Jul 012019

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20. Ben Folds – Tiny Dancer

As he’s the most famous piano player of his generation, it makes sense that Ben Folds would cover John. It’s not the flashiest cover nor the most inventive, but holding a slot on Folds’ live album, an album that shined a spotlight on his talent, it feels very much like a tribute. The piano is solid, pounded out with passion, and Folds sings the words in typical Ben Folds style. It’s a great song and it’s a crowd-pleaser, and sometimes that’s all you need. – Mike Misch

19. The Streets – Your Song

The Streets’ “Your Song” apes the original’s arrangement almost exactly. The only difference: Mike Skinner can’t really sing. He’s a rapper (and a great one). So what’s he doing speak-crooning over an orchestra? Thing is, it works. The heartfelt lyrics seem that much more powerful coming from what sounds like an average bloke. Like certain Leonard Cohen performances, the rich, almost schmaltzy arrangement is nicely offset by Skinner’s earnest undersinging. Halfway through a beat drops, but it’s a fake-out, the only real hip-hop touch as Skinner continues playing it straight. – Ray Padgett

18. Bettye Lavette – Talking Old Soldiers

One of the lesser-known tracks from Tumbleweed Connection, “Talking Old Soldiers” is a monologue directed to a younger man, the only one in the bar who would listen to the soldier’s tale of woe, loneliness, and lost comrades. But Bettye Lavette truly inhabits the song by turning it into a meditation on her long, difficult career, tweaking the lyrics where necessary. Lavette approached fame in her youth in the 1960s, only to have her supposed breakthrough album, recorded in Muscle Shoals backed by the legendary Swampers, sit in a vault for decades, consigning her to semi-obscurity until a career resurgence in the 2000s. Her version of “Talking Old Soldiers” appears on 2007’s The Scene of the Crime, produced by Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers, and features the Truckers along with Hood’s father David – who was one of those Swampers – on bass. The performance is moving, and the black and white video, featuring Lavette sitting at the bar at The Locker Room in Detroit where she often drowned her own sorrows, singing, drinking, smoking and remembering, is riveting. – Jordan Becker

17. Rod Stewart – Country Comfort

Rod Stewart and Elton John have had a relationship going back decades to the days where Elton was part of Long John Baldry’s band. So it stands to reason that Rod Stewart would cover “Country Comfort,” a song that seems to perfectly complement his gravel-toned voice. The song, included on the Gasoline Alley record, is almost perfectly produced by Stewart himself, and features Ronnie Lane on guitar and Pete Sears on keyboards. Contrary to popular belief, the backing vocal that floats in mid-song is not Elton John, but Jack Reynolds, a veteran session musician. – Walt Falconer

16. My Morning Jacket – Rocket Man

Covers have been part of My Morning Jacket’s musical DNA since the outset. In 2004, the group released two compilations of early recordings and demos. The last track on Chapter 1 The Sandworm Cometh: Early Recordings is the band’s haunting cover of “Rocket Man.” Frontman Jim James sings it as a slow, dreamy, acoustic ballad. Whether on earth or among the heavens, the cover comes across as an exploration of loneliness and isolation. The song endures as the band’s most-streamed track on Spotify. – Curtis Zimmermann

15. eels – Friends

The wonderfully-titled 1995 Polydor comp 18 Original Hits Performed By 18 Unoriginal Artists featured a bunch of big-name covers by the likes of David Byrne, Björk, Nirvana, and more. But one of the highlights has all but vanished from the internet. It’s Mark Oliver Everett, aka “e” of the band eels, covering Elton John’s “Friends.” The Rock Hard Times, the only site I can find with any info, says it was recorded for a scuttled EP of covers in the early 1990s. A beautifully scrappy guitar and organ ballad, e’s “Friends” cover deserves wider acclaim than it’s gotten. – Ray Padgett

14. Frightened Rabbit ft. Craig Finn – Don’t Go Breaking My Heart

This upbeat pop ditty and karaoke classic gets a little alternative rock flair with help from Scottish rock band Frightened Rabbit and The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn. The instrumentation is heavier here, and we lose the quick little guitar licks that punctuate the transitions between the two original singers. However, we still get an instrumental break; the funk is just replaced with electric guitar. The lyrics are delivered with a little more yearning, contrasting the cheerful original, and Frightened Rabbit is fearless in making small tweaks throughout. The dearly missed Scott Hutchison’s Scottish brogue is revealed occasionally on words like “down,” and phrases that are drawn out in the original, like “nobody knows it,” are more clipped in this version. – Sara Stoudt

13. The Who – Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting

Listening to The Who’s 1991 cover of “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” you might mistake it for a lost track from the rock opera Tommy. Recorded for the Two Rooms tribute album, The Who cranks up the amplifiers and throws in some power chords for this spirited cover. Near the end, the band provides a brief interlude and the song shifts into John’s “Take Me to the Pilot” with Pete Townsend taking over on lead vocals (supposedly he and Roger disagreed on which song to cover, so they did both). The Who’s fiery tribute could not be confined to merely one song. – Curtis Zimmermann

12. Jimmy Scott – Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word

With phrasing all over the shop, sung in a curiously asexual voice, simmering spikily over a muted backing, what madness is this? And yet it works, perfectly, the sadness positively pulsatile, the regret relentless. If Elton sounds a little upset in his version, Scott has you hiding the knives and rope. Big in the ’50s and ’60s, his career had faded until Lou Reed heard him sing at the funeral of songwriter Doc Pomus and invited Scott to tour with him, relaunching his career. This comes from his 1998 album Holding Back the Years, and if you don’t know it, don’t say sorry, just get it. – Seuras Og

11. Vintage Trouble – Rocket Man

With last year’s double dose of Elton John cover songs and the recent release of Rocketman, it seems that “Rocket Man” cover versions are everywhere. Many of these versions are head-scratching (William Shatner’s version as exhibit A). Some are acceptable but don’t stray to far from the core of the original, as in Neil Diamond’s version, while others, most notably Vintage Trouble’s exquisite take on the space classic, stand a bit taller than the rest. With a sound that is steeped in ’60s soul, ’70s rock, and modern indie music, their version has a bit of the David Bowie “Space Oddity” vibe that the song deserves. The slight, but not overplayed, psychedelic interludes that set the tone here will lock you into a head space that will have you floating on magic carpet through a universe of clouds and marshmallows. – Walt Falconer

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  3 Responses to “The Best Elton John Covers Ever”

Comments (3)
  1. Pretty much any comment here is by definition a nitpick but missing the Buckshot LeFonque version of Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters…oy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-3tu1yTdlQs

  2. My favorite – The Hickoids… from Austin, TX

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