Aug 152019

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40. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Ninety-Nine and a Half (Won’t Do)(Wilson Pickett cover)

John Fogerty is on record as being very irked that CCR (which Fogerty described as “the hottest shot on earth at this moment”) were stuck following the soporific sounds of the Grateful Dead at 12:30 AM. He reacted by refusing to sign releases for the band’s performance to appear on the soundtrack or in the film (much to his bandmates’ ire). But he also reacted by putting fierce playing and singing out there, and those bandmates were with him every step of the way. “Ninety-Nine and a Half (Won’t Do)” doesn’t have the soul of Wilson Pickett’s original, but it shows how hard CCR could rock, even when Fogerty was deciding they were having an off-night. – Patrick Robbins

39. Joan Baez — Joe Hill (Earl Robinson cover)

This classic union organizing song was based on the life of a man born in Sweden as Joel Emmanuel Hägglund, who moved to the United States and became a labor activist and member of the Industrial Workers of the World (the “Wobblies”), which had ties to both the socialist and anarchist movements. Hill was also a songwriter, who penned, among other songs, “There Is a Power in a Union.” Hill was charged with a murder that he almost certainly did not commit in 1914, and was executed in 1915. The same day, a bomb, believed to be planted by anarchists protesting the execution, was found at the estate of John D. Archbold, President of the Standard Oil Company, in Tarrytown, NY, less than a half mile from my house.

Hill became a martyr to the labor movement, and in the late 1920s or early 1930s, writer Alfred Hayes wrote a poem, “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night.” A few years later, Earl Robinson set it to music, and it was recorded by, among others, Paul Robeson, Pete Seeger, and Phil Ochs. But probably the most famous version was performed by Joan Baez (with guitarist Richard Festinger) at Woodstock. Baez introduced the song by proudly mentioning that her husband David Harris was in prison (for draft evasion) and had already organized a hunger strike, thus tying the earlier push for union organizing (and its music) to the antiwar movement (and its music). Her performance was beautiful, and had the huge crowd listening raptly. “Joe Hill” remains a standard feature of Baez’s setlist — in fact, she has been singing it pretty regularly on her recent European tour. – Jordan Becker

38. Mountain – Theme for an Imaginary Western (Jack Bruce cover)

Bass player and famed Cream producer Felix Pappalardi handled the vocal chores for the third song in Mountain’s set. “Theme,” an early prog-rock ballad, was co-written by Pappalardi, Jack Bruce, and lyricist Pete Brown. Bruce, the former Cream bassist, included the track on his first studio album, which appeared in the UK two weeks after the Woodstock festival. Here, Pappalardi’s touching vocals are similar in style to Bruce’s, but it’s West’s amazing live guitar work and solo in this arrangement that cements Mountain’s second entry on the list. Mountain were given their due when this version appeared on 1971’s Woodstock Two live album. – Frank Minishak

37. Paul Butterfield – Everything’s Gonna Be Alright (Little Walter cover)

Hardcore harmonica fans, this one is for you. The original song was released in 1959 by blues singer Little Walter. He was popular in the ‘50s and was known for his harmonica prowess. The original has a lazy beat, piano accompaniment, and simple percussion. Paul Butterfield, another harmonica whiz who was gaining popularity a decade later, paid homage to Little Walter at Woodstock. This cover turns into an extended jamming session with plenty of guitar solos. Because of the extended instrumental breaks for harmonica and guitar, vocals and lyrics play less of a role in this version. When they do occur, the style is more rock than jazz. Butterfield was later inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, the award citing this crossover from blues to rock as one of his major achievements. – Sara Stoudt

36. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Night Time Is the Right Time (Roosevelt Sykes cover)

I’m currently working on a Best Covers of 1969 post, and few bands compete with themselves on that list more than Creedence. That’s what happens when you release three albums in a single year, each with one or two choice covers. “Cotton Fields” eked out the win there, but they didn’t play that on Yasgur’s Farm, so we shine some much-deserved light on their wonderful “Night Time Is the Right Time” cover. CCR sometimes gets pegged as the John Fogerty show, but a performance like this shows just how crucial Tom, Doug, and Stu were to cooking that band’s gumbo. Creedence had one of the best rhythm sections in rock history, and their enthusiastic “wa-doo-day!” backing yelps push this performance over the top. – Ray Padgett

