Originals vs Covers – 2 C>O

In Part 1 of this series we had talked about Originals vs Covers. In this episode we will look at Cover versions that are better than the Originals. This was requested by Kirsten, whom you met in Episode 1. She wanted this urgently, so here it is.

There were folks who suggested some songs. Maya, whom you’ve already met and Ashesh, who can be met here. He also contributed an insightful piece to the Irregular SloWord BirthMonth Festival.

I’ve included some of them in the catalog being reviewed in this series. Sadly, I had to drop the heavy metal songs, mostly because I have no experience in the genre and I had already had a fair number of songs to listen to…. <insert grinning emoji>

In this exercise I was helped enormously by this site, secondhandsongs.com that helped me with the originals and versions for most of the songs on this list. (I am not an affiliate and I do not get paid for anything I post on this website – unless you click the link for my book and actually fork over the 2 bucks or whatever, of which Amazon gets a cut so really, I’m not going to get wealthy on it anytime soon.) 

This is how it will go. I’ll give you links to the Original (see disclaimer in Episode 1), the cover version and then offer a rationale or some comments for my judgement. Feel free to disagree! OK then! The links will all open (hopefully) in new tabs, so now you know.

Let me know if you agree, disagree or are just meh, whatever, man, I don’t know 97.45724% of the songs and anyway who cares? I have to read up on the latest scandal created by some politician or “celebrity”.

Did I sound bitter and grumpy there?

Hmm…well. The show must go on!


Covers > Originals

Songs where the cover version outstrips the original. First of three such essays.
Black Magic Woman - Fleetwood MacSantanaUsually when I tell anyone that Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac wrote the original, I get a blank stare and incredible (increduluous?) looks. It's true, folks. The internet and SloWord sez so and neither of them has ever been wrong! Carlos wins the coconut for his complete mastery of guitar tone and ryhthm. The Gypsy Queen appendix is pure sugar coating on an already delicious souffle. (As an aside, can you put icing on a souffle? And if yes, then should you?)
Statesboro Blues - Blind Willie McTellAllman BrothersA great song by Blind Willie. But then you got that incredible 24-year old on slide - Duane "SkyDog" Allman! Brother Greg's voice energizes and brings the blues, and SkyDog takes them away and sets them free.
Crossroads - Robert Johnson1. Cream
2. Keb' Mo' - see note ->
Robert Johnson invented the blues as we know it by and gave us that turnaround phrasing. But his (autobiographical? We shall never know whether he did sell his soul to the devil at the crossroads), already great song is blown up, speeded up and given legs. Listen to Eric's guitar and while you're doing that listen to Jack and Ginger pushing and shoving each other in a heady competition with Eric.

