10. Arlo Guthrie – Walkin’ Down the Line (Bob Dylan cover)
Bob Dylan never released “Walkin’ Down the Line” on a proper album, but his publisher sure did a good job shopping it around regardless. By the time Arlo got to it, everyone from Joan Baez to Glen Campbell to Odetta had recorded the song. Arlo opens it charmingly, teasing the audience with “We’re going to do a Bobby Dylan tune. Maybe he’ll do it with us…” (yeah right). The audience would do it with Arlo, though, as he guides them through a sing-along. It’s charmingly loose and shambolic – as opposed to the chaotic version of shambolic that would ensue when Dylan himself attempted to play it with the Grateful Dead. – Ray Padgett
9. Jimi Hendrix – Hey Joe (The Leaves cover)
Though of course we know different, to any casual music lover Jimi Hendrix’s version of “Hey Joe” is the original, and it probably remains the yardstick by which any other cover is measured. For Woodstock (at the 23:56 mark in the terrific radio documentary above), Hendrix had ditched Noel Redding, adding a second guitar and two additional percussionists. Not that you can hear them. Billy Cox, an old buddy recruited on bass, is low in the mix too, almost fluffing the essential rising/falling bassline that connects the verses of the song, at least on his first attempt. Not the best rendition of the song ever played by Hendrix, but, as the last song played at the festival, mid-Monday morning, with most already gone, maybe relief was being sensed.
But, looking at the filmed concert, since when was this performance other than that, a performance? So we get all the teeth playing and the behind-the-head playing that enlivened the residual heads. And, whilst the playing is still astounding, I just feel it could have been better without the trickery. It’s like Bill Graham said in his book Bill Graham Presents: “When Hendrix gave bad performances, it was because he gave in to the visual. He gave in to performing. When he was doing a three-and-a-half gainer on stage, the fingers couldn’t possibly have been as lucid as when he concentrated on playing.”
But Lord, I wish I had been there. – Seuras Og
8. Janis Joplin – Piece of My Heart (Erma Franklin cover)
Erma Franklin may have provided back-up vocals for her younger sister Aretha, including on “Respect,” but she also had her own brief turn in the spotlight. Erma released the original Jerry Ragovoy/Bert Berns-penned “Piece of My Heart” in 1967. It was her only song to make the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song starts out rather saccharine, but we start to hear the soulful urgency in the “come on”s. Janis Joplin’s cover version at Woodstock dials up the angst, starting much harder with electric guitar and heavy percussion. She leads with the “come on”s in her signature raspy voice, keeping the original song’s brass and adding guitar solos throughout. The vocals are delivered as a mixture of singing and yelling, making the listener feel the rawness in Joplin’s interpretation of the lyrics. Even as a cover, this song is one of the songs most associated with Joplin. Despite their differing vocal styles, both artists show that women can be tough. – Sara Stoudt
7. Crosby, Stills & Nash – Blackbird (Beatles cover)
As a member of the British pop-rock outfit the Hollies, Graham Nash spent much of the ‘60s chasing after the Beatles on the charts. In 1969, he finally caught up in a big way when his newly-formed group Crosby, Stills & Nash recorded a cover of the Fab Four’s “Blackbird” during the sessions for CSN’s self-titled debut album. The track showcased the trio’s signature three-part harmony blend. Though the recording itself would go unreleased until 1991, the group made the song a regular part of their repertoire early on and even played it at Woodstock. Before the festival crowd, the harmonies don’t mesh quite as well on stage as they do in the studio performance (how could they, really). At those moments when everything comes together you can see the excitement on the trio’s faces. Even though Woodstock was only their second live show together, they had truly found their sound. – Curtis Zimmermann
6. Santana – Evil Ways (Willie Bobo cover)
Before Willie Bobo became a session musician for Santana in the ‘70s, he was a percussionist for a variety of Latin and jazz bands. Bobo released “Evil Ways” on his eighth album in 1967. The song has a laid-back syncopated beat augmented by brass. Santana’s version of “Evil Ways” has a slightly faster tempo. An organ takes the place of the original’s saxophone in the instrumental solo, yielding a more muted melody. The sharpness returns though in Santana’s guitar solo later on in the song.
Carlos Santana, playing guitar and contributing backup vocals, performed this cover on the second day of the Woodstock festival. Serendipitously, Santana got a slot at Woodstock thanks to their manager, Bill Graham, who helped organize the festival under the condition that an opportunity be provided for the band to play. They went on to release this cover as a single off of their debut album later in the year, and it became their first top hit. Santana’s knack for a cover would continue; their second album’s hit “Black Magic Woman” was originally a Fleetwood Mac song. – Sara Stoudt
5. Canned Heat – Going Up the Country (Henry Thomas cover)
Nearly 40 years after his death, Texas bluesman Henry Thomas was one of the great unknown stars of Woodstock. In the ‘20s, Thomas recorded a handful of songs that would go on to be covered by numerous artists, including Bob Dylan, Taj Mahal, and the Lovin’ Spoonful. But it was the electric blues band Canned Heat’s cover of Thomas’ “Bull-Doze Blues” that would serve as an unofficial anthem for the festival. Canned Heat reworked Thomas’ original into “Going Up the Country” for their 1968 album Living the Blues. The band’s new lyrics perfectly captured the hippie ethos of the weekend: “I’m goin’ up the country, baby don’t you want to go?” The live cover appears on the soundtrack alongside snippets of chaotic crowd noise and stage announcements, including the infamous warning to avoid the brown acid, giving a whole new meaning to country living. – Curtis Zimmermann
4. The Who – Summertime Blues (Eddie Cochran cover)
Seven months later, The Who would recorded the iconic version of “Summertime Blues” at Leeds, but I suspect their Woodstock version, had it been released earlier, could have just as easily been the hit. However, not only did Live at Leeds come out first, but “Summertime Blues” got left off the Woodstock movie soundtrack album. Roger’s called Woodstock the worst gig they ever played, largely because of technical difficulties making it difficult for him to hear anything. In his memoir, he writes: “Looking out unto the predawn gloom of Woodstock, making out the vague shape of half a million mud-caked people as the lights swept over them, I felt in my sleep-deprived, hallucinating state that this was my nightmare come true. The monitors kept breaking. The sound was shit. We were all battling the elements and ourselves. Music and peace.”
