On Sunday night at the ninth installment of Grace Potter’s Burlington, Vermont festival Grand Point North, fans got a special treat when she and her longtime friend Warren Haynes performed a rare duo set. The pair have shared the stage many times before, but almost always accompanied by one of their bands (Gov’t Mule for Haynes, the Nocturnals or her solo band for Potter). Just the two of them together on stage was a rarer treat.
This marks the fourth year I’ve done a big anniversary countdown (after 1996, 1987, and 1978). It also proved to be the most challenging. There were a lot of covers released in 1969. In fact, according to covers-and-samples database WhoSampled, there were more than in any of the other years we’ve done. Their database lists 3,110 covers, which is surely still a small fraction.
The reason for the cover song’s proliferation seems clear to me after going through them all: Popular bands released a lot more music back then. Aretha Franklin released two albums in 1969. So did The Byrds, Elvis Presley, Joe Cocker, Johnny Cash, Johnny Winter, and Nina Simone. Creedence Clearwater Revival and Merle Haggard released three albums apiece. James Brown topped them all with four. To get that kind of output, artists would pad their albums with covers. Every 1969 album by every artist I just mentioned includes at least one cover. Many include several. A few are all covers. It adds up.
Impressively, many of those covers reinterpreted songs that had come out within the previous year. This entire list could easily have been “Hey Jude” covers. “Wichita Lineman” and “Light My Fire” came up constantly too (the latter song slightly older, but it had hit the charts again in 1968). Even songs from 1968’s soundtrack to Hair got covered endlessly in 1969.
Even beyond “Hey Jude,” Beatles covers dominated the year. I’m not going to go back through the entire 3,110 covers and count, but if you told me Beatles covers made up a full half of those, I wouldn’t be shocked. Add Bob Dylan covers to that side of the scale and it’s probably true. Beatles songs got covered in every conceivable genre for every conceivable audience. Jazz and swing and folk and proto-metal Beatles covers everywhere the eye can see. Plenty of people cover the Beatles these days, sure, but trust me: It’s nothing like it was in 1969.
So wheedling all those down to the top 50 proved incredibly difficult. But it means this is maybe the top-to-bottom strongest set thus far, and it killed me to leave some off (that’s why our Patreon supporters will get a set of 69 bonus tracks – so join now).
One note: I left off Woodstock performances. For one, we counted down the 50 best covers performed there last month. But more importantly, most people did not actually hear those covers until the movie and soundtrack came out in 1970. Jimi Hendrix performed his iconic Star-Spangled Banner – pretty much everyone’s top cover of the weekend – to a nearly empty field. Most of the audience had left before he punched in at 9 AM that Monday morning. That said, several of the classic covers performed at Woodstock were released as singles or on albums the same year – including Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help from My Friends” – and those studio versions make this list.
Now, let the sunshine in with the 50 best covers of 1969.
In the wake of Daniel Johnston’s tragic passing, a powerful new recording has just surfaced on Twitter: an experimental seven-minute cover of Carole King’s classic “You’ve Got a Friend,” recorded with a full band in Austin in 1996. The song was intended for an album called If that never got released after Johnston’s label dropped him. As Vulture reported earlier this year, the album’s producer Brian Beattie continues to fight two decades later to let it see the light of day. Johnston apparently considered it the first part of a Beattie trilogy, which also included 2001’s Rejected Unknown and 2006’s Lost and Found, which Beattie culled from the same mid-’90s sessions.
aeseaes – Realiti (Grimes cover)
Bandits on the Run – Back to Black (Amy Winehouse cover)
One of the best tribute albums of the 2000s was 2008’s Cinnamon Girl: Women Artists Cover Neil Young for Charity. Now there’s a sequel of sorts, albeit one produced by a different label: Come On Up To The House: Women Sing Waits.
Out November 22 on Dualtone, the album features 12 artists across generations covering Tom Waits hits and deep cuts. Personally, I’m excited to hear Phoebe Bridgers tackle “Georgia Lee” and Kat Edmonson do “You Can Never Hold Back Spring” – two songs that don’t get covered often enough. But the hits are there too: “Jersey Girl” (Corinne Bailey Rae), “Ol’ 55” (Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer), “Hold On” (Aimee Mann), and of course “Downtown Train” (Courtney Marie Andrews).
Sean Lennon has been busy with his other psych-rock duo The Claypool Lennon Delirium of late, but he recently reunited with musical partner Charlotte Kemp Muhl to pay tribute to an obvious influence: Roky Erickson. As The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger (which they often abbreviate to The GOASTT), the two roar through a super-trippy take on the 13th Floor Elevators’ classic “You’re Gonna Miss Me.”