25 more of the Greatest Cover Songs
There has been a very positive response to the first two ‘Greatest’ posts. So the list continues and the songs become no less in their timeless quality compared to numbers one through fifty. I will post a #76-100 edition soon.
51. “I Put a Spell on You” written and originally recorded by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins in 1956. There have been many really good covers of this song but Nina Simone (1965) was just the second person to cover this song. I just can’t get over how overlooked this artist was in her time, a high class version that turns the song on it’s ear to give it an entirely different sound.
52. “Strange Fruit” was a courageous recording by the legendary Billie Holiday from 1939. A song written as a poem by another brave soul, Lewis Allan (Abel Meeropol) as a protest against racism and lynchings in the American South. He put the poem to a tune and his wife and others sang it at protest rallies. The lyrics are dark and disturbing. Eventually the song made its way to Holiday who added it to close her Nightclub act. It was only recorded after her relentless efforts to find a label willing to do it. Her delivery is haunting and deeply emotional. Covered about 110 times. Once again I turn to Nina Simone for a great cover version from 1965.
53. “Do-Wah-Diddy” written by the dynamic duo of song writers Ellie Greenwich and her husband Jeff Barry. Originally recorded by the Exciters in (1963) it peaked at number 78 on Billboard in the US. You may know them from their #4 hit with the song “Tell Him” in 1962. Manfred Mann would record a great cover (July 10, 1964) and have a number one hit in the UK, US, Sweden and Canada. The Movie ‘Stripes’ helped resurrect this song in 1981.
54. “Sloop John B.”, “The John B. Sails” or known as “Histe Up the John B. Sail” by the Cleveland Simmons Group in 1925, it’s the earliest recording noted by Secondhandsongs. It was released 10 years later in September 1935. Another version in 1952 by Blind Blake Higgs, also known as The Bahamian Blind Blake who hails from where the song is rooted. Recorded at least 173 times with slightly different words and titles including Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Jerry Jeff Walker and Barry McGuire. Here is the definitive version for me, the Beach Boys of course (1966 from ‘Pet Sounds’).
55. “Mama Told Me Not to Come” written by the brilliant Randy Newman, originally recorded by Eric Burdon and The Animals (1966). The best cover is by Three Dog Night (1970) with a very slightly different arrangement, pace, harmonizing and cleaner instrumentation to really make this song ‘pop’.
56. “She” recorded by Elvis Costello in 1999 for the movie ‘Notting Hill’ is a beautiful cover of a remarkable song. Originally written and recorded as “Tous les visages de l’amour” by the legendary Charles Aznavour in 1974. He soon after recorded the english lyrics (written by Herbert Kretzmer) and titled it “She” that reached #1 in the UK and #44 on Billboard. I’ve read he looks into the human soul for his songwriting, I’d say he’s on the mark for this song. After hearing this live version by Laura Pausini, “She (Uguale a lei)“, I need to give it an honourable mention. Aznavour wrote or co-wrote over 1,000 songs and recorded some 1,200 in eight different languages. I found a source that lists 917 of his songs that hit music charts around the world. He also appeared in 60 films making him one of the most prolific entertainers of the 20th Century.
57. “Changing Partners” lyrics written by Joe Darion and music by Larry Coleman. First recorded by the incredible talent, Patti Page with ‘Orchestra conducted by Joe Reisman’ in 1953. Before you question this song being on my list, first give a listen to the clips, an amazing shorten live performance by Patti and a heartfelt cover of a rarely heard song (that led me to original) by Elvis Costello (2009).
58. “A Good Year for the Roses”, by now you might guess I’m a bit of an Elvis Costello fan and for a man known for his groundbreaking originality he sure knows how to cover a song. It takes some serious chops to adequately cover the legend that is George Jones but Costello does this song justice. Written by the great songwriter Jerry Chestnut, released by George Jones in 1970 and it went to #2 on the charts.
59. “Mr. Bojangles”, my earliest recollection of the song came from hearing a version from Sammy Davis Jr. on a TV show around 1970. He then recorded it in 1972. So maybe I’m sentimental but it’s the best cover for me. Later I heard The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (1971, and a top ten hit and went to #2 here in Canada) do it and later still learned it was a song from Jerry Jeff Walker. The song has been covered over 160 times so there are lots of very good covers and it’s been used in Movies and TV shows several times. Written about a man that Walker (Ronald Clyde Crosby) met in 1965 while in a New Orleans jail (for Public Intoxication) who called himself “Mr. Bojangles” instead of giving his real name to Police. The original Bojangles was Bill Robinson, one of the most talented tap dancers, singers and actors from the first half of the 20th Century. What a great song.
60. “I Can’t Stop Loving You” was written and originally recorded by Country legend Don Gibson in 1957. It charted top ten in 1958, since then it’s been covered over 330 times. There are so many great covers but there’s no question for me who’s is still the greatest. Most will know the version from Ray Charles from 1962 as it was a worldwide smash #1 hit. I’m sneaking in a couple of honourable mentions, Anne Murray and Bryan Adams.
