30. The Rezillos – Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight (Fleetwood Mac cover)
Where did the Scottish punk band The Rezillos possibly discover this song? Not only did it come from a pre-superstardom Fleetwood Mac (the Peter Green-led version), but that band only ever released it as an obscure B-side. And not only was it only an obscure B-side, but it wasn’t even released under the name “Fleetwood Mac” – they adopted the pseudonym Earl Vince and the Valiants for this song. Somehow, though, the Rezillos did discover it. And since no one held any sentimentality toward the obscure original, they were free to reinvent it. Boy, did they. It later appeared on the soundtrack to the film Jackass; it’s hard to imagine Fleetwood Mac fitting there any other way.
29. Sid Vicious – My Way (Frank Sinatra cover)
Sid Vicious does himself a disservice on “My Way.” A small one, compared to the bigger ways he cheated himself in his short life, but one that pushes this song further down the list than it would otherwise be. It’s the first minute, the one where he does that drunk-frat-bro impression of Ol’ Blue Eyes crooning. It’s barely funny the first time, and intolerable on repeated listen. Do what I did: set your iTunes to start the song at 1:14. From there on, it’s a top-ten cover at least.
28. Geo – My World Is Empty Without You (The Supremes cover)
It’s hard to find much information about Dutch singer George Dijkhuis, though I gather he was well-known in his native country in the ’70s and early ’80s. Despite exclusively singing in English, he never broke out wider. He released this epic arena-rock version of “My World Is Empty Without You” as a single (what was with the rush for Supremes covers in 1978?). It’s a massive production fit for his Steve Perry-esq vocal theatrics.
27. Big Star – Femme Fatale (The Velvet Underground cover)
This cover makes clear connections between Big Star and the Velvets that are more opaque elsewhere. Though their worlds were pretty different, both bands shared certain rough and lo-fi sonics that hid how meticulously constructed their songs were. Slacker sounds by musicians who weren’t slacking at all. The “Femme Fatale” cover rides that line beautifuly, seeming tossed off even as it worms its way into your head. Fun fact: Stax legend Steve Cropper provides those understated guitar licks.
26. Tina Turner – The Bitch Is Back (Elton John cover)
If you’re not sold on Shatner, here’s a 1978 Elton John cover we can all agree on. Tina Turner’s arrangement isn’t all that different than Elton’s; what puts this over the top is her voice. It’s Tina with maximum attitude, a commanding and powerful performance. Coming from her, “The Bitch Is Back” reads like a girl-power anthem.
25. Generation X – Gimme Some Truth (John Lennon cover)
In 1981, America would first learn Billy Idol’s name through another cover, of the Tommy James and the Shondells song “Mony Mony.” He first introduced himself three years earlier though, with some John Lennon. The opening track on the US version of his punk band Generation X’s debut was this storming take on “Gimme Some Truth.” With its energy and its sneer, it pretty much set the template for the rest of his career.
24. The Pointer Sisters – Dirty Work (Steely Dan cover)
Put this in the same category as Nicolette Larson covering Neil Young. Steely Dan purists may turn up their noses at such an unabashed pop group tackling this Can’t Buy a Thrill nugget. But compared to much of the Steely Dan catalog, “Dirty Work” was pretty darn poppy to begin with. The Pointer Sisters didn’t even have to turn the disco knob that might higher. Just add some sassy vocals and a sax solo and this song’s a pop banger. Why didn’t Fagen and Becker think of that?
23. The Rolling Stones – Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me) (The Temptations cover)
Believe it or not, we’re forty years beyond Some Girls, what many consider the last great Stones album (though I’ll defend Black & Blue ’til I’m red in the face). After the killer opening double-punch of “Miss You” and “When the Whip Comes Down,” a Temptations cover might seem a momentum-killer. It isn’t. Their loose and frisky cover stands on its own, taking an unlikely source and making it sound like stone-cold Stones.
22. Cheap Trick – Ain’t That a Shame (Fats Domino cover)
The most well-known section on this At Budokan track is the last three seconds. As the music winds down, Robin Zander shouts, “I want you…to want…me!” And you know what comes next (that’s on the official album; the YouTube video above has been cropped differently). But their “Ain’t That a Shame” cover is more than something you have to sit through to get to the big single. Fats Domino makes for an odd but inspired selection for a band that doesn’t include a piano. They pretty much have to reinvent the song, and they certainly do. One little touch I love: listen close for the “Please Please Me” quote in Rick Nielsen’s guitar solo.
21. Willie Nelson – Moonlight in Vermont (John Blackburn & Karl Suessdorf)
If I did Best Cover Albums of 1978, Willie Nelson’s standards album Stardust would top it. It’s so good, I had trouble picking which track to include here. His near-definitive “Georgia On My Mind”? His hauntingly beautiful “September Song”? Or even “Unchained Melody,” where he turns his inability to hit Bobby Hatfield’s notes (who can?) into an advantage. But I found myself repeatedly drawn one of the simplest songs, Willie’s tender and understated take on one of the ultimate standards.