →
  1. April 20, 2011 2:03 pm

    Steve and Eydie OWN:

  2. IrishUp permalink
    April 20, 2011 2:12 pm

    ZOMG! Snarky’s, for real, I have been mulling the “what makes a cover great” question especially hard this past week. So if you’re ears have been burning, perhaps this is why. (owate, that’s if you’ve been talking ’bout someone, right?). That Raitt is awesome!

    I love the “eclectic” sorts of covers. I’ve previously posted Foo-fighter’s cover of “Baker Street” (idk what it is with me an Gerry Rafferty these days, I’m just going with it), and I adore The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ cover of “Easy” by Lionel Ritchie – except I can’t seem to find vid of it anywhere on youtube right now.

    I’ll leave it at Johhny Cash with Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt”.

  3. April 20, 2011 2:20 pm

    Yay. Is this the one you’re talking about? I totally thought it was RCHP too!!!

  4. April 20, 2011 2:22 pm

    Omg, that is such a brilliant version of “Easy”. I can’t believe I didn’t know it was Mike Patton! I’m gonna check out Foo’s Baker Street! I had never heard of that cover before.

  5. April 20, 2011 2:28 pm

    I do love this cover of “Misty Mountain Hop” even more so than the original. Perry is such a song magician and made this song so much more than it was previously.

  6. April 20, 2011 2:33 pm

    I know it’s probably considered blasphemous, but I’ve always enjoyed Phil Collins’ remake of Can’t Hurry Love. Maybe because as a drummer his approach to the song is all about the rhythm.

  7. April 20, 2011 3:07 pm

    Maxwell can do no wrong for me; his cover is so perfect. I’m a fan of The Sundays’ cover of Wild Horses. I think I like it more than the Stones’ original.

    There’s a weird phenomenon for me where I tend to like a cover better if it’s done by someone of the opposite sex. It leads to a different feeling and tone for me even though it doesn’t make the cover automatically better than the original. It’s the difference of Otis Redding{who I adore} singing R.E.S.P.E.C.T. and Aretha Franklin covering it.

  8. katefate permalink
    April 20, 2011 3:17 pm

    No time to link (posting from work), but Club Nouveau’s cover of Bill Wither’s “Lean on Me” and The Nylons’ cover of Steam’s “Kiss Him Goodbye” are two favorites.

    Great topic!

  9. April 20, 2011 3:49 pm

    Here are few more favorite covers:
    Richie Havens, Here Comes The Sun
    Natalie Merchant, Because the Night
    Eagles, Ol’ 55

    The last one brings up something interesting for me. I love Tom Waits, but I find many of the covers of his songs (excluding Scarlett Johansson’s) preferable to his originals — even Rod Stewart’s Downtown Train. Springsteen’s done a version of Jersey Girl in concert that really rocks too.

    But I think the all-time greatest Tom Waits cover has got to be the Ramones version of I Don’t Want To Grow Up

  10. Q.V. permalink
    April 20, 2011 9:48 pm

    I think this article dates us more than any other article thus far.

  11. IrishUp permalink
    April 20, 2011 10:03 pm

    YES!!! That’s the one! LOL I really thought that it was the Chilies. Where would I be w/o IFMB?!
    I posted the “Baker Street” on one of the Friday Fives not too long ago.
    That “Misty Moutain Hop” emeffin SHREDS IT!
    Dang! Can’t access the Ramones one from here, will have to mosey over to youtube.

    For a classic cover, a little night-time diddy: Jefferson Airplane’s version of “Wooden Ships”

  12. hsofia permalink
    April 21, 2011 1:59 am

    =( I had a comment written up earlier today but Kidlet unplugged the laptop before I could hit “post comment.”

    But to sum up: My favorites include the Maxwell rendition of “This Woman’s Work,” – I listen to both versions frequently and altho I give the slight edge to Kate, both are amazing. Chris Isaak’s cover of Neil Diamond’s “Solitary Man” on the album San Francisco Days. Also, Tori Amos’s cover of Nirvana’s “Smells like Teen Spirit.” Sinead O’Connor’s cover of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Also, Aretha Franklin’s cover of Simon & Garfunkle’s “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.”

  13. April 21, 2011 8:42 am

  14. April 21, 2011 8:43 am

    “I think this article dates us more than any other article thus far.”

