The next 25 of the Greatest Cover Songs #26-50
In part one I listed 25 of the greatest cover songs and to date it’s been one of my most viewed blog post. There are so many more added to the list so I’ve updated the posts on #’s 51-75 and 76-100 and will publish those as well.
This list in part comes from many of the songs that I have already posted since I started blogging. As for how songs make it on my list there are a few criteria, while I don’t dismiss music from more recent years a song has to have stood the test of time for me, hence much of the list are songs of some vintage and just plain old, like the writer. Next, the original song itself must have some character and some degree of popularity. And preferably the artist and or songwriters are of interest as well. I have read other lists of great cover songs from books, articles and google searches and you’ll find much similarity, but some of them contain songs I just don’t think warrant the attention or at the very least should be much lower on the ‘great’ scale. Last but not least I have to like the songs and most of these I put on my ‘songs I love’ list.
|Brook Benton (is this guy cool or what?)|
26. “Rainy Night in Georgia” was written by by Tony Joe White and he released it in October of 1969. This song was a hit for Brook Benton in 1970 after it’s release in December of 1969. As much as I like the original, Benton sings this song like it was meant for him.
27. “Me and Bobby McGee” written by Fred Foster and Kris Kristofferson. First recorded by Roger Miller in 1969 and over 165 times since. Another song with many great cover versions but you have to go with Janis Joplin and a nod to a very respectable version by Pink.
28. “I Will Always Love You” written and recorded by Dolly Parton in 1974. Dolly wrote the song for her mentor and collaborator Porter Wagoner after her decision to pursue a solo career. This was only the second song (after Chubby Checkers the “Twist”) recorded by the same artist to reach #1 on the charts twice, first in 1974 and again in 1982 when re-recorded for the movie ‘The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas’. Covered more than 150 times with one very exceptional version from Whitney Houston from the ‘Bodyguard’ soundtrack in 1992. Her version became a record smashing hit which returned the song to #1 once again. To my knowledge this is the only song in history to reach #1 three times.
29. “After the Gold Rush” was Neil Young’s first post Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young ‘Déjà Vu’ solo release in 1970. The first cover became a top 40 hit by the English group Prelude in 1973. More recently the song won a 2000 Grammy Award for Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt from their 1999 album Trio II. The song won for “Best Country Collaboration with Vocals” and the album was also Nominated for ‘Album of the Year’. Both are great cover versions.
30. “This Flight Tonight” appeared on Joni Mitchell’s album ‘Blue’ in 1971. The Scottish Hard Rock band Nazareth covered this in 1973. Turns out the band were big Joni fans and got hooked on the song themselves. Joni once jokingly introduced it at a London concert saying “I’d like to open with a Nazareth song”.
31. “Blueberry Hill” by Gene Autry (1940) was the most well known version until Fats Domino did it in 1956 and his is still the most famous recording of 164 versions as of August 2019, and now in 2022 there are 283 versions. Originally done by Swing and Sway with Sammy Kaye in 1940. Written by Vincent Rose, the lyrics by Al Lewis and Larry Stock. Here is Fats version.
32. “Make You Feel My Love” written by Bob Dylan, he recorded it in January of 1997. Billy Joel recorded the song and actually released it a month before Dylan. The greatest cover honours however go to Adele (2008) who’s powerful voice gives this song the fullness and depth it deserves. Although I have to say Garth Brooks in 1998 gives the song just treatment also “Make you Feel My Love” (Live in 1999).
33. “Ring of Fire” written by June Carter and Merle Kilgore and first released in early 1963 by June’s sister Anita Carter. The original title is “(Love’s) Ring of Fire”. Johnny’s ex-wife Vivian had stated that it was Johnny that wrote the song and gave songwriting credit to June and allowed Anita to record it first, June Carter however had a completely different story. Nevertheless the songwriting credits never changed and Johnny held back on recording the song until it was clear Anita’s effort was not going to be a hit. Cash had a dream about adding what he referred to as “Mexican style trumpets” to the music. Johnny Cash recorded it April 19, 1963 and it went to #1 on the Hot 100 Country singles chart and #17 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart. This was five years before he proposed to June. Classic Cash and a great cover.
34. “Jackson” is the song June and Johnny were about to sing when Johnny popped the question. The original version of the song written in 1963 by Billy Edd Wheeler and Jerry Leiber (yes of ‘Leiber and Stoller’ song writing dynamic duo) was sung by the Kingston Trio. As I have mentioned before, Johnny proposed to June on stage in my hometown of London Ontario on February 22, 1968. A scene from the movie “Walk the Line” dramatizing the awkward moment.