In cover #2, we have Keb' Mo' and Anders Osborne converting this into a rocking gospel edition. From the album Keb' Mo - Collection 1994 - 2001. It's in my collection, but I can't find it online
Proud Mary - CCRIke and TinaCCR had a great song with great lyrics, and then Tina takes it over, nice and easy, before going rough! Rollin'!
At the Hop - Danny and the JuniorsSha Na NaA head bopping, feet tapping piano song and then Sha Na Na show up on stage at Woodstock (the real one) and convert this into a spectacle! Yessiree bob! Dance to it! Come on!
Love Hurts - Emmylou Harris & Gram ParsonsNazarethAt some point I found out that EmmyLou Nose and Gram P were a couple. These strange things that I learn and file away keep me from remembering to shave and shower everyday. Nazareth wins because the original just sounds unrehearsed and apologetic and tentative, like the two are looking at each other and wondering if they should continue singing or mow the lawn or something. Anyway! Nazareth gets it.
Soul Man - Sam and DaveBlues BrothersElwood and Joliet Jake give a very close version of the original, but then there is an energy to it that just beats Sam and Dave. Lovely bass lines on both versions. "Play it, Steve!" and Mr Cropper (on both versions) does not disappoint. Let me know if you're doing the Elwood as you listen to it.... 😉
She caught the katy - Taj MahalBlues BrothersTaj Mahal has that stripped down guitar and harp, an easy going but excellent song. The Katy is the Kansas Texas railway - the KT, in case you're wondering. The Blues Brothers take it and expand on it. Listen to Donald "Duck" Dunn laying down some interesting little bass riffs, but the song gets it because of Elwood aka Dan Akroyd's harmonica. Maybe the horns add some garnishing on top as well.
Sweet Home Chicago - Robert JohnsonBlues BrothersThis is another Mr. Johnson song that has been given the treatment. A lot of covers exist and this demonstrates R. Johnson's ability to write great songs that can be lifted, adapted, enhanced for enduring pleasure. The Blues Brothers version from one of the funniest movies I've seen shows off the dancing of Elwood and Jake. "We're on a mission from God!"
Solitary Man - Neil DiamondChris IsaakThe Neil Diamond version is good, those horns bark and blow to accentuate the melancholy sentiment of the song. Chis Isaak gets this one for his voice, and oddly it's the lack of horns that make this song better. Don't ask me why! I knew a Belinda back in my teens, too..
Roll Over Beethoven - Chuck BerryThe BeatlesBoth versions are great. I think, The Beatles get it for the joy they bring to it. They seem to be enjoying the moment and this was probably before the fame really took them down. Revolver lay ahead, experimentation (!) and that greatest of Beatle albums, The White Album lay ahead. That clapping helps and the song overall seems tighter, rockier.
Please be with me - CowboyEric ClaptonThe song was written by Scott Boyer who was with the 31st of February with Duane and Greg. And the Cowboy verion has SkyDog on acoustic slide on it. (More on that elsewhere - you've been warned) You would think that would make a Duane Allman fan plump for the original. Then I went off to check Eric out again and was struck by the sadness in that rendition, which is helped by Eric showing us he's no SloWord on that slide.
Woodstock - CSNYMathew's Southern ComfortJoni Mitchell, a fellow Canadian 😉 wrote this and it's hard not to see it for a Joni Mitchell set of lyrics. But the rockier and rough CSNY version just does not compare to that dreamy, doped out Mathew's Southern Comfort version. I shall not be dissuaded on this!
Mama Tried - Merle HaggardGrateful DeadTo paraphrase Hedy "That's Hedley!" Lamar, the original is just "too country". The Grateful Dead also has Bobby Weir's vocals, helped by Phil's bass and Jerry's noodling.
Big Boss Man - Jimmy ReedGrateful DeadIt's nice straight ahead blues song by Jimmy. Runs clean and works great. The Grateful Dead version isn't perfect and that's what makes it better. In true Dead fashion, they all seem to be just out of sync, just enough to be fabulous. And then, to top it off, and what truly sets it off is Pig Pen's vocals and harmonica. The Dead were never that good at the blues after Pig drank himself to death.
Jamaica Farewell - Harry BelafonteNina and FrederikThe harmony of Nina and Frederik. Simple. Notwithstanding Mr Belafonte's silky voice.
Little Boxes - Malvina ReynoldsNina and FrederikThis is arguable. Malvina is rawer and harder to take, and probably a stronger version due the palpable anger she has in there. Nina and Frederik make it more palatable and maybe the message is easier to swallow. I'll go with the cover...