61. “American Woman” (1970) was a #1 hit song by ‘The Guess Who’ written by Randy Bachman, Burton Cummings, Garry Peterson and Jim Kale. A power rock song with lead vocals by one of the great voices in Rock music, Burton Cummings. Billboard ranked the song at #3 for the year end 1970. Lenny Kravitz did a fine cover in 1999 with some awesome guitar that rivals the original work by Randy Bachman. I believe Cummings has been tragically over-looked in Rock History. Having seen him perform live many times, his voice is truly a remarkable instrument. Click on this link for a live clip of “Stand Tall” that he wrote and released in 1976.
62. “Never Been to Spain” was written and recorded by Hoyt Axton in 1971. Another product of the collaboration between Axton and Three Dog Night who had the ony ‘charted’ version of the song. This lesser known song makes my list because the the vocals by Cory Wells are superb. Elvis recorded a live version in 1972 and this was a concert favorite.
63. “Queen of Hearts” (1979) written by Hank DeVito and recorded by Dave Edmunds. DeVito later introduced the song to Juice Newton (1981) and she had a #2 hit on Billboard in the US, top 40 and top 10’s around the world.
64. “True Love” I defy you to find a more beautiful song than the Cole Porter classic “True Love” from the movie High Society (1956) performed by Grace Kelly and Bing Crosby. The first record release was a lovely job by Kitty Kallen that same year, there are over 245 versions of the song. A great cover by Elvis with the Jordanaires (1957).
65. “Dream a Little Dream of Me” by Ozzie Nelson and His Orchestra (1931) and the cover, The Mamas & The Papas (1968) featuring the beautiful vocal talents of Cass Elliot. Another product of the great lyricist Gus Kahn with music by Fabian Andre and Wilbur Schwandt. Recorded over 375 times.
66. “Memories Are Made of This” written by Terry Gilkyson, Richard Dehr, and Frank Miller in 1955. Ray Conniff Orchestra with vocals by Mindy Carson. Amazing cover from the great Dean Martin also recorded in 1955. Martin hit #1 for five weeks in the US and it was his only #1 in the UK.
67. “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” music by George Cory and lyrics by Douglass Cross, first release with vocals by Ceil Clayton (1960). The most recognizable version by the remarkable and enduring Tony Bennett (1962). This became his signature song and still the best cover of 260 versions, surprisingly only reaching #19 on the charts.
68. “Mona Lisa” written by Ray Evans and Jay Livingston for the film ‘Captain Carey, U.S.A.’ (1949). Sang in Italian in the movie by David Leonard. The title and lyrics not surprisingly refer to the portrait ‘Mona Lisa’ painted by Leonardo da Vinci. The song won the Oscar for Best Original Song in 1950. First recorded by Charlie Spivak and His Orchestra (1950) with Vocals by Tommy Lynn and Choir. The amazing cover we all recognize from Nat King Cole March 11, 1950 it was the fifth recording of eleven different vocal tracks and one instrumental in that year alone.
69. “It Was a Very Good Year” by The Kingston Trio (1961) written by Ervin Drake. Frank Sinatra (1965) was awarded the Grammy Award for ‘Best Vocal Performance, Male’ in 1966. I have to include this amazing cover also, Ray Charles and Willie Nelson (2004).
70. “When You Wish Upon a Star” Written by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington for the 1940 Disney Movie adaptation of ‘Pinocchio’. Performed by Cliff Edwards in the character of Jiminy Cricket. One of the best covers of any song, the unmatched Louis Armstrong (1968). There are well over 540 versions of this iconic song so I will provide a playlist.
71.”Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” written by Bob Dylan for the soundtrack of the 1973 film ‘Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid’. This is Dylan at his best, he released it as a single which charted very well around the world in 1973/74. A great cover originally by Guns n’ Roses in 1987 at a live concert and then in studio (1990)
72. “Roll Over Beethoven” by Chuck Berry and His Combo (1956) written by Chuck Berry. The best cover for me is by Electric Light Orchestra (1973). The Beatles of course with an equally amazing version from 1963.
73. “Friday on My Mind” by The Easybeats, (1966) Written by George Young and Harry Vanda. It may surprise that Bowie covered many songs, excluding when he covered his own songs there are over 70, so it’s tough to choose but this is a great one from legend, David Bowie (1973).
74. “Crazy” by Patsy Cline with The Jordanaires (1961) written by Willie Nelson who was also the first to cover it on September 9, 1962 and still the best for me of about 360 renditions. This song reached #2 in 1962 for Cline who was at the time already a superstar, along with her songs “I Fall To Pieces” and “Walkin’ After Midnight” it’s a piece of Country Music and American history.
75. “Here Comes My Baby” written by Cat Stevens, originally by The Tremeloes (1967). Another fine tune from the brilliant pen of Cat Stevens who also recorded this in 1967. Matching the lively original with a great version are The Mavericks released 1999. I was very fortunate to them October 2019 on their 30th anniversary tour, the lavish and under appreciated voice of Raul Malo and the band sounded as great as ever.
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