Jul 012019

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10. Tim Timebomb and Friends – Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting

One doesn’t think of Elton John as a barroom brawler, but he is convincing on the rocking “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” reportedly based on Bernie Taupin’s youth and the brawls in his local pub. Tim Timebomb is an alter ego of Tim Armstrong, best known as one of the frontmen of Rancid. As Timebomb, Armstrong released a ton of music, both originals and covers, featuring a revolving crew of friends, including a song a day from October 29, 2012 through October 28, 2013. The songs reflect Armstrong’s broad musical taste so that a cover of Elton John isn’t even close to an outlier. Performing the song in a ska-punk style reminiscent of some Rancid songs or Armstrong’s prior band Operation Ivy, he retains both the original’s edge and its sense of fun. – Jordan Becker

9. Tortoise & Bonnie “Prince” Billy – Daniel

Will Oldham, a.k.a. Bonnie “Prince” Billy, teamed up with post-rockers Tortoise on the 2006 all-covers album The Brave and the Bold. Most of the songs were on the obscure side (hummed any Milton Nascimento lately?); it’s no surprise that the most-played Brave & Bold songs on YouTube are Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” and Elton John’s “Daniel.” The latter probably comes as a rude shock to Elton fans, with Tortoise laying down a spooky, hypnotic backing track, and Oldham sounding lost and not a little frightened for it. In their hands, the song is transformed from an MOR ballad to the broken lament we never knew it always was. – Patrick Robbins

8. Bedouine – Come Down in Time

When she released her “Come Down in Time” cover last fall, buzzy Armenian-American singer-songwriter Bedouine (Azniv Korkejian) called the song “beautifully bizarre.” Her version is more beautiful than bizarre, channeling Joni Mitchell over Elton John. Like something off one of Joni’s ornate 1970s records, the performance seems so delicate a stiff breeze might blow it away, but a strong core lies just beneath the surface. – Ray Padgett

7. Bo Diddley – Bad Side Of The Moon

Much like Muddy Waters attempted to reinvent himself and expose his music to a larger audience with album Electric Mud, Bo Diddley tried to do the same thing in 1971 when he released Another Dimension, a set of mostly cover songs that seemed to walk the line between blues, rock, and pop with various levels of success. Included in this set is a rousing rendition of “Bad Side of the Moon.” Bo’s version of this semi-deep track never released on a proper album replaces the original’s strings and orchestra with a trio of female back up singers and Al Kooper of Blood Sweat & Tears on keyboards. The guitar, of course, takes more of a center stage here. – Walt Falconer

6. The Killers – Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters

It takes a special vocalist to pull of an Elton John tune without sounding trite and forced, and The Killers’ Brandon Flowers manages that his cover of “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters.” This song is a perfect choice for Flowers, both vocally and instrumentally. The updated synth heavy backing and satisfyingly thick harmonies give the cover an air of modernity while still staying true to the original. – Angela Hughey

5. Sinead O’Connor – Sacrifice

1991’s aforementioned Two Rooms was one of the early big tribute albums, wherein the great and the good celebrate their peers. The fact that several songs from that album still stand up today, and appear in this list, bears credit to the choices then made. Sinead could sing the proverbial phone book, but I can think of few other songs that demonstrate so well her range and her technique, the timid, breathy whisper to the heart-curdling banshee, often within the same sentence. The build here is so moderated here as to creep right up on you, the change in timbre a sudden surprise that should release tears in any pulse-owning being. The multi-tracking then guarantees it. – Seuras Og

4. Chris Stapleton – I Want Love

Last year saw two incredibly high-profile Elton John tribute albums, coinciding with the kickoff of his retirement tour: the pop-leaning Revamp and the country Restoration. Though Revamp had a few keepers (see #6 on this list), Restoration worked far better as an album. We put Miranda Lambert’s “My Father’s Gun’ on our 2018 year-end list, but Chris Stapleton’s “I Want Love” has since snuck up me as the album’s standout. Stapleton’s powerful twang cuts through lush orchestration that would overwhelm a lesser singer. – Ray Padgett

3. Brandi Carlile – Sixty Years On

If you haven’t treated your ears to a listen of Brandi Carlile’s Live at Benaroya Hall, do so post-haste. The entire record is a treat and there are several fine cover songs to enjoy, including “The Sound of Silence,” “Hallelujah,” and the musical centerpiece of the album, a best-in-class version of “Sixty Years On.” Recorded live with the Seattle Symphony, Carlile is able to stay much in the orchestral mode of the original with the live recording in a hall with almost perfect acoustics providing an even more expansive listening experience than what is felt with the original. – Walt Falconer

2. Billy Paul – Your Song

“I remember hearing Elton John’s ‘Your Song’,” John Lennon said, “and remember thinking, ‘Great, that’s the first new thing that’s happened since we [the Beatles] happened.’ It was a step forward. There was something about his vocal that was an improvement on all the English vocals until then.” Billy Paul saw that vocal improvement and raised it. He brought jazzy, mature soul to the song, lifting it with everything from strings to backing vocals to piano glissandos and making Elton’s version seem almost ponderous. It’s more than half again as long as the original, but you’ll never notice it. – Patrick Robbins

1. Aretha Franklin – Border Song (Holy Moses)

Giving Elton a bigger hit than he had had himself at that stage, this 1972 belter is peak Aretha, from the piano, her own, to Billy Preston’s soaring organ, the evocation of Sunday tabernacle. And that voice, serving as a reminder (especially now, after her death, when her name is routinely invoked as the Queen of Soul) that to get such an accolade, you actually have to be able to sing. And Holy Moses, that she surely could. I don’t feel the song has been bettered, or could be. – Seuras Og

Check out more installments in our monthly ‘Best Covers Ever’ series, including Talking Heads, the Rolling Stones, Radiohead, and Pink Floyd.

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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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