Aug 152019

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50. Tim Hardin – Simple Song of Freedom (Bobby Darin cover)

Acclaimed, but mostly forgotten, folk musician and composer Tim Hardin fittingly leads off our countdown as the acoustic performers did on Day 1 of the festival. Hardin’s version of pop star Bobby Darin’s early socially conscious work appeared in 1969 on Hardin’s second studio album. Commercially available before Darin’s original, it was to be Hardin’s only charting single. [Ironically, the Hardin-penned “If I Were a Carpenter” was a Top Ten hit for Darin a year prior.] Hardin’s Woodstock set was uneven due to stage fright and substance abuse, but here the anti-war vocals come across as sweet and impassioned. Hardin shortens the original and the instrumentation is rightfully focused on his acoustic guitar. Darin performed the song several times for live albums and on television as an up-tempo Elvis-like number that built to a rousing full-band finish. A demo from circa 1966-1969 was first released on a 1999 Darin Very Best of compilation. – Frank Minishak

49. Johnny Winter – Tobacco Road (John D. Loudermilk / Nashville Teens cover)

“We really haven’t been working together with Edgar, so we don’t have any material,” Johnny Winter half-explains, half-apologizes to the crowd. “So we’d like to do a tune we used to do a long time ago, kind of a jam thing.” If his remarks lowered anyone’s expectations, the cover of “Tobacco Road” that followed cleared that hurdle with the greatest of ease. With Johnny’s brother Edgar on lead vocals, the song loses any sense of the garage from whence it came, traveling instead the road of electric blues, with the jazz flourish of Edgar’s alto sax and a ten-second scream that rivals anything Joe Cocker let loose with earlier that day. – Patrick Robbins

48. The Band – Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever (The Four Tops cover)

An encore is often a great opportunity to show off a favoured song by another, this being a terrific version of a terrific song, to the extent I wish the Band had played more Motown. Co-written by Stevie Wonder (who also played drums on it), it was a hit for the Four Tops in 1966, sung by the great Levi Stubbs. Eschewing his more considered phrasing, Rick Danko’s soaring, straining voice squeezes extra emotion into the song; Garth Hudson’s glorious organ burbles all around, framed by economic bursts of Robbie Robertson’s trademark soloing. When the chorus kicks into ragged harmonies, it is truly sweeter than ever. Near their home territory of the Big Pink, this band were on fire that night, again curiously lacking from the original film. Maybe they were deemed out of time with the then-zeitgeist, their image almost more redneck than hippy, but the intervening years have shown them actually to be timeless. – Seuras Og

47. Mountain – Beside the Sea (The Vagrants cover)

Fronted mainly by the indefatigable, larger-than-life guitarist Leslie West, Mountain stormed the Woodstock stage at 9:00 PM on Saturday night. This would be only the third live gig for the hard-rocking quartet, performing a few weeks after West’s debut album (also called (“Mountain”). Midway through the set, the band would cover “Beside the Sea,” a single written by Woodstock Day 1 darling Bert Sommer for Long Island garage band The Vagrants – Leslie West’s previous band. While his distinctive guitar work stands out on both, the song evolved from its psychedelic origins to a fuller, bluesier, heavy metal sound with West on vocals, Felix Pappalardi’s bass, and Steve Knight’s keyboards. Mountain would buck the trend for bands that were overlooked from the 1970 documentary film and soundtrack and experience major post-Woodstock success, including two gold albums and a #21 hit with “Mississippi Queen” in early 1970. – Frank Minishak

46. The Band – Don’t Do It (Marvin Gaye cover)

Though they never recorded it on a studio album, The Band’s version of “Don’t Do It” (“Baby Don’t You Do It” in Marvin Gaye’s original recording) remained one of their live showstoppers throughout their career. At Woodstock, fans heard this staple in its earliest incarnation. claims this is the second ever time they played it live. An exaggeration, surely, with many setlists missing, but close enough: Woodstock was only The Band’s 14th show. They, of course, had a hell of a lot of live experience in other incarnations, backing Ronnie Hawkins as The Hawks and then Bob Dylan. And it certainly shows. Gaye’s original came out after they’d ended their work with Hawkins, but it sounds like something they could have played together, a soul rave-up that builds to a weird and wonky Robbie Robertson guitar solo. A version performed two and half years after Woodstock, released on their Rock of Ages live album, became an unlikely Top 40 single – the last of their career. – Ray Padgett

