Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.
For a song that began its life as a B-side and never charted higher than halfway up Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, the Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues” has made a significant impact on popular culture since its debut in 1970. It’s been covered more than 35 times, by artists ranging from Bon Jovi to Lana Del Rey to Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Speaking of Hollywood, the song was featured prominently in the Winona Ryder movie Girl, Interrupted and the Patrick Swayze movie Road House, and it even inspired the title for Season 2, Episode 1 of the Netflix series The Punisher.
Contrast that with the A-side, “You Make Me Real,” which isn’t even listed on secondhandsongs.com. While similar in feel, but with more of a honky-tonk sound and brighter vibe, the A-side has garnered no movie, way fewer covers, and no series episode titles. That’s because “Roadhouse Blues” is quintessential Doors: more congruent with Jim Morrison’s dark and brooding persona, hinting at danger with a pretty stern admonition to “keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel” right out of the gate, and the implicit promise that what lies beyond the danger will be well worth the risk.
With that sort of appeal, it’s no wonder that “Roadhouse Blues” eclipsed its flipside and became the more popular choice to cover. Many covers are faithful to the original, often bordering on straight-up re-creations. Other artists manage to find the means to adapt the song to their own styles. Of these versions…