Break my mind - George HamiltonFlying Burrito BrothersI wish country singers didn't feel the need to break into a yodel at the end of every verse. The Hamilton version is clean, squeaky country clean. The Flying Burrito Brothers give it the acid it needed. Anyway, I can take country only when it is presented by FBB or NRPS.
Just Because - Nelstone's HawaiiansFlying Burrito BrothersNo contest. If you wanna rock out to this song, FBB have it all packed, taped and ready to ship.
Dead Flowers - Rolling StonesNew Riders of the Purple SageNow this is a good, even great contest. Sad, dark lyrics. Both verisons are dear to me. Why, SloWord? Well, this is the very first song I could play all the chords through from end to end. Oddly, I heard the NRPS version first and then when I was picking out the chords, the Stones version was easier to play along with. NRPS wins because of the guitars of Messrs Nelson and Cage screaming in perfectly raucous and musically fabulous fashion. In recent days, I was also sent this version by a band in Kolkata (Calcutta, if old like me). Quite a tight, well-rehearsed band. Special mention for the pianist. Meanwhile, hang on, I'll be right back.
Wild Horses - Rolling StonesFlying Burrito BrothersThere are persistent rumours that the Stones took this off Gram Parsons and made it "theirs". I do like both versions and I quoted this in one of my early moanings on this site about matchfixing in cricket. However, The FB Brothers win for making it suitably plaintive and needy.
Six Days on the road - Paul Davis1. Mudcrutch
2. Flying Burrito Brothers
The original, once again, suffers from Countryitis. Mudcrutch, with Tom Petty on bass and vocals rocks! The Brothers do a great job, too, with that Cage pedal steel standing out.
Close up the Honky Tonks - Buck Owens and his BuckaroosFlying Burrito BrothersSee above one line. Why do I have so many country songs in this list???? Examine thyself, SloWord!
Mystery Train - Junior ParkerElvis PresleyBoth are pretty good. Elvis wins this one, with its urgency and yearning mixed with the strong emotions that train, 16 .... coaches...... long, seems to evoke.
Love is All Around - The TroggsWet Wet WetAnother one that's hard to pin down. Wet Wet Wet wins, I guess, because of the bigger, overall feel to the song, and that opening just works somehow. And then there's the movie behind it as well.
Could it be magic - Barry ManilowDonna SummerNo brainer. Barry doesn't stand a chance! Smoky, sultry, sexy, is our Ms Summer and it's all over bar the shouting.
Feelin' Alright - Dave MasonJoe CockerTough one. Dave Mason made a fair amount off this song which he wrote, I believe, aged 19 or thereabouts, I recall reading in some interview. Cocker brings that weird feeling that he's somehow missed his cue and that he's straining to read the next line. Works.
Shakin' all over - Johnny Kidd and the PiratesThe Who (live at Leeds)Again not an easy one. My vote goes to Mr Moon at the 1 min 34 second mark or thereabouts as he remembers he's got drums and toms and cymbals and things he hasn't hit yet and then Pete around the 2:55ish mark. We mustn't forget Mr Thunderfingers Entwhistle's bass underpinning.
Dancin' in the streets - Martha VandellaMick Jagger and David BowieMartha and the Vandellas do an excellent job of this song. Really nice. Mick and David play it goofy, but it works. My guess is because they are called Mick Jagger and David Bowie?
Red Red Wine - Neil DiamondUB40That reggae beat and the heavy bass line gives UB40 the cup here. Neil sounds like he's about ready to take a nap with all that red red wine he's drunk.
Hard to Handle - Otis ReddingBlack CrowesAnother close one. Otis's vocals are strong, with just the right amount of breakup, like a good tube amplifier breaking up just where you dig in. The horn section loses me. The Black Crowes version kicks off with that drum intro, real guitars breaking up just where you need them and then the solo at 2:07 and the outro gets you.
Morning has broken - Hymn ( no link - all sorts of choirs singing this online. Take your pick... )Cat StevensNo hymn version, and I listened to a few, matches the piano and Cats' vocals.


The songs in the list above are not in any particular order, or rather they are in the order in which I thought about them. All opinions are personal and trivial details may or may not be true, but are presented as currently known by me.

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Chakra Incognita

    I heard Matthews Southern Comfort before CSNY and it has a very special place in my heart. I first heard the word Woodstock through them. Brilliant compilation. I agree with much of it. And Cat Stevens – he OWNS the song!

    1. SloWord

      Agree wholeheartedly. Southern Comfort comes first in all respects and Morning has Broken will always be a Cat song and nobody knows Eleanor Farjeon…..