Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
“Honky Tonk Women” by The Rolling Stones may be the most perfect single they ever released. Bold talk? Perhaps. But consider that cowbell, played by producer Jimmy Miller; that opening line, delivered by Mick Jagger in a way that lets you know that he is about to be taken advantage of and not her; or that Keith Richards riff after the opening line, so perfect that when he played it backwards twelve years later on “Start Me Up” it was still perfect. And don’t forget Charlie Watts’s drumming, never flashy and never stronger; those horns coming in during the break, somehow giving it more swing. And then there’s that chorus: made to be shouted along to at the top of your lungs. And all in just three minutes.
The world has a history of not wanting to leave perfection alone, and as a result there are hundreds of “Honky Tonk Women” covers out there, in many permutations – some include the line about “tippin’ a jar in Jackson,” some don’t. All of them are worth a listen, and some of them even stand out…
Taj Mahal – Honky Tonk Women (The Rolling Stones cover)
If we had to squeeze Taj Mahal into a category, acoustic bluesman might be the closest we can come to an appropriate label, although nowhere near close enough. A musician of the world, he absorbs influences from Hawaii to Africa. With his cover of “Honky Tonk Women,” he brings the song down to its roots and the earth surrounding them. Listening to it, you’d be excused for mistaking it for a traditional blues song; you’d also be excused for wanting that to be the case.
Earl Scruggs – Honky Tonk Women (The Rolling Stones cover)
Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs were as popular as ever in 1969, thanks to the use of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” in Bonnie and Clyde. But while Flatt wanted to stick with their traditional sound, Scruggs was more progressive and ready to embrace the modern era. Their artistic difference led to their 1969 breakup, and Scruggs followed his muse to “Honky Tonk Women.” This near-instrumental, from 1971’s Nashville’s Rock, can’t be called commercial, but it shows Scruggs, closing in on fifty, approaching the youth of the day with open eyes and magic fingers.
The Meters – Honky Tonk Women (The Rolling Stones cover)
The Meters’ 1976 album Trick Bag was seen as a stumble, a moment where they tried to embrace the mainstream (opening track: “Disco is the Thing Today”) by letting go of the New Orleans funk sound that made them so important. But nothing’s all bad – their take on “Honky Tonk Women” would be sure to fill a dance floor in any era, and they bring enough of their own spirit that the song feels like – well, not like theirs, but that it’s in good hands while they have it.
Peltz – Honky Tonk Women (The Rolling Stones cover)
Released in 1995, Perfectly Stoned paid tribute to The Rolling Stones. Among others, it included the Norwegian band Peltz playing an arrangement of “Honky Tonk Women” that, safe to say, had never been played before. Bill Wyman would never find himself mixed this far up front, and his bass would never move around like this. All these nevers shouldn’t prevent you from listening; singer Morten Abel turns the song inside out, and the resulting unfamiliarity makes it sound seductive and dangerous again for the first time in a long time.
The Pogues – Honky Tonk Women (The Rolling Stones cover)
The Pogues had started to stumble toward the end of their viability when they covered “Honky Tonk Women.” Scraped off a few too many barroom floors, Shane McGowan found himself unable to perform vocals at this time. Spider Stacy proved himself up to the task, and the rest of the band gets their lurch on, weaving, wobbling and never quite falling down.