Aug 152019

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30. Canned Heat – On the Road Again (Floyd Jones cover)

Starting sparse and slow and building to a chugging blues stomp, Canned Heat tear through this 1953 delta blues track. There’s plenty of space given to the guitar solos here, and while they’re not particularly clean or complicated, they’re heavy and they push this straightforward song to another level. This is just a good, live blues number that will keep your head nodding. Coincidentally, the original song by Floyd Jones is based on a 1928 song by Tommy Johnson, whose song from the same year (“Canned Heat Blues”) was the inspiration for Canned Heat’s name! – Mike Misch

29. Joe Cocker – I Shall Be Released (Bob Dylan cover)

“I Shall Be Released” has the distinction of being covered by three different acts at Woodstock; Joan Baez performed it on day one, and the Band featured it on day three. Earlier that day, Joe Cocker sang it; the third Dylan cover of his set (after “Dear Landlord” and “Just Like a Woman”), it serves as a chance for all to catch their collective breath with a Sunday-go-to-meeting kind of tune, slow and stately and full of all the delicate raw soul Cocker couldn’t help but imbue it with. – Patrick Robbins

28. The Who – Eyesight to the Blind (Sonny Boy Williamson II cover)

At the height of their creative prowess in 1969, The Who graced the stage at sunrise on Sunday morning. The set ran for just over an hour and was driven predominantly by a full performance of Tommy, released only three months earlier. On the album, Pete Townshend credited Sonny Boy Williamson (II) for “Eyesight to the Blind” but outside of the lyrics, this version totally deconstructed the original and bears little resemblance to the 12-bar blues song recorded in 1951… which explains why we admire it. For the adaptation, Townshend incorporated staccato guitar strokes, like a violin, to form the basis of the song, while Roger Daltrey more or less sticks to the first two verses of Williamson’s original lyrics before making changes that better fit the “deaf and dumb” narrative. The Who’s track is often sub-titled “The Hawker” after a character in the rock opera. [Side note: Woodstock alum Richie Havens contributed vocals to the song on a Who-authorized 1972 album with the London Symphony Orchestra here.] Frank Minishak

27. Creedence Clearwater Revival – I Put a Spell on You (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins cover)

Never included in the original soundtrack and never released until now, CCR always believed their Woodstock performance was lackluster and limp, refusing its exposure to the public. Or was it that John Fogerty was peeved by the fact that the Grateful Dead, ahead on the bill, had overplayed their set, and the patience of the audience, meaning for a more muted response to his band? Fogerty yelps his way through it, and subtle it ain’t, positively hindered by the pedestrian drums and bass. The high point is an incandescent guitar solo, which threatens to almost make up for the rest. Not the highlight of their set, but it is a notoriously difficult song to do well, requiring the right image, something the song’s 1956 originator, Screaming Jay Hawkins, had made impossible for anyone sane or sensible to follow. CCR seem to have way too insufficient menace to carry it off, even if they took the studio version to the midpoint of the singles chart in the year before. – Seuras Og

26. Sly and the Family Stone – You Can Make it if You Try (Gene Allison cover)

Gene Allison hit the charts with this Ted Jarrett-penned song in 1958, but Sly and the Family Stone revived it as the closer on their classic album Stand! in 1969. This funky version has plenty of energy, stabbing keyboards and horns, and some pretty intense drumming throughout. It doesn’t have a lot in the way of lyrics, but still plenty of power! – Mike Misch

25. Joan Baez & Jeffrey Shurtleff—Drug Store Truck Driving Man (The Byrds cover)

In March 1968, while in Nashville recording Sweetheart of the Rodeo, considered to be the first “country rock” record, The Byrds fulfilled Gram Parsons’ dream of playing the Grand Ole Opry and also appeared on traditional country DJ Ralph Emery’s show on WSM radio. Both appearances were nightmares, as the Opry audience heckled and jeered the band (even as they covered Merle Haggard), and Emery mocked the band, only reluctantly played an advance copy of “You Ain’t Going Nowhere,” and called it mediocre while the band sat in his studio. Shortly after that embarrassment, Parsons and Roger McGuinn, who believed that they were honoring, not desecrating, country music, wrote “Drug Store Truck Driving Man,” which strung together a series of redneck stereotypes about an “all night DJ,” including that the subject was the “head of the Ku Klux Klan” (which Emery was not). The song ends with “This one’s for you, Ralph.”

In 1985, McGuinn appeared on a TV show hosted by Emery, leading to a pretty uncomfortable exchange about the 1968 appearance and the song. Although Emery was somewhat apologetic about how times were different back then, he clearly hadn’t done any homework, and while McGuinn was gracious, his anger about the Byrds’ treatment in Nashville is still apparent.