45. Richie Havens – Freedom/Motherless Child (Traditional cover)

Folk singer Richie Havens was not originally scheduled to open the Woodstock Festival on August 15, 1969. His trio was selected for the honor because they had the least amount of gear and could be easily transported to the stage by helicopter. After a sweltering performance, with multiple encores, Havens played every song in his repertoire. At this point, Havens claims he just sang the first word that came to mind: “Freedom!” He then continued with a rendition of “Motherless Child,” a spiritual with origins dating back to the 1870s. “I hadn’t sung ‘Motherless Child’ for about 14 years,” Havens said in a 2009 interview. “I used to sing it with a family gospel group.” Though the lyrics tell of a child being far from home, Havens looked like he was right where he belonged. Playing his hard-pounding polyrhythmic folk and shouting out “Clap your hands,” Havens transformed the show into a secular revival. The images from the Woodstock documentary of him performing the cover in a sweat-soaked dashiki endure as one of the definitive moments of both the festival and his career. – Curtis Zimmermann

44. Jefferson Airplane – Wooden Ships (Crosby, Stills & Nash cover)

Jefferson Airplane’s version of the post-apocalyptic classic “Wooden Ships” is one of those rare songs that pushes the very definition of what it means to be a cover. Co-written by David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Jefferson Airplane’s Paul Kantner, the track was originally recorded by Crosby, Stills & Nash for the trio’s May 1969 self-titled debut. Kantner asked that his name be left off of CSN’s release due to a dispute with his own management. Jefferson Airplane would later record a version for their November 1969 album Volunteers. In between the two releases, both bands would play “Wooden Ships” at Woodstock. CSN’s version has been immortalized thanks to its inclusion in the Woodstock documentary and soundtrack. Jefferson Airplane played it live one day prior to CSN. They started off with a slow, brooding rumination on the lyrics, similar to the rendition that would make it onto Volunteers. As the song continued, the group turned it into an extended jam that clocks in at more than 21 minutes. At various points, different members call out “Come ride the music,” lyrics that were not in CSN’s original. Jefferson Airplane created a song that not only is different from CSN’s but also transcends the one that would end up their own album. Whether you consider it a cover or not, it was a truly original performance. – Curtis Zimmermann

43. The Who – Shakin’ All Over (Johnny Kidd and The Pirates cover)

Johnny Kidd and The Pirates were an English band who enjoyed popularity in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, and yes, they did dress like pirates for their shows. Their song “Shakin’ All Over” was released in 1960 and went to #1 on the UK Singles Chart. However, the original version didn’t gain popularity outside of the UK. The song was often covered by The Who, but the motivation came from another cover by a Canadian band, The Guess Who. The Guess Who version reached #1 in Canada in 1965. Since The Who and The Guess Who were mixed up by listeners, The Who often got requests for the song, so they started playing it. Their version has heftier guitar and percussion with rougher vocals, emphasizing their status as pure rock, rather than Johnny Kidd and The Pirates’ rock and roll style. The nature of the Woodstock performance allowed for a lengthier version of the song, expanded by extensive guitar solos. – Sara Stoudt

42. Joe Cocker – Let’s Go Get Stoned (Ray Charles cover)

Joe Cocker and The Grease Band kicked off the afternoon of Day 3 with what would prove to be one of the most momentous sets of the festival. The gravelly voiced R&B legend-in-waiting had been touring extensively and was in fine form by the time he and his band got to Woodstock. Roughly halfway through his nearly 90 minutes, Cocker would shift the crowd into a higher gear when he launched into his version of idol Ray Charles’ 1966 #1 R&B hit. Midway through the song, Cocker’s preacher-like ad lib with keyboardist Chris Stainton mesmerized the crowd and marked the biggest departure from Charles’ version.

Charles was inspired by the then-unknown Ronnie Milsap’s 1965 country-blues version. One of the earliest hits written by Nickolas Ashford, Valerie Simpson, and Josephine Armsted, the song was first released by The Coasters in 1965. – Frank Minishak

41. Joan Baez & Jeffrey Shurtleff – One Day at a Time (Willie Nelson cover)

In 1969, Willie Nelson still couldn’t get any respect. Several years prior he’d branched out from being a songwriter-for-hire (of “Crazy” and many others) to recording his own songs, but Joan Baez still introduced “One Day at a Time” as a song by now-forgotten San Francisco hippie country group Styx River Ferry. Willie merits nary a mention; apparently titling an album – the very album this song came from – His Own Songs wasn’t enough to make the point. Baez goes on to call it “kind of a theme song for resistance, but, if you think about it, it’s probably a good theme song for anybody.” Her sideman Jeffrey Shurtleff beautifully accompanies her on harmonies, and gets his own verse to sing. He’s good, too; wonder why his own career never took off. The following year she’d release “One Day at a Time” as the final track on an album of the same name. To my surprise, she hasn’t covered another Willie Nelson song since. Maybe if she’d known he wrote it. – Ray Padgett


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