Last week, I was invited to be a guest on WUTC’s Sunday night radio show with Richard Winham and Kevin Bate. The show revolved around good cover songs, which was inspired by a conversation I had previously with Bate, which was, in turn, inspired by my recent column on the top 10 worst cover songs in history.
We played everything from Devo’s cover of The Rolling Stones' “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” to the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s version of Stevie Wonder's “Higher Ground.” There were songs I didn’t get the chance to play because of time and because there are just so many good ones. So here are some of my other favorite cover songs, in no particular order.
The Ataris, “Boys of Summer”
Oh, Don Henley, I can’t stand you. And I can’t stand the Eagles. I can’t explain it. Perhaps, subconsciously, I have bad memories associated with the band. I hate this song even more than Henley’s song “Dirty Laundry.” I can’t believe it reached the top five position in the U.S. mainstream rock tracks back when it was released in 1984.
However, for some reason, I absolutely love this version by The Ataris—maybe because it’s not Don Henley. Either way, it worked out just fine for them. It’s their most successful single to date.
The Replacements, “Another Girl, Another Planet” (thanks, Matt Dunn, for reminding me of this one)
There’s something to be said about the order in which you listen to a cover song and the original. In this case, I heard The Replacements’ version of this song first, which originally appeared as the B-side of one of their final singles, 1989’s “Achin’ to Be.” It later appeared on the band’s compilation album, “All or Nothing.”
I’ve since heard the original version by The Only Ones, and in comparing the two, The Replacements' version is a pretty faithful rendition. However, The Replacements tend to rock it out a bit more, and Paul Westerberg’s voice gives it an edgy, gritty feel.
Toad the Wet Sprocket, “Hey Bulldog”
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Nobody does a better version of a Beatles song than The Beatles. And only a few bands can pull off a decent cover. Toad the Wet Sprocket is one of those bands. In honor of their upcoming July 12 show at Track 29, I am putting them on the list.
This version was recorded, unfortunately, for the soundtrack to the 1997 film “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” It’s a faster, more electric version with that special Toad touch. They also do a good cover of Kiss’ “Rock and Roll All Night,” deconstructing the original and making it all their own. It’s almost a parody but it works.
Grant Lee Phillips, “So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)”
Grant Lee Phillips, of 1990s alternative band Grant Lee Buffalo fame, released an album of 1980s cover songs in 2006, called, appropriately, “Nineteeneighties.”
On it, he covers everyone from Echo & the Bunnymen to the Pixies to New Order. He also does a version of this R.E.M. song off of the band’s 1984 album, “Reckoning.” It’s a slow, sad, beautiful rendition that does what Phillips intends: honors those songs and artists who made growing up in the 1980s tolerable and memorable.
The Wallflowers, “Heroes”
I saw The Flaming Lips at Track 29 recently, and their cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes” is my new favorite. But this version by The Wallflowers (who recently graced Track 29 as well) of David Bowie’s 1977 classic song will always hold a special place in my heart.
It’s the only good thing that came out of Roland Emmerich’s ridiculous 1998 version of “Godzilla.” I know, I’m hard on that movie—but it really deserves it.
Fine Young Cannibals, “Suspicious Minds”
Back when MTV used to play music videos (I know, that joke never gets old, does it?), the Fine Young Cannibals released a version of Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds.” The video was shot mostly in black and white with occasional shots of color; and it pays tribute to Elvis in its use of monochrome filming, which was used during Elvis’ early career, and with the shiny, sparkly suits the band wore.
Written and originally recorded by Mark James, Elvis released it in 1969, making it one of the biggest hits of his career. It was hailed as the single that revived Presley’s career, his 17th and last No. 1 hit in the United States.
Steve Poltz, “Waterfalls”
Back in 1995, I was doing two things: skipping class at Chattanooga State and not listening to TLC. I had a buddy who loved this song, and he used to play it over and over again. I considered myself a music snob and turned my nose up at it.
Instead, I eventually found this gem by Steve Poltz, Jewel’s ex-boyfriend and co-writer of her hit “You Were Meant for Me” (he was also in the video for the song). It won me over, and I became a fan of both versions. Poltz even does the rap part in the middle, which means he earns extra points.
The Black Crowes, “Hard to Handle”
Otis Redding’s music is legendary. In fact, it has become immortal, just like the title of the album on which this song originally appears. Released posthumously after his death, “The Immortal Otis Redding” boasts "The Happy Song (Dum-Dum-De-De-De-Dum-Dum)” and "Nobody's Fault But Mine," along with “Hard to Handle,” which reached No. 38 on the Billboard R&B charts and No. 51 on the pop charts.
It’s been covered by King Floyd, Grateful Dead, Tom Jones and Gov’t Mule. But probably the most famous version is by The Black Crowes.
Chris Robinson and the boys completely made the song their own, transforming it from a soulful R&B crooner to a rock 'n' roll anthem. It appears on their 1990 debut album, “Shake Your Money Maker."
Charlie Moss writes about local history and popular culture, including music, movies and comics. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.