This past weekend’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony featured great performances by Bon Jovi, The Cars, and The Moody Blues. Equally worthy were the phenomenal covers highlighting both musical greats taken from us too soon – Tom Petty and Chris Cornell – and tributes to the two artists inducted posthumously, Nina Simone and Sister Rosetta Tharpe (inducted as an “Early Influence”).
We rank the three best covers below. That’s judging from the circulation YouTube footage at least; Lauryn Hill’s Nina Simone tribute may come off better when the HBO version airs next month, but the current videos are hard to watch.
Bronze Medal: Brittany Howard (Alabama Shakes), Questlove, and Paul Shaffer – That’s All (Sister Rosetta Tharpe cover)
If I’m looking for a current soul sister to represent “the original soul sister” – as Sister Rosetta Tharpe has been called – it makes sense that Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes fame would fit the bill. With her white dress and screaming red guitar, she ruled the stage singing a sultry, slowed down, bluesy to the max version of “That’s All”. The instrumentals and the chorus of male commentators echoed the original beautifully, but the overall feel was more heavy cautionary tale than the original’s light, sassy conversation.
Silver Medal: The Killers – American Girl (Tom Petty cover)
Paying tribute to Tom Petty, The Killers wisely chose to keep their cover similar to the perfect original. Brandon Flowers’ high, slightly twangy tenor echoed Petty’s vocals beautifully, and the instrumentals were spot on, from Ronnie Vannucci’s cymbal work to the guitar riffs to the background vocals. All of the little nuances of the original are present in this reverent cover. We even get a bit of “Free Fallin” at the end.
Gold Medal: Ann Wilson and Jerry Cantrell – Black Hole Sun (Soundgarden cover)
On paper, this shouldn’t work. “Black Hole Sun is a pinnacle of music, an untouchable. It’s just such an incredible song, full of powerhouse vocals that span a huge range. Very few artists could actually pull it off. Heart’s Ann Wilson pulled it off and more. With smokey, rage-filled vocals, she not only hit all the notes, but all of the feels as well. The guitar work by Jerry Cantrell of Alice In Chains was simple but true to the original.