    Omg, yes. HAHAHAH.

  15. IrishUp permalink
    April 21, 2011 9:36 am

    “I think this article dates us more than any other article thus far.”

    Keeps the whippersnappers and hooligans offa my lawn.

  16. April 21, 2011 10:20 am

    I have to chime in say I like Phil Collins version of “Groovy Kind of Love” and “Can’t Hurry Love” as well. I prefer them in fact.

    Also, I can’t get enough of Seal’s muzak ready version of “Fly like an Eagle”

  17. eieioj permalink
    April 21, 2011 10:50 am

    I love Aretha’s cover of The Band’s “The Weight”.

    I’ve always loved Nirvana’s Unplugged version of “Man Who Sold The World” (though not more than Bowie’s version)

  18. April 21, 2011 10:53 am

    The original by Bread is a sickly sweet concotion of bread pudding that is warm and gooey and full of sentiment.. AND I LOVE IT. However, country crooner Paula Frazer does an absolutely beautiful version that tenderizes it a bit, but still keeps the big drums and build up on the chorus(money shot).

  19. April 21, 2011 12:29 pm

    Ooh. I think I like this version of “Everything I Own” much much better. Bread… that’s Stephen Bishop or is that David Gates?

  20. April 21, 2011 12:33 pm

    It makes me LOL, but it seems like a big “duh”. He does like them boobarella type ladies.

  21. April 21, 2011 2:34 pm

    A facebook friend just turned me onto this one: Ella Fitzgerald singing Sunshine of Your Love

  22. April 21, 2011 2:44 pm

    Even though the Clash is my favorite band, I think Rachid Taha’s cover of Rock the Casbah is the definitive version.

  23. April 21, 2011 3:02 pm

    @SwankQueen, what a great version of that song! And thank you for pointing out Ella’s version of Sunshine of Your Love too.

  24. April 21, 2011 6:09 pm

    best. entry. title. I LOL everytime I see it.

    I know I’ve posted this elsewhere on FryButter, but it just came up on my ipod today:

    I much prefer Ms. Stone’s over Simply Red. And speaking of neo-soul covers of earnest 80s songs, there’s also this one, which I’ve got a soft spot for.

  25. April 21, 2011 6:10 pm

    and Jaguar Wright doing Patti Labelle!

  26. April 21, 2011 6:12 pm

    until this post, I thought the Grace Jones version of Warm Leatherette was the original and this was the cover:

  27. April 21, 2011 6:29 pm

    Whenever I have insomnia I can count on this boring ass cover of “Heroes” by The Wallflowers to put me right to sleep.

  28. April 21, 2011 6:31 pm

    @raymond, I see your Simply Red

  29. Q.V. permalink
    April 21, 2011 9:21 pm

    This Simply Red-Chris Isaak is exactly the kind of carbon-dating I’m talking about. Why not just embed a flashing crystal into our hands?

    I was a big sucker for the Columbia House deals and I usually cleaned them out of their compilation albums not-by-the-original-artist (isn’t that a category in Dave’s record store on The Vinyl Cafe?) with my special introductory offer. I came by it honestly, though–my dad loved him some tribute albums and we still have them on cassette.

    My favourite (none of these are on Youtube, I bet): Little Richard’s “Rock Island Line”. Dad’s least favourite: U2’s “Jesus Christ”. He would have liked some of the Leonard Cohen covers, I bet–but he probably wouldn’t have liked The Wallflowers despite being a huge Bob fan.

    Speaking of (and he probably didn’t like this, either):

  30. Q.V. permalink
    April 21, 2011 9:22 pm

    Sorry! Again with the end-italics and the failure to embed! I welcome any e-mail from the admins on this topic!

  31. April 21, 2011 9:26 pm

    LOL @ Carbondating.

  32. Q.V. permalink
    April 21, 2011 9:48 pm

    Anyway, the point I was trying to make, now that I think of my young enjoyment of Axel Rose screaming out “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”, is that it seems the cover song is something that brings music of one era into the ears of another. Dad probably would never say he liked Guns n’ Roses (and I can’t say right now that I would approve of my young self hearing all that violence against women, but back to the past), but he respected that they recognized a good song.

