Turntable Talk – Cover Me

This blog is part of the next installment of Dave from A Sound Day’s Turntable Talk. This time around, the subject is “cover songs.” Per our instructions:

This time around, wanting to get your thoughts on Cover Songs…what makes a really good one, maybe what your favorite bold one is. Do you like ones really faithful to the original, or ones that spin it in an altogether direction? Or conversely, what one is atrocious to you & why.

By ‘bold’ I mean covers of songs that were already known, and hits. I won’t set any minimum guidelines but as examples, most people never heard The Arrows version of ‘I Love Rock n Roll’ or The Clique’s ‘Superman’ so it was easy for Joan Jett & REM respectively make them their own.  But to do a Beatles song, like Joe Cocker did only a couple of years after the original was released… that took …something. 

So what cover songs work great for you?

Cover Songs

If you do a Google search on “cover songs,” there are plenty of links to articles containing lists of “the best” ones. There are also links to video’s that feature countdowns and lists of “best and worst” cover songs. Those lists, no doubt, will include: Twist and Shout by the Beatles, Proud Mary by Ike and Tina Turner, Hurt by Johnny Cash, Last Kiss by Pearl Jam, Mony Mony by Billy Idol, All Along the Watchtower by Jimi Hendrix, and many many more!

Many people are unaware that some of their favorite songs are actually cover songs. A lot of the early Rolling Stones and Beatles songs were actually covers of songs they loved by other artists. In a way, a cover song is the ultimate “hat tip” to a band’s early influence.

Personally, I tend to love cover songs. If you were to grab my iPod, that becomes very clear! I recall a time when I was married to my ex-wife and her iPod was dead. She wanted to go walk and asked if she could take mine instead. Upon returning home, she said to me, “How many different versions of a song do you need?!”

Cover Song Example

Dave asked “what makes a good” cover song? He also asked, “Do you like ones really faithful to the original, or ones that spin it in an altogether direction?

It is difficult for me to say what exactly makes a good cover song because I think it can be one that is faithful to the original, spun in a different direction, or a mixture of both of those elements. Take for example, the Rodgers and Hart song – Blue Moon.

The song was written in 1934. There were recordings made as early as 1935. One of the best known versions is the Doo Wop hit from 1961 by the Marcels. Dean Martin did a stripped down version with piano and drums that was performed as a slow ballad. Frank Sinatra’s version was more “swingy”. Sam Cooke’s “bounced” and in 1997 a swing band called the Jive Aces covered it as a bouncy boogie woogie sounding cover. Every single version I mentioned, I like for different reasons.

Some of My Favorite Covers

If I were to make a list of all the cover songs I have on my iPod and feature one a day on my blog, I would have enough songs to write about for about 6 months! Instead, I grabbed a piece of paper and off the top of my head started jotting down the cover songs that came to mind. I gave myself 5 minutes to do this and came up with about 18 songs. The reality is that I know that I will complete this blog and after it posts say, “Oh, man! I forgot (insert cover song here)!” That’s ok.

While it may be hard for me to tell you exactly what I love about cover songs, maybe by giving some examples of some of my favorites, the music will answer the question for both of us.

The first three I came up with are all from movie soundtracks. There is no shortage of cover songs in the movies. These covers will often give new life to old songs – examples include Sweet Child of Mine by Sheryl Crow from Big Daddy, Hallelujah by Rufus Wainwright from Shrek, Hazy Shade of Winter by the Bangels from Less Than Zero, Girl You’ll Be a Woman Soon by Urge Overkill in Pulp Fiction, and, of course, I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston in The Bodygaurd.

Johnny B. Goode – Marty McFly and the Starlighters

From Back to the Future, this is the song Marty McFly plays at the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance. In the movie, He goes off on a Eddie Van Halen type solo and the entire crowd looks at him stunned. On the soundtrack, however, there is a full version with an additional verse not in the movie. What I love about this version is the stripped down instrumentation, the saxophone and piano, and the whole feel of it. It really sounds like an “early” version of the song. It’s actually quite good.

https://youtu.be/RelL4BS2lEQ

All Shook Up – Billy Joel

From the soundtrack of Honeymoon in Vegas, which contains some very good Elvis covers. This one is my favorite. It has the feel of the Elvis version, with a little “boogie woogie” piano feel to it. Simple background vocals enhance the Billy Joel version. One addition I love is the bass drum hit after he sings, “I’m in love ….”

