Everyone here at the Roundtable is playing the cover-songs game, and now it’s my turn to make like Michael Damian and rock on!
Elton John, “One Day (At A Time)”
Back in 1974, little seven-year old me acquired his first rock and roll 45: Elton John’s epic cover of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” I wore out that little piece of vinyl during my childhood, and I even occasionally flipped the 45 over to play the b-side. “One Day (At A Time)” was another Beatles-related song—it had first appeared on John Lennon’s so-so 1973 solo album Mind Games. Elton’s version squashes John’s original like a grape, but Lennon didn’t seem to mind—you can clearly hear him singing backup on the track.
Soundgarden, “Girl U Want”
This “Outshined” b-side might just be the perfect bridge between ’80s new wave and ’90s grunge. Soundgarden slows down Devo’s original and finds a colossal groove, but musically they’re almost identical in structure. Could “Smells Like Teen Spirit” actually have more in common with “The Safety Dance” than we ever possibly imagined?
This Mortal Coil, “Song to the Siren”
This beautiful Tim Buckley song has been covered by everyone from Pat Boone to Robert Plant, but no one will ever match the ethereal beauty of This Mortal Coil’s 1983 take. This version punches me in the stomach every single time I listen to it thanks to Elizabeth Fraser’s stunning vocal.
Lindsey Buckingham, “I Am Waiting”
As I write this, I am still seething over Fleetwood Mac’s decision to fire Lindsey Buckingham on the eve of their 2018 tour. The Mac are one of my all-time favorite bands, and I absolutely worship Neil Finn as a songwriter and performer, but I will not be attending any Fleetwood Mac shows this year. Instead, I’ll just stay home and dive into Lindsey’s stellar solo work—including this whispering take on a deep cut from the Rolling Stones’ 1966 classic Aftermath.
The Clash, “I Fought the Law”
The Clash’s searing version is actually a cover of a cover. The Bobby Fuller Four took “I Fought the Law” to #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1966, but the song was first recorded by songwriter Sonny Curtis and the Crickets after Curtis joined the band following Buddy Holly’s death in 1959.
Ian McCulloch, “Lover, Lover, Lover”
You can’t have a top covers list without a Leonard Cohen song—I think that’s an actual law. I will, however, defy the odds by not including one of the 73,459 covers of “Hallelujah” that have bombarded the musical landscape over the past 25 years. Instead, check out this sublime cover of “Lover, Lover, Lover” from Echo & The Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch. His 1992 solo album Mysterio was a bit of a letdown to longtime Bunnymen fans, but he absolutely nailed the Cohen vibe on this overlooked gem.
Harry Nilsson, “Without You”
This might just be my favorite cover song of all time. Badfinger’s 1970 original was a perfectly solid album track, but Harry Nilsson’s remake two years later completely redefined the concept of the rock ballad. I am still amazed that this song appears on the same album as “Coconut” and “Jump in the Fire.” Harry may have been all over the place stylistically, but the crazy bastard could SING.
When you have Wilson Pickett and Duane Allman, you don’t even need the na-na-na-na’s. Take a sad song and make it better.
Gary Maxwell lives in Dallas with his wife, three cats, 6,000 LPs, and a vintage Atari 2600.
He once attended 218 consecutive Texas Longhorn football games over a span of 17 years,
yet he seems unable to commit to a particular brand of shampoo. His all-time favorite TV
show is Star Trek, except when it’s dark on Tuesday. When someone asks Gary if he prefers
the Beatles or the Stones, his answer is “The Who.”