30. Golden Smog – Back Street Girl
I’ve written here at length about Golden Smog, the so-called alt-country supergroup, and someone else has written about this cover, so I won’t repeat too much. A classic misogynistic Rolling Stones message married to an uncharacteristic waltz featuring vibraphone, harpsichord and accordion, it was reportedly the only song Jagger liked from Between the Buttons (the record company, though, removed it from the American release and saved it for a later album). The Golden Smog version, which appeared on their debut EP of covers On Golden Smog, is faithful to the original, although without many of the baroque flourishes. Singer Kraig Johnson (billed under his Smog pseudonym of Jarrett Decatur), guitarist for Run Westy Run and sometime Jayhawks sideman, does a credible Jagger impersonation. – Jordan Becker
29. The Folksmen (A Mighty Wind) – Start Me Up
When the Christopher Guest mockumentary A Mighty Wind (elevator pitch: Spinal Tap for folk music) came out in 2003, I didn’t realize this was a cover. And here’s the thing: I’m pretty sure I knew the original version! But in the context of an aging Peter, Paul, and, well, Another Paul trio singing earnest folk songs that land just a little off the mark – originals all, except this – this cover fit perfectly. Around the movie’s release, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, and Guest himself appeared in character on Conan to play the song. They mention they almost played “Funky Kingston” instead – now that I would like to hear. – Ray Padgett
28. PP Arnold – You Can’t Always Get What You Want
Mick Jagger got PP Arnold’s solo career started, convincing her that life in London was better than life on tour as an Ikette in the Ike and Tina Turner review. Barry Gibb was slated to produce her third album The Turning Tide, but Gibb’s (and Arnold’s) manager Robert Stigwood took him off the project to focus more on the Bee Gees. Eric Clapton took over as producer, completing the album with an early version of Derek and the Dominos backing Arnold. But Stigwood managed Clapton too, and he blocked the release of Tide entirely. It didn’t come out until last year. As tracks like “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” demonstrate, it was worth the wait. Arnold’s soul and the Dominos’ swing give the song a whole new kind of power. You’re going to want to hear this more than once. – Patrick Robbins
27. Cat Power – Satisfaction
Trust Chan Marshall to take little from the original song, and remove most of the lyrics. Hell, this doesn’t even reference the chorus. Simple guitar, bored vocal and utter brilliance. Originally, I think, part of a John Peel radio session, the fabled underground arbiter of UK alternative taste in a million bedrooms – lights out, under the covers, single earplug in. I know, for I was one of that audience. (There is also a less satisfactory version with Rhythms del Mundo tacking on a latin samba which fails miserably). – Seuras Og
26. Social Distortion – Under My Thumb
Despite (or maybe because of?) its obvious misogyny, “Under My Thumb” is one of the Stones’ most popular songs. Notable for its nevertheless playful lyrics and Brian Jones’ marimba, the song has often been covered. Social Distortion’s version, a hidden track from their 1996 album White Light, White Heat, White Trash (although an earlier version was the B-side to one of their first singles, and other live recordings of the song are available), scuzzes and speeds up the song, making it sound even more dangerous. – Jordan Becker
25. Townes Van Zandt – Dead Flowers
Townes Van Zandt led a life that leads one to believe that dead flowers were a natural part of his home decor. He sings “Dead Flowers” the same way. This is someone fatalistic enough to accept with equanimity something dead that was once beautiful, and romantic enough to know the importance of leaving red roses at a tombstone. Ragged company or not, Townes knew how to make art of pain, even when using someone else’s art. – Patrick Robbins
24. The Holmes Brothers – Beast of Burden
Blind Boys of Alabama aside, maybe, I don’t think anyone can do the gospel/soul harmony vocal ensemble as well as these guys. Plus, they add a few more funky sideballs and a touch of country that is exquisite. “Raw enough for the juke joint, smooth enough for church” is a famous epithet said of them. In their hands, this song of aggrieved defiance becomes one that is dripping with regret and pathos. Sadly the band are no longer playing, two of the three original founders now deceased. – Seuras Og
23. Elton John – Honky Tonk Women
It takes a special artist to cover a blues country rock song like “Honky Tonk Women.” Lucky for us, Elton John tackled it with his amazing piano prowess and sharp band. The cowbell is gone, with some serious harmonies starting the song instead. John’s vocals are on point, of course, and the piano riffs result in a bluesier sound than the original (no easy feat, when going up against the Stones). Mick Jagger’s vocals are inherently more rough and full of growl, so this sounds lighter and cleaner with pop god Elton John at the helm. – Angela Hughey
22. Scorpions – Ruby Tuesday
The heavy metal kingpins closed out 2011’s Comeblack compilation with the track. Klaus Meine’s trademark vocals work well in this hard rock ballad arrangement. Matthias Jabs and Rudolf Schenker’s guitars replace the recorder and piano and bring just enough tonnage for their hardcore fans. – Frank Minishak
21. Joseph – Moonlight Mile
When I went to Bonnaroo in 2007, few shows generated as much anticipation as the Flaming Lips’ late-night slot. The chatter arose from the combination of their insane setup (a massive UFO that descended to the stage, plus Wayne Coyne’s hamster ball and various other theatrics) and a show that started at 1am and ended whenever they damn well pleased. Visually, the three-hour feast of lasers, lights, and (for many, I imagine) LSD lived up to the hype. But I only liked a few of their songs, and the visual insanity became too much when paired with equally oddball soundscapes. So my high point came in the closing number: their cover of “Moonlight Mile.” You can watch a video here, but the shaky clip leaves a lot to be desired. The performance made me love the song, and hope for a new version to do my memory justice. I finally got it last year. Portland sister trio Joseph’s gorgeously harmonized cover, as a piece of music to listen to at home, is far superior to the Lips. I’ll just picture a descending UFO every time I hear it. – Ray Padgett
12 Responses to “The Best Rolling Stones Covers Ever”
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I love Devo’s version – not least for the way it utterly deconstructs the original, guaranteed in the late ’70s to annoy the hell out of grumpily aging classic-rockers – but The Residents’ version makes Devo’s sound like muzak.
And then halfway through, Snakefinger comes in with a guitar solo that was probably used to test the durability of paint strips.
Good choices, but I would have put Jane’s a lot higher on the list. If your readers are interested, here’s a ton more Stones covers…
You know what this needs? Five or six more covers of “Beast of Burden.” Sheez …
My “Beast of Burden” honorable mentions:
Alejandro Escovedo (any live version – there’s one with Springsteen)
Thanks for live version with Springsteen.
maybe the first time I saw someone else play stones tunes… this is from SNL Mick & the Foo Fighters. I liked it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pz9ap3K0O-A
Chubby Checker “Under My Thumb”
You forgot Alex Chilton’s cover of Jumpin Jack Flash
I can’t believe I’m not seeing anything about Bette Midler’s cover of Beast of Burden. Not only is it awesome, Mick is in her video.
The Lantern by Mac Ribell, a 60´s brazilian fuzz band….
Townes Van Zandt “Dead Flowers”
The way Mick & Keith wanted to sound.