https://youtu.be/IsktHpH5QGk

I’m Ready – Taj Mahal

I stumbled on this by accident. This cut was used in the movie Little Big League. I’ve always been a fan of Fats Domino, but this version is just so much better. It has “meat” to it. The driving bass line keeps it moving, the piano is still there, and those saxes in the background – LOVE them. Add the electric guitar and Taj Mahal’s vocal to the mix and it is just perfect! This is one that I find myself listening to at work when I need a “pick up”

https://youtu.be/KZkRSP2oe8c

Sea of Love – The Honey Drippers

Phil Phillips did the original of this, but how can you NOT love this version?! First and foremost, you have Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and Jimmy Page as well as Jeff Beck in the group! Add a beautiful string arrangement and background singers to compliment them and you have a top 5 record!

https://youtu.be/2BoUzzFXuVU

Tainted Love – Soft Cell

Not many people are aware that this is actually a cover song. It was originally done in 1964 by Gloria Jones. The song was written by Ed Cobb, who was in the Four Preps, and was actually the B-side of a song called My Bad Boy’s Comin’ Home. The original had a “Motown” feel to it, while Soft Cell certainly has more of an 80’s feel to it.

Here is Soft Cell: https://youtu.be/22mYcScS_88

Here is the original: https://youtu.be/NSehtaY6k1U

Hard to Handle – Black Crowes

This one was written and recorded by the legendary Otis Redding. Otis’ version is already great, but I love this one equally. It certainly has a great feel to it. It doesn’t sound dated at all. It’s funky and a great jam!

https://youtu.be/BRcs_OzQb14

You’re Sixteen – Ringo Starr

The original was done by Johnny Burnette, who was known for rockabilly, in 1960. It’s not that I dislike the original, I just think Ringo’s version is … more fun. For years I thought Paul McCartney was playing Kazoo in this, however, one article says, “Michael Verity has quoted the song’s producer Richard Perry as revealing that it wasn’t actually a kazoo: “In fact, the solo on ‘You’re Sixteen,’ which sounds like a kazoo or something, was Paul singing very spontaneously as we played that track back, so he’s singing the solo on that.” Ringo’s version remains one of the few No. 1 singles to feature a ‘kazoo-sound’ solo. (It sure sounds like a kazoo to me!) I also love the driving piano bassline in his version.

https://youtu.be/vkR7u_sOtHI

I’m Down – Aerosmith

Originally done by the Beatles, this is almost a carbon copy of the Beatles version. I like it because I think Steven Tyler’s vocal perfectly fits the song.

https://youtu.be/oYGmtGnhdks

Look at Little Sister – Stevie Ray Vaughn

I picked this song in the recent song draft and you can read about it here:

https://nostalgicitalian.com/2021/08/10/song-draft-2021-round-3-look-at-little-sister-hank-ballard-stevie-ray-vaughn/

Steamroller Blues – Elvis

Elvis did his share of covers, and this is one that comes from his Aloha From Hawaii concert special. I have always preferred this version to the James Taylor version. To me, it is more “bluesy.” I love everything about this cut!!

https://youtu.be/4vAuXP4hIoo

Baby, I Love You – Andy Kim

This one was originally done by the Ronettes in 1963 and featured Phil Spector’s “wall of sound.” Andy Kim recorded his version in 1969 and had a top 10 hit with it. It mimics the “wall of sound” but if you listen in headphones, there is a lot of little stuff going on in the background – jingle bells, glockenspiel, castanets, and more. I remember hearing it a lot as a kid.

https://youtu.be/kdrpRKiVwi8

Since I Met You Baby – Dean Martin

This remake I stumbled on by watching MTV!! The original was done by Ivory Joe Hunter in 1956. I remember seeing the Title and Artist show up on the bottom left side of the screen when the video started and couldn’t believe that Dean Martin was on MTV. He recorded it for his The Nashville Sessions Album and I love that it stays true to the original, yet is purely Dean.

https://youtu.be/9Ls6X0-rgd4

Think – Joan Osborne

It better be good if you are covering the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, and this one is! Aretha did the original in 1968 and then covered herself for a version in the Blues Brothers. I don’t remember how I stumbled on Joan Osborne’s version, but it is different enough that I love it. It has such a cocky attitude to it. Dig it –

https://youtu.be/RNskLOOwvvI

Mustang Sally – Buddy Guy

Originally done by Wilson Pickett, this is one of greatest soul songs of all time! I heard this on the Blues channel on Sirius XM and fell in love with it. I’ve always dug Buddy Guy and while this stays pretty true to the original, it has a sound of its own!