35. “Fire” was written by Bruce Springsteen and he recorded it December 16, 1978 but it was not released until November 10 of 1986. So the original release was by Robert Gordon with Link Wray on a fantastic album ‘Fresh Fish Special’ in March of 1978. Being a fan I bought the album when it first came out and was pleasantly surprised to find a Springsteen song. Next to release it with the great cover, The Pointer Sisters in September of 1978.
36. “Time is On My Side” was covered by the Rolling Stones in 1964. This song has an interesting story. It began as a song (written by Jerry Ragovoy) recorded by the ‘Kai Winding with Vocal Group‘ in 1963. Kai was also a trombonist with Benny Goodman’s Orchestra. The song from a lyric standpoint is based on just two lines; “Time is on my side” and “You’ll come runnin’ back” which are sung by a famous trio; Cissy Houston, Dionne Warwick and her sister Dee Dee Warwick. Then the singer and composer Jimmy Norman gets a hold of it and it becomes this song by Irma Thomas in June 1964.
I believe the only version most of us know is actually the second version by the Rolling Stones and the greatest cover. It features a different arrangement with a guitar in the intro (replacing the organ) which was recorded in Chicago on November 8, 1964. It was released in the UK on January 15, 1965, on the album ‘The Rolling Stones No. 2.’ This is the version that receives airplay now and appears on most “best of” compilations, not the original recording which was seven months earlier in June 1964 in London and released September 1964. So if it could get and weirder than it already is, the song that peaked at number 6 on the charts and the first top ten for the Stones in the US is that first recording. You likely (unless you were listening to it on the radio in 1964 or picked up the limited supply single) would never have heard this version.
37. “Georgia on My Mind” was written by Hoagy Carmichael with lyrics by Stuart Gorrell. First recorded by Hoagy Carmichael and His Orchestra in 1930 with some of the greatest musicians of the time and for that matter, anytime; Eddie Lang on guitar, Jimmy Dorsey (Tommy’s older brother) on clarinet, Charles Winters on double bass and the tragically short lived Bix Beiderbecke on cornet. This song has become a classic, the state song of Georgia and an American Standard with 842 versions. This cover is from a man who has perfected many songs, both covers and originals Ray Charles (1960).
38. “Unchained Melody” is another song with a long and varied history. Written by Alex North and Hy Zaret (a couple of Tin Pan Alley writers) recorded by The Righteous Brothers (1965) and yes the 63rd version of this song which now has close to 400 covers. While billed as the ‘Righteous Brothers’ it was only Bobby Hatfield. Resurrected when used in the movie ‘Ghost’ as shown in the video clip. Originally part of the movie ‘Unchained‘ (1955) and sung by Todd Duncan. Now you get the name! The first actual recording was an instrumental by Liberace in 1955. The first vocal track was March 16, 1955 by the very talented Roy Hamilton. An incredibly outstanding job on this song, it’s only by circumstance (and of course a fabulous rendition) that we always hear the Bobby Hatfield version.
39. “That’s Alright” was written and recorded by Arthur William “Big Boy” Crudup in 1946. Crudup was a Delta Blues singer who like many others ended up in Chicago. This was the first of three of his songs covered by Elvis Presley. As with many of the songs he covered Elvis makes a great song even greater. This is also the very first song from Elvis at Sun Records with Sam Phillips, “That’s Alright” from 1954. It’s another serendipitous song choice that came from the fluke event of Scotty Moore, Bill Black and Elvis just fooling around during a break of trying songs to record. Sam Phillips overheard and liked it, recorded it and it became a turning point in R&R history.
40. “Rock Around the Clock” written by Max Freedman and James Myers, first recorded by Sonny Dae and His Knights March 1954. This version does not quite grab it nor was it a ‘hit’ song. In many ways this is one of Rock & Roll’s most important songs. “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and His Comets, recorded April 1954, note the time of release, May 10, 1954. The only memorable version of some 150 plus covers, this song was #1 in Germany, the UK and US Pop charts and #3 on the R&B charts-but not until 1955 more than a year after it’s release! Originally as the ‘B’ side to a song no one remembers, “Thirteen Women (and Only One Man in Town)” but neither song charted in 1954.
It was featured in the opening credits of the 1955 movie ‘Blackboard Jungle‘, the song took off and the rest is R&R history. Had this song not been used in the movie as it was not receiving any radio airplay, it most likely would have become a footnote left to be discovered by music historians. Instead it was to become a R&R anthem and sell over 25 million copies and it’s still selling on formats like iTunes and requested on Spotify.
41. “Leaving on a Jet Plane” is a beautiful song written by John Denver and first recorded as “Babe I Hate to Go” in 1966. Covered at least 125 times, but this version from Peter, Paul and Mary in 1967 still holds up as the best for me. Perhaps better known by many is this version by Chantal Kreviazuk from the movie ‘Armageddon’ in 1998 and a great cover also.
