Our official list of the Best Cover Songs of 2017 comes next week. But first, we’re continuing the tradition we started last year by rounding up some of the songs it most killed us to cut in a grab-bag post. No ranking, no writing, just a bunch of knockout covers.
Buddy Guy and the Rolling Stones have crossed paths many times over the years, regularly sitting in at each other’s concerts and paying mutual homage in interviews. But they haven’t actually recorded together much. That changes on a new tribute album.
On Chicago Plays the Stones, a host of Chicago blues vets cover classic Stones tracks for a fitting response to the Stones’ own recent blues album Blue & Lonesome. One name stands above the rest though: Buddy Guy’s. And he pulls in a special guest for his cover of Goats Head Soup rarity “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker).”
As anyone who has seen Guy live recently can attest, the guitarist hasn’t lost a step at age 80. His solos on “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo” remain furious, and his singing as emotive as ever. Then, about halfway through, that special guest slips in: Mick Jagger himself, trading vocals with Buddy in a wonderful back-and-forth and wailing on some serious blues harmonica. It’s a fantastic duet that has somehow remained under the radar since its release last month, not appearing on Spotify or YouTube or anywhere else. Well, we’ve got it below. It was worth the wait.
In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!
When you consider their longevity, the sheer number and variety of their live performances, and influences as diverse as bluegrass, country, soul, rock, psychedelia, blues, and jazz, it is likely that the Grateful Dead may have recorded and/or performed more covers than any other band that is best known for its original songs. (There’s probably a wedding band out there that has a bigger songbook, but that’s not really the point.) Grateful Dead fans have been trading and cataloging their favorite band’s performances since long before the idea of digital music and the Internet even existed, and now there are numerous databases available online — one of which shows 343 separate covers performed by the band (and solo projects and offshoots), including soundchecks and performances with guests.
Therefore, it is somewhat surprising that Cover Me has never turned its lovelight directly on the Grateful Dead. We have written numerous times about covers of Dead songs, but a quick review of the archives indicates that only three covers by the band have been featured—Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row” and Merle Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee” and “Mama Tried.” So, that leaves us a mere 340 to choose from today. To make this project (inspired in part by Phil Lesh’s 75th birthday this Sunday and by the recent announcement of the band’s 50th anniversary shows in Chicago this summer) somewhat less insane, we will limit ourselves only to recordings or performances by the Grateful Dead, proper — no solo projects or anything from after the death of Jerry Garcia.
In high school, a friend and I drove two hours to a blues festival in rural Maine one Saturday. When we got to the gate we found tickets to be well outside of our meager budget, but there was only one artist we’d wanted to see anyway: Johnny Winter. So we found a low fence we could peer over, and sat, and waited.
In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.
(His strings) were like fucking telephone wires. Just a little bit bigger piece of wood and you’d have a fuckin’ piano. – Robert “Cutter” Brandenburg, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s friend and roadie, on Vaughan’s guitar
He just sort of kicked everyone’s ass and no one seemed to fight back. – Jimmie Vaughan, on his brother outplaying him, Robert Cray, Eric Clapton, and Buddy Guy at his final performance in East Troy, Wisconsin
I’m just asking y’all to take care of yourself so you can be there for the ones that love you and need you the most. And they need you all the time. I know I do. – Stevie Ray Vaughan preaching a little grace to a Denver audience, November 1989
The grammar police will be on your back if you use a double negative, there ain’t no doubt. But from my brief days a linguistics major, I learned that “grammatically incorrect” language like this, when used widely enough, takes over. It’s how language evolves. So “whom” Nazis, give it up.
The double negative is a unique “mistake” though, as it seems socioeconomically based, and racially some too. So I can’t tell you whether it will ever become an “acceptable” for of speech. What I do know though, is a lot of great tunes use it, and you’d be missing out if you discounted them based on linguistic snobbishness.
Dolapdere Big Gang – (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (The Rolling Stones)
Covers of this one vary from the powerful (Otis Redding) to the seizure-inducing (Britney Spears) to the just plain bizarre (Devo). This one’s a little more unusual, but when I snagged it from over at Cover Freak a while back I wasn’t disappointed. A little string quartet appetizer, some salsa congo as the main dish, and a pre-chorus breakdown to cleanse the pallatte, and a horn-flute breakdown to polish things off. Yum. [Buy]
Buddy Guy – Ain’t No Sunshine (Bill Withers)
Lots of covers of this one, but I’ve never heard one that approaches this soulful horn-fueled swing. Guy’s molasses voice shines through here, but duet partner Tracy Chapman is no slouch herself, turning the song into a duet of two lost lovers missing each other. Buddy throws down his signature guitar lines, holding back enough to not overpower the tune but adding pure texture to this powerful slow jam. [Buy]
Santa Esmeralda – Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood (Nina Simone)
Elvis Costello does a decent version, but you can’t beat this ten-minute salsa funk from the Kill Bill soundtrack. Quentin Tarantino has got a hell of an ear for music, and he hit gold tacking on this dance frenzy. A must-hear. [Buy]
Aaron Neville – Ain’t No Cure For Love (Leonard Cohen)
I put this one up long ago in a Leonard Cohen album post, but since I removed the link months ago I figure I can throw it back up again. Neville does just fine without his brothers here, turning the over-produced schlock of the original (sorry Lenny) into a soul groove that just won’t quit. [Buy]
Francis and the Lights – Can’t Tell Me Nothing (Kanye West)
I posted one cover of this one a while back, but another has turned up on a recent covers-happy compilation. The comp is supposed to be based on guilty pleasures though, and I don’t think anyone should feel guilty enjoying Kanye West. And if you feel guilty enjoying this cover, then we’ve really got a problem. [Buy]
Hell Blues Choir – I Don’t Need No Doctor (Ray Charles)
Norway’s Hell Blues Choir has released two phenomenal tribute album, one to Tom Waits and one to Ray Charles. Where you’d think choir songs would be uniformly lame, the addition of creative arrangements and a rocking bands keep their sound fresh and exciting for song after song. Grab these discs! [Buy]
Jah Malla – Ain’t No Man Righteous (Bob Dylan)
Dylan’s born-again Christianity inspired him to write a whole flurry of songs in ’79, many of which never made it on record. For this he wrote a gospel track he performed with full backing singers on tour, but here is a reggae take (could you tell from the artist?) that somehow makes perfect sense. [Buy]
Bob Dylan – Oh Babe It Ain’t No Lie (Elizabeth Cotton)
Cotton was a southern black folk musician not discovered until middle age, in the 50’s by folk revivalist Pete Singer. Wikipedia can tell you far more than I can, but it won’t tell you that Bob covered this tune 48 times in the late 90’s featuring his acoustic guitar solo-noodling and earthy background harmonies from Larry Campbell and Charlie Sexton. This recording comes from a soundboard recording in Hamburg. Also scout around for Dylan covering Cotton’s “Shake Sugaree” around the same time. [Buy]
Peter Case – A Working Man Can’t Get Nowhere Today (Merle Haggard)
Couple this with his more famous Working Man’s Blues, and it’s clear old Merle had a thing for the nine-to-five blue collar man. With some folksy instruments and slide guitar Case helps this song bounce along, sounding like Woody Guthrie on happy pills. But in a good way. [Buy]
Lyle Lovett – Ain’t No More Cane (Trad.)
“Lyle Lovett?” I can hear you saying. “Ew.” Now normally I’d be right there with you, but give this one a chance. An Americana-country background gives a sparse but lush field in which his powerful voice can roam free. The woah-woah-woah chorus brings the song back to its prison work song roots and (dare I say it) puts The Band’s version in its place. [Buy]