35. Joe Cocker – Hitchcock Railway (Jose Feliciano cover)

The song “Hitchcock Railway,” written by Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Donald “Duck” Dunn and frequent Cocker contributor Tony McCashen, was first released by international star Jose Feliciano on his tenth studio album, 1968’s Souled. Cocker, and the backing Grease Band, turns Feliciano’s snappy acoustic-led arrangement into a nitro-fueled, blues rock jam complete with cowbell, Alan Spenner’s searing guitar break, and Chris Stainton’s keyboard wizardry. Prior to the finale, it was arguably the climax of the powerful eleven-song set. Cocker released the track three months later on Joe Cocker!, his second gold-selling studio album. – Frank Minishak

34. Joan Baez – Warm and Tender Love (Joe Haywood cover)

In the ’60s, when it came to leading an audience into the hypothetical Church of Soul Music, where Aretha and Otis ruled, Joan Baez would’ve be considered a pretty unlikely candidate to take your hand. Throughout the decade, Joan used her mannered siren of a voice to elevate traditional folk ballads and interpret the work of esteemed songwriters like Bob Dylan pretty exclusively. While she emanated true vocal power in nearly everything she sang, she didn’t necessarily offer up raw, unbridled, and over-the-top emotion. But at Woodstock, Joan went there, to that Church of Soul, powerfully and convincingly, with her cover of Bobby Robinson and Joe Haywood’s, “Warm and Tender Love” a 1965 release which became a big hit for Percy Sledge the following year. She eschews Sledge’s horns, organ, and vocal accoutrements, transforming the passionate hymn of unrequited love into a dusty, beautiful piece of countrified soul. Her regal voice fills every corner as usual, but the amazing surprise is hearing her riff between choruses in the latter half of the song like a bona fide R & B diva. Don’t let the modest applause following the song fool you – this performance had SOUL, a sound she would eagerly explore again a few years later with real power that we wrote about here. – Hope Silverman

33. Melanie Safka – Mr. Tambourine Man (Bob Dylan cover)

This song appeared on the acoustic side of Bob Dylan’s fifth album, Bringing It All Back Home, in 1965. It was quickly covered by The Byrds less than half a year later, although they cut all but one verse. Melanie Safka uses that shorter arrangement, choosing the same verse to keep in her performance for Woodstock. The original song is jaunty, with a rich guitar sound; Melanie Safka’s is minimalistic and more mellow. Her acoustic guitar sound is much softer, the listener has to strain to hear at times, but her plucking style is deliberate. Her version contains only her voice and guitar, leaving out elements like the harmonica solo that filled the longer original. Her voice is distinctive, sounding almost at the point of breaking, giving the lyrics a more sorrowful interpretation. Safka started her career in the ‘60s, but before Woodstock she had only one hit in the Netherlands. Her first US hit, “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain),” was inspired by her experience playing at Woodstock, looking out at the sea of Bics and Zippos alight in the crowd. – Sara Stoudt

32. Johnny Winter – Mama, Talk to Your Daughter (J.B. Lenoir cover)

With a bluesman like Johnny Winter, it’s easily to focus on his performance of slightly less obvious songs – I did when I paid tribute upon his passing. But though it may not seem grab the eye like a cover of Bob Dylan or the Rolling Stones, Winter could rip through a blues standard like few others. His guitar playing – slide in particular – is of course without parallel, but underappreciated are his vocals. His own fault, in a way; this song, like many of his others, features one part singing to three parts soloing, but when he does step to the mic he’s a pleasure to hear. [Note: “Mama” starts at 11:00 in the above clip, but that song is audio-only, so I’d recommend watching the first ten-plus minutes of video too] – Ray Padgett

31. Joan Baez – Hickory Wind (The Byrds / Gram Parsons cover)

“Hickory Wind” is the “pawn to king four” of Americana music, and today it’s seen as Gram Parsons’ signature song. It was a slow burner, though – in 1968, while it appeared on the Byrds’ classic Sweetheart of the Rodeo, it was never released as a single, and it took Parsons re-recording it for his Grievous Angel record to get it spotted by the masses. Joan Baez spotted it first, recording it less than a year after it was released and confirming her prescience at recognizing great songwriters before anyone else. Her Woodstock set was an all-around triumph, and if her “Hickory Wind” didn’t blow across the documentary or its soundtrack, that only means the song was her secret for just a little longer. – Patrick Robbins


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