Either in spite of all the difficulties – or, given such a combative group of blokes, maybe because of them – the bands hits as hard as they ever did on “Summertime Blues”, Roger flailing in peak fringe, Pete windmilling, and John leaning into his low line with gusto. And the Woodstock version has one major advantage over Leeds: here you can actually watch the masters at work. – Ray Padgett
3. Janis Joplin with The Kozmic Blues Band – To Love Somebody (The Bee Gees cover)
With the preponderance of “To Love Somebody” covers available, it is sometimes hard to remember the 1967 original, an early Bee Gees hit ballad of some sweet simplicity, as far removed from their later disco mode as are the many cover versions from that original. Reggae and country artists have all had a go, but it is when the song gets an injection of soul that it works best. Janis Joplin had famously parted from the band that collectively broke her at Monterey the year before; now, with a crack band of session men, Janis had a reputation to prove, even playing after midnight on Saturday. From the classic Stax-style clipped guitar as she starts to sing, this was no under-rehearsed bar band; in fact, Joplin’s vocal is arguably the weakest link. Not that it isn’t good – her vocal is a an acrobatic force of nature, hitting notes all over the shop, the right ones, by and large, when needed, but rather too many crammed in elsewhere. But it must have been a sensation then, the melismatic calisthenics unusual for the day, at least for the predominantly white rock audience. – Seuras Og
2. Joe Cocker – With A Little Help From My Friends (Beatles cover)
Joe Cocker’s organ-drenched, gospel-soul studio reimagining of “With A Little Help From My Friends” (which featured Jimmy Page on guitar), was a huge hit and catapulted the gravelly-voiced singer out of bar-band obscurity. It even garnered a telegram and a print ad of congratulations from the Beatles, who were apparently impressed by his version of the song, which John & Paul originally wrote for Ringo Starr to sing on 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. And its fame was renewed for a new generation when it was used years later as the theme for the TV show The Wonder Years.
Cocker performed at Woodstock, backed by the crack Grease Band, on Sunday afternoon, a few hours after the Jefferson Airplane’s morning set, and he closed out his performance with an incendiary, soulful version of “With A Little Help From My Friends.” It is one of the highlights of the original film and has eclipsed the memory of Richie Havens’ performance of the song during his festival-opening set. Cocker’s commanding, emotional vocals took the song from Ringo’s fun, musical hall-influenced ditty to someplace nearly religious. A few years later, Cocker’s legendary affected stage mannerisms provided John Belushi with an opportunity to perform a nearly perfect imitation of Cocker’s version of the song on Saturday Night Live’s third-ever episode (and led to a duet between the two men during the second season).
Appropriately, after Cocker finished his fiery set, the heavens opened up, and a torrential downpour shut down the music for three hours. – Jordan Becker
1. Jimi Hendrix – The Star-Spangled Banner (Francis Scott Key, John Stafford Smith cover)
When the last act finally took the stage around 9:00 AM on Monday morning, most of the “half a million strong” had already departed the festival. Reports vary that anywhere from 80,000 to less than 200,000 people remained for the two-hour set by Jimi Hendrix and his Gypsy Suns and Rainbows. The transcendent rendition of the national anthem, at 3 minutes 46 seconds, fell in the middle of a 30-minutes-plus medley that arguably represented the climax of the festival.
Francis Scott Key’s 1814 poem “The Defence of Fort McHenry,” set to John Stafford Smith’s “The Anacreontic Song,” famously described “the rockets’ red glare” and “bombs bursting in air,” which Hendrix replicated sonically via intense usage of his guitar’s tremolo bar and string-bending techniques. Other embellishments included the sounds of ambulance sirens, machine gun fire (from drummer Mitch Mitchell), more bombs exploding, and a bugler playing “Taps.” The sounds were further enhanced with Hendrix’ live tuning and plethora of special effects pedals. Hendrix scholar Joel Brattin points out that over 50 live recordings of varying length exist of Hendrix playing the anthem, and over half were performed before Woodstock. This one, states Brattin, “was among the best, and certainly no other version is so iconic.”
A couple more adjectives were famously used to describe it: while interviewing Hendrix on his talk show, Dick Cavett referred to the performance as “unorthodox.” Hendrix politely demurred, saying, “I thought it was beautiful. But there you go.” – Frank Minishak