At Woodstock, Joan Baez sang the song as a duet with guitarist and singer Jeffrey Shurtleff, who introduced it as being for then-California governor “Ronald Ray-guns,” and as part of the draft resistance movement. Shurtleff and Baez switch verses and change lyrics to make it a more pointedly political song, turning it from a middle finger directed at an unfriendly DJ to a broader indictment of “square,” intolerant, pro-Vietnam War, mainstream American culture. So they left out the “Ralph” line. – Jordan Becker

24. Grateful Dead – Turn On Your Love Light (Bobby “Blue” Bland cover)

There is a vocal segment of the Deadhead community that believes the soul of the band died with the passing of founding vocalist and keyboardist Ron “Pigpen” McKernan in 1973. While the reputation of the Dead’s set at Woodstock remains clouded, Pigpen helped the band deliver an epic 47-minute cover of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Turn on Your Love Light.” The song is one of the Dead’s most beloved tracks from their early years. When the song opened, the band was joined briefly on stage by a stranger whose name has been lost to time; Phil Lesh would later dub him “the Phantom Rapper.” Once the track got up to speed, Pigpen sang it in his trademark bluesman/manic preacher style, belting out the lyrics and riffing along with various words and phrases as the band jammed. The performance lives on as a testament to Pigpen’s power as a frontman, even if the band’s surviving members would prefer to forget the whole night. – Curtis Zimmermann

23. Sha Na Na – Teen Angel (Mark Dinning cover)

For thirty minutes early on Monday morning, a ‘50s cover band blew through a dozen songs for a dwindling crowd who were likely only tolerant because the band – Sha Na Na – was the last thing standing between them and headliner Jimi Hendrix. Their arrangement for a teen tragedy song that became a #1 hit for Mark Dinning in 1960 was performed slightly slower than the original, but structurally, it was hardly any different. What makes this version stand out in a big way though was the unadulterated, over-the-top camp injected by the band and lead singer Rob Leonard. The effect can certainly be heard audibly, but it’s better appreciated visually, and thanks to the 40th Anniversary 2009 edition of the Woodstock film it was made possible. The crowd shots capture the appreciation of the remaining “hippies” – chief among them (at the 1:16 mark) a bemused Hendrix – who enjoyed being in on the joke. Sha Na Na’s appearance at the festival, orchestrated in no small part by Hendrix, ended up being a marketing coup. That an act unlike its peers, a decade removed from an era it was paying tribute to, could step in, stand out, and launch a national wave of ‘50s nostalgia was bizarrely counterculture in its own right. – Frank Minishak

22. Blood, Sweat & Tears – And When I Die (Laura Nyro cover)

The powerful Canadian-American jazz-rock ensemble became superstars on the strength of two smash hit albums released the year prior to Woodstock. “And When I Die” reached #2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and became the group’s third consecutive gold-selling single. Singer/songwriter Laura Nyro wrote the song at 17 and included a soulful version on her 1967 debut album; but not before selling it to folk artists Peter, Paul and Mary for their 1966 album Album. At Woodstock, Blood, Sweat & Tears would need to overcome early-morning humidity, which wreaked havoc on the horns, before finishing their ten-song set in fine fashion. The now legendary David Clayton-Thomas’ bluesy cowboy-styled vocals, and an arrangement straight from a ‘60s Western film soundtrack, set this version apart from its predecessors. Here, the band’s playful enthusiasm is marked by Steve Katz’s harmonica, Dick Halligan’s keys, and of course the trademark horns, while the crowd clearly enjoys the moment. – Frank Minishak

21. Grateful Dead – Mama Tried (Merle Haggard cover)

“The thing about Woodstock was that you could feel the presence of invisible time travelers from the future who had come back to see it,” Jerry Garcia said years after the festival. “You could sense the significance of the event as it was happening.” As for the Dead’s performance itself, well, history has been less kind. The show is often labelled as one of the band’s “worst.” Their set was plagued with technical difficulties. These included various members getting shocked by the microphones, CB signals coming through the monitors, and stage hands yelling out that the whole structure was collapsing. The group soldiered on and played a five-song setlist that, with various technical mishaps and stoppages, lasted more than 90 minutes. The band’s cover of Merle Haggard’s rebel-child classic “Mama Tried” only took a fraction of the time, clocking in at under three minutes. The cover was considerably less memorable than what happened afterwards. As bassist Phil Lesh recalled in his memoir, “We got through that (“Mama Tried”) without much trouble; right then all the stage power goes off.” – Curtis Zimmermann


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