42. “Memphis, Tennessee” (1959) was written and performed by Chuck Berry and a true original Berry song. One of the best covers of any song, here is Johnny Rivers, it went to #2 on Billboard in 1964 almost exactly 5 years after the originals release date.
43. “Baby Please Don’t Go” written and recorded by Joe Williams’ (Washboard Blues Singers) in 1935. Williams is another of the great Delta Blues singers who recorded in Chicago. While this song has an interesting history the short version is Williams adapted a traditional slave song “Long John” into this hit song that helped launch his recording career. An impressive list of artists have covered this song but none greater than this version from ‘Them’ (1964) with lead vocals by the dynamic Van Morrison.
45. “Killing Me Softly with His Song”. Remarkably Roberta Flack would repeat with another Grammy in 1974 and another cover song written by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel that was first recorded by Lori Lieberman (1972). Roberta Flack (1973).
46. “The Twist” has quite the story attached to it and there is at least one book on the topic. I have done my own research and thought I would share some of it. This phenomenon was all started when Hank Ballard wrote it and performed it with his band Hank Ballard and The Midnighters. It was first recorded in November of 1958 and sent to Vee Jay Records who never released it (though rediscovered decades later). It came out in January 1959 under the King records label. It was the ‘B’ side on the record but DJ’s preferred it and it hit #24 on the R&B chart in March. As this is a pretty great original song, when they did the music for the cover they copied it note for note. Chubby Checker gave it just a little something extra in his version and he really nailed it with his dancing. At my own risk I will pun this…but for a ‘twist’ of fate this song (and Hank Ballard) would have a very different story. So here is some of the tale as I understand it, as their are many conflicting versions, including the one on ChubbyChecker.com. Ballards original was gaining mild popularity but more so in the Baltimore region. DJ Buddy Deane told Dick Clark about it and the associated dance kids were doing in the clubs. Clark wanted the song and dance on ‘American Bandstand’. However, as I have read from different sources, Clark did not like Ballards reputation for doing more risque songs but still liked “The Twist”. He had been involved with a young Philadelphia singer named Ernest Evans. His nickname was Chubby. It was actually Clarks first wife, (Barbara Mallery) who suggested the last name “Checker” as he was fond of mimicking singers such as Fats Domino. Anyway Clark put his friends at Cameo Parkway Records to work on a cover version and Chubby Checker used his skills to sing it as close to the original as possible. I read that when Ballard first heard Checkers version on the radio he thought it was his own for a moment. On the strength of the Checker version, Ballards original would resurface and peak at #28 on the Hot 100. Funny and fateful how things work out in the music business. Chubby would do a live test of the song at the Rainbow Club in New Jersey in July of 1960 before American Bandstand on August 6. The single was released in June of 1960 and it hit #1 in September. We know it as one of the greatest R&R/R&B songs ever and it’s been the top Billboard Hot 100 song of all time (reaching #1 again in 1962). The song was recently surpassed after sixty years at the top. In 2020 it was The Weeknd with “Blinding Lights” which after hitting #1 it spent 90 consecutive weeks on the Hot 100.
47. “Valerie” for me a newbie song from the 2000’s! Written by Boyan Chowdhury, Abi Harding, Dave McCabe, Sean Payne and Russell Pritchard of the group The Zutons (2006) . A cover by Amy Winehouse was released in 2007 and there are two versions, the first is by Mark Ronson feat. Amy Winehouse. The second is her solo acoustic version and I think the much better of the two.
48. You can never have too much Nina Simone and this cover of “My Baby Just Cares for Me” stands apart from other versions of this Jazz Standard written by Walter Donaldson with lyrics by Gus Kahn. From the film version of the musical comedy ‘Whoopee!’ (1930), the song became a signature tune for Eddie Cantor who sang it in the movie. The first actual recording was by Ted Weems and His Orchestra in 1930 with vocals by Art Jarrett. Oddly in the early days of recording of just about any ‘so and so’ with his orchestra, the vocalists are rarely mentioned. Lyrics of this song seem to vary quite a bit from recording to recording. Clearly the best and most well known version of the song is by Nina Simone from 1958. Again fate plays a role here as it seems this song went somewhat unnoticed until used in a perfume ad in 1987 and had a huge resurgence. Here is Nina Simone in another video, one of the all-time great vocalists and some very remarkable piano playing as well.
49. “Evil Ways” was written by Sonny Henry, recorded by a band called, ‘Willie Bobo‘ in July 27, 1967 and a great song. But I guess you already knew who covered this, Carlos Santana was actually the third to record this song (May 12, 1969). The band, the man, ‘Santana‘.
Peter Green, then of Fleetwood Mac would put lyrics to the base tune. “Black Magic Woman” was recorded in March 1968 by Fleetwood Mac.
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