https://youtu.be/eAyFynJXe4g

Blue Suede Shoes – Elvis

Carl Perkins seemed to have all of his songs covered and many times, his songs became associated with the other artist rather than him. That’s the case with Blue Suede Shoes – it is Elvis. Elvis’ version is so much better than Carl’s in my opinion.

https://youtu.be/HeXnFx7aPOE

Your Cheating Heart – Crystal Shawanda

Originally done in 1952 by the late Hank Williams Sr. this takes a whiney and twangy song and cranks it up about 10 notches. We had Crystal in for a show when I worked at the country station and she was fantastic. This was on her debut album. I’m not sure she isn’t a huge star. Her voice is amazing and she is very talented.

https://youtu.be/GLVYxAKT12g

Dirty Laundry – Lisa Marie Presley

Written by and a hit for Don Henley, I have always loved this song. The content of the song is about mass media and how they exploit just about everything. Henley had a top 5 hit with it. I didn’t even know that Lisa Marie Presley had done this song until I heard it on some Pandora playlist. Her vocal is sultry and sells the content lyrically. A great cut!

https://youtu.be/u9_Bf1pVWOk

As a bonus – here is a live and unplugged version:

https://youtu.be/8jUBEj_8x5s

Please, Please, Please – Delbert McClinton

A cover of James Brown’s classic! James has a hit with this in 1956 and it went top 10 on the R&B charts. I think Delbert McClinton is someone who just doesn’t get enough praise for all he does. He’s a singer songwriter who can play many instruments and has released many albums. This version comes from his Honky Tonk and Blues album, which is a personal favorite.

https://youtu.be/HCs8m27CiCM

Call Me Irresponsible – Michael Buble’

Jimmy Van Heusen composed this song in 1962 with lyrics by Sammy Cahn. According to Mel Torme’, the song was written for Judy Garland to sing on her TV show. It was written as a parody to her well-known problems. Many people have done versions on the song – Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, Eddie Fisher, Julie London, and more. Michael Buble’ used this as the title track for his 2007 album. It get’s me right from the opening “walking” bass lick. Buble’ has made a career out of covering so many songs from the Great American Songbook, as well as many originals. He has a great band backing him and he sings this effortlessly.

https://youtu.be/oj_eUUaWBu0

Ok – Just One That I HATE

Lean on Me – Club Nouveau

I love Bill Withers. he wrote and recorded this for his 1972 Still Bill album. It was a smash and was a number 1 song. I never cared for the cover version. Yes, it stayed very close to the original, but I just never cared for the arrangement at all. It’s almost annoying to me. It is actually playing in my headphones as I am typing this. To me, the whole 80’s synth sounds just sound out of place. Not to mention the whole “We be jammin” part – URGH!! One good thing about this was that it won a Grammy for Bill Withers as the writer for Best R&B song.

I reluctantly post the link to the video here ….

https://youtu.be/kbyjaUJWWmk

Final Thoughts

So what can we say about cover songs? Are they done as a tribute to the original artist? Are they done because it’s a favorite to perform? Are they done to “improve” on the original? Are they done because an artist feels it should be presented in a different way? Who knows, really!? One could easily ask the same questions about all the crappy movie remakes that have come about.

Some of my favorite concert memories are hearing the singer do a song that is totally unexpected. My favorite memory of the Billy Joel concert I attended wasn’t Piano Man. It was when he talked about loving the Motor City and breaking into his own version of I Heard it Through The Grapevine! Magical!! Aaron Tippin played a county fair for us and one point he threw on a fedora and sang Fly Me To the Moon, which blew my mind! Very cool songs – never released – but covers, nonetheless.

In the end, a good song is a good song. I love listening to a great song done by many other singers. It says something about the song melodically and lyrically. I don’t always love the cover, but that’s ok. It’s fun to hear the artist’s take on it.

I want to thank Dave for allowing me to ramble on and on about this month’s topic. I’ve wanted to feature cover songs on my site, but just couldn’t figure out how to present it. I guess I better stop typing because the more I think about it … the more songs are coming to my head!

Thanks for reading!

