Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
By now it’s hard to find a little-known Rolling Stones song that deserves to be better known, but “Back Street Girl” absolutely qualifies. Originally on their 1967 album Between the Buttons, it was stripped from that release in the U.S. and slapped onto the odds ‘n’ ends collection Flowers. It’s a showcase for Mick Jagger to be even more unpleasant about a woman than he is in “Under My Thumb,” as he’s dismissing a girl to her face, calling her “rather common and coarse,” but still wanting her at his beck and call when nobody’s looking. All this is done in waltz time, with a truly pretty melody; put them together and you have a song that’s a prime candidate for the next Wes Anderson soundtrack.
Even if it’s not a well-known song, it’s a Rolling Stones song, and any musician worth their weight in the salt of the earth is going to excavate that buried treasure if it’s the last thing he or she does. This is a collection of the works of five artists who did just that.
Bobby Darin – Back Street Girl (The Rolling Stones cover)
Years beyond his days of “Splish Splash,” “Beyond the Sea,” and “Mack the Knife,” Bobby Darin explained in 1967 that “Now my attitude is very simple: I must do what artistically pleases me.” This included covering “Back Street Girl” in a manner that recalled Tim Hardin, whose “If I Were a Carpenter” Darin had a hit with the year before. It certainly doesn’t convey Vegas nightclub, and Darin is to be commended for leaving his comfort zone with such style.
Don Nix – Back Street Girl (The Rolling Stones cover)
Don Nix is one of the greatest known unknowns in the history of Memphis soul; he got his start in the Mar-Kays, of “Last Night” fame, and wrote the much, much-covered “Goin’ Down.” Though he mostly worked behind the scenes (he brought together the gospel choir at the Concert for Bangladesh), he did record a few albums on his own – this cover of “Back Street Girl” comes from his 1976 release Gone Too Long. It slows things down and wouldn’t feel entirely out of place in church.
Leigh Harris – Back Street Girl (The Rolling Stones cover)
Leigh Harris is based in New Orleans, where she performs vocal duties for the gumbo-jazz band Li’l Queenie and the Percolators. On her own, she’s recorded a couple albums – it’s 1999’s House of Secrets that has her cover of “Back Street Girl,” proving that a woman can put her stamp on the song just as well as any old Mick Jagger can.
Golden Smog – Back Street Girl (The Rolling Stones cover)
With its genesis in the late ’80s, and its membership comprised of folks from Soul Asylum, the Jayhawks, Wilco, Son Volt, and others, Golden Smog have a valid stake in first-alt-country-supergroup bragging rights. Their recording debut was a 1992 EP called On Golden Smog, which consisted of five cover songs and featured cover artwork by ex-Replacements drummer Chris Mars. It’s loose enough that you feel like you’re catching them between beers in a backroom somewhere, but good enough that its release is wholly merited. “Back Street Girl” is just one of the five highlights.
Lambchop – Back Street Girl (The Rolling Stones cover)
Lambchop were originally billed as “Nashville’s most f*cked-up country band,” but by the time Is A Woman came out in 2002, they had outgrown the flip attitude of that tag and become something far beyond categorization. Their cover of “Back Street Girl” brings the Tindersticks to mind, with Kurt Wagner’s spoken-sung vocals and the chamber-pop sound, but somehow something uniquely American rises up in the mix as surely as the hairs on your neck.