    As far as he knew, I thought Bob Dylan was a whining stoner (as opposed to the artists I listened to?!) but I respected that Bob could lay down a great song and I convinced the cover band I was in that year to do “Everybody Must Get Stoned”.

  33. April 21, 2011 9:49 pm

    Q.V. you are killing me.

    I was a big sucker for the Columbia House deals

    speaking of carbon dating! I usually alternated between BMG and Columbia House. The first cassettes I ever received were Depeche Mode’s Music for the Masses and Dionne Warwick’s Friends. (This explains some things, I think.)

    oh, and to embed, try brackets, so [ youtube=http:/blahblah ] – but no spaces

  34. April 21, 2011 9:54 pm

    my favorite version of this otherwise forgettable Hall & Oates tune:

  35. April 21, 2011 9:57 pm

    LOL how could I forget my favorite Bowie cover EVER. It’s so Vegas!

  36. April 21, 2011 10:05 pm

    my second favorite cover of a Kate Bush song after Maxwell is this one.

    Claudia Brucken and Andrew Poppy “Running Up That Hill”

  37. April 21, 2011 10:19 pm

    Shit, yeah, the achievers.

  38. April 21, 2011 10:28 pm

    I love the Gypsy Kings for making it a more reasonable length!

    Yeah, I’m posting Nelly Furtado.

  39. April 21, 2011 10:33 pm

    I prefer the Supremes version of Stormy:

    to the original Classics IV version, which is good too.

  40. April 21, 2011 10:36 pm

    omg, I forgot about that stellar sax solo in the original!

  41. April 21, 2011 10:42 pm

    It seems like every time I go into a grocery store I am greeted by a sax solo!

  42. April 22, 2011 6:41 am

  43. Lani permalink
    April 22, 2011 11:44 pm

    I thought that Jimi Hendrix’ cover of “All along the watchtower” was actually the original for ages, until I learned that it was in fact a Bob Dylan song. Hendrix blows Dylan’s original away!

    Also Jeff Buckley’s version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” I pretty much can’t listen to this without getting at least a little weepy.

  44. April 23, 2011 10:16 am

    Jeff Buckley’s version of Hallelujah is the only one I actually like.

    Any time I have an excuse I post this fabulous cover of “La Vie en Rose” by Miss Grace. It’s one of the my favorite songs ever.

  45. April 23, 2011 10:18 am

  46. Q.V. permalink
    April 25, 2011 11:00 pm

    Right, if we’re going to get into the k.d. lang, we have to remember her cover of Willie Nelson’s “Three Days”. I probably couldn’t stand any other Willie cover.

    (On a side note, a kid in the school I work at is named Nelson after Willie Nelson. Best Parents Ever!)

  47. Salom permalink
    April 26, 2011 1:50 pm

    I am super late to this post 😦 but anyway!

    This might be crazy talk but I prefer this cover to Dusty Springfield’s?

    When I was a sophomore in high school the Futureheads were THE cool band. While this cover wasn’t my favorite song of theirs, I quite liked the fact that they just went in a totally different direction.

    This was on S1 of Damages (it plays at the end of the episode with Ellen’s sister’s wedding I believe), and I didn’t realize what it was until about 3/4 of the way through!

    I have a totally inexplicable and irrational dislike of the Doors, but I like Echo and the Bunnymen.

    and finally, I love pretty much all the covers these guys do, but this one warms my heart (is that corny? I dunno if that’s corny WHATEVER):

  48. Q.V. permalink
    April 30, 2011 12:00 pm

    One of the teenagers in my life discovered Marilyn Manson recently and I guess the generational cover-song interpretation cycle is complete, because I don’t think she would like the original “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These)”.

    Then I told my sister about the youngsters discovering the music of her youth, and she said, “It’s sad that there is so much discovery of terrible shock rock to get around to, and it’s more cumulative the later you are born. It’s like a super punishing interest rate. You should tell that kid to declare bankruptcy.”

  49. May 11, 2011 10:38 am

    @Salom – it’s never too late to chime in. Thank you for swinging by! 🙂 I like the doors, yet I totally get why other people don’t. They are pretentious and annoying. Prefer the Echo version of “People Are Strange” too.

    “It’s sad that there is so much discovery of terrible shock rock to get around to, and it’s more cumulative the later you are born. It’s like a super punishing interest rate. You should tell that kid to declare bankruptcy.”


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