Song Draft 2021 – Round 3- Look At Little Sister – Hank Ballard/Stevie Ray Vaughn

Welcome to Round Three of the 2021 Song Draft hosted by Hanspostcard. It has been fun for me to pick and share my songs, but even cooler to check out the picks of the other participants.

As I compiled my list of songs to pick from, I had Hank Ballard and Stevie Ray Vaughn on the list with two separate songs. Then, I had some music playing on YouTube at work and changed my Stevie Ray song to this one – just so I could share the video. More on that in a minute.

There are some songs that you can search and find pages and pages of notes and stories about. However, there really wasn’t a whole lot about this song. I removed Stevie’s name from the search and just searched “Look at Little Sister. All of a sudden, there was Hank Ballard.

Hank was born in Detroit in 1927. In 1953, he joined the Doo Wop group, the Royals. Because of the group The Five Royales, the group changed their name to The Midnighters. In 1954, Hank wrote “Work With Me Annie” which was a number one R&B song for 7 weeks. In 1959, he wrote and recorded “The Twist,” which became Chubby Checker’s signature song. In 1960 he had two top 10 records with “Finger Poppin’ Time” and my original Hank song draft pick “Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go.”

In a concert clip of Hank singing “Look At Little Sister” he says he wrote the song in 1959 after watching his little sister out in the back yard dancing around. Whether or not that was true, or whether it was just a clever way to intro the song at the show, I didn’t know. I am friends with Hank’s son, Daryle, on Facebook (He is a singer, too) so I reached out to him and asked. He confirmed to me that his dad told him that his sister was indeed the inspiration for the song. I had no idea that the song was originally done (and written) by Hank. I had to find it. After listening to it, I was blown away. It sounds fantastic! It has that early Rock and Roll/R&B/Rockabilly feel to it.

Hank was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

Look At Little Sister –

Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey mama look at little sis
Out in the backyard….shakin’ like this
Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey….look at little sister
Hey hey hey hey….look at little sister

What about the neighbors….what they gonna say
Stop little sister….gettin’ carried away
Hey hey hey….look at little sister
Hey hey hey hey….look at little sister

Shakin’ like a tree….rollin’ like a log
Shakin’ and a rollin’ now….that ain’t all
Hey hey hey….look at little sister
Hey hey hey hey….look at little sister

(Guitar solo)

Shakin’ like a tree….rollin’ like a log
Shakin’ and a rollin’ now….that ain’t all
Hey hey hey….look at little sister
Hey hey hey hey….look at little sister

What about the neighbors….what they gonna say
Stop little sister….gettin’ carried away
Hey hey hey….look at little sister
Hey hey hey hey….look at little sister

What about Stevie’s version??

Stevie Ray Vaughn released Look at Little Sister on his third album Soul to Soul in 1985. I gained a better appreciation for Stevie Ray’s music long after he had passed away. All I really had heard was “Pride and Joy” and “The Sky Is Crying” prior to that. The more I listened to it, the more I appreciated his vocals, and of course, his guitar playing. Which brings me to the video I wanted to share.

It was a toss up between a few of Stevie’s songs for this song draft, but then I saw a video of him doing Look at Little Sister live. What is so special about it? In my opinion, the video of this particular performance shows what an amazing talent he was. During the second half of his guitar solo, at around the 2:35 mark, he breaks a guitar string. Now if you just listen to it without watching it, you have no idea it broke. The solo is flawless. Watching it, you realize that he just improvises the rest of the solo around the strings he has left. I can watch this video over and over again and am amazed at how he never flinches.

What makes the video even cooler, is that his crew knows his string is broke. He looks at them mid-solo, after the solo, the crew brings him another guitar, Stevie keeps singing while the new guitar is handed to him, and without missing a beat, he is back to playing when he’s supposed to. It truly is an fascinating thing to watch.

Check it out:

Stevie Ray Vaughn was killed in a helicopter crash in 1990, the same year Hank Ballard was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Stevie Ray would be posthumously inducted in 2015.

Don’t ask me to pick one or the other as my favorite – I can’t. To me, that is what makes a great song. Here is the same song, recorded two and a half decades apart. Each version having a similar, yet different feel to it. Yet, they both stand alone as fantastic tracks.

So, did I cheat and actually make this about TWO songs instead of one? No. I draft one great song – but feature two different versions! I hope you enjoy this one as much as I do!