May 012020

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10. Twin Bandit – Long Monday

An ode to long Mondays could not be more timely. “Windows rolled up and my mind’s rolled down” indeed. Originally sung by Prine and a female background singer, the duo aspect of the song is still captured by this pair. The tambourine makes an appearance in this cover, adding a slightly more jaunty air. Even with more prominent instrumentation, Twin Bandit’s harmonies rise above. – Sara Stoudt

9. Manfred Mann’s Earth Band – Pretty Good

Manfred Mann and the Earth Band does for John Prine’s “Pretty Good” what Nazareth did for Joni Mitchell’s “This Flight Tonight.” That is to say, they throw everything into a blender, turn the setting to ’70s Rock and Roll, and crank things up to 11, Spinal Tap style. While this version is barely recognizable as a John Prine song, there is a sweet satisfaction in knowing that good songwriting always tastes delicious no matter how it is served. – Walt Falconer

8. John “Papa” Gros – Please Don’t Bury Me

“Please Don’t Bury Me” is the newest studio cover on the list, with the original having just come out in March of this year. So the title took on a darker tone when Prine died several weeks later (it was recorded before he even got sick). The song itself works wonderfully for the occasion, the veteran New Orleans pianist turning it into a proper second line. With horns and banjo and (I’m assuming) washboard, it skips along jauntily while highlighting Prine’s hilarious lyrics. Gros tells the story behind it in some depth for American Songwriter, and it’s worth reading. – Ray Padgett

7. George Strait – I Just Wanna Dance with You

In 1998, George Strait sat atop the country music universe. He had the genre’s second-highest grossing tour, a number one album with One Step at a Time, and a number one single with a cover of John Prine’s “I Just Want To Dance With You.” The song was co-written with Roger Cook and originally released on Prine’s 1986 album German Afternoons. It’s a West-Texas slow dancer, with plenty of Mexican-style guitar. Though Strait’s arrangement is similar to Prine’s, the country crooner transforms the track by singing it with his signature honky-tonk drawl. As with many of Strait’s hits, the traditional country song could have been recorded twenty years earlier or twenty years later and still topped the charts. – Curtis Zimmermann

6. Swamp Dogg – Sam Stone

Swamp Dogg was 29 when he recorded his version of the song, which details the story of a soldier returning from the war addicted to pain killers as he heads down that slippery slope into harder drugs. The man who adopted the double “G” in Dogg long before Snoop stole his moniker belts the tune out as if his very life depended on you hearing him tell you this story, right here, right now. He’s almost yelling out the lyrics instead of singing them. By the time the iconic line “There’s a hole in Daddy’s arm where all the money goes / Jesus Christ died for nothing, I suppose” kicks in, and the guitar and keyboards are replaced by lush string arrangements, you get the a cold feeling under your skin. Unlike with the original, where given a few lucky breaks things might have turned out differently, in Swamp Dogg’s telling, Sam Stone never had a chance. – Walt Falconer

5. 10,000 Maniacs – Hello in There

Another of Prine’s whimsical entreaties on lasting love, the thing about 10k Maniacs is that, in the Natalie Merchant years at least, whimsical is just something they didn’t do. So this reads much as one of theirs, a serious treatise, presented in their trademark swirl, more documentary than anecdote. Not that that is any bad thing, vintage Maniacs being a glory of impassioned and idiosyncratic vocals over a wall of uplifting melody, keyboards leading the surge. It feels an altogether different song and is set in an entirely different mindset from Prine, but just go with the flow. – Seuras Og

4. The Avett Brothers – Spanish Pipedream

“Spanish Pipedream” is exactly the kind of John Prine song the Avett Brothers could do justice to. It feels tailor-made for a hootenanny, complete with a shout-along chorus and plenty of room for wild harmonica and banjo. It’s one of Prine’s most upbeat and hopeful tunes, and the Avett Brothers crank that up to 11. – Mike Misch

3. Bonnie Raitt – Angel from Montgomery

I’ve always been of the opinion that a good cover can change the way you hear a song and a great cover can change the way you view an artist. Bonnie Raitt’s version of “Angel from Montgomery” does both and more. Raitt’s cover is widely considered the greatest version of the track, and it’s one of the defining songs of her career. Not only did she turn the song into a quiet anthem, her cover helped elevate Prine’s career as an artist. Raitt originally recorded the song for her 1974 album Streetlights. One could write countless sentences about this cover and still not capture the solemn beauty of that recording. Raitt has continued redefining the song again and again with her live performances. She has also played it alongside such artists as Lyle Lovett, Rickie Lee Jones, Ruthie Foster, and even Prine himself on multiple occasions. The cover has transcended its time and will likely help keep Prine’s name alive for decades to come. – Curtis Zimmermann

2. Alabama 3 – Speed at the Sound of Loneliness

Alabama 3 fans already know the band’s discography runs deep, but for everyone else: This is the band did the Sopranos theme song. This comes off the same album, the brilliant Exile on Coldharbour Lane, and I will admit that until this post I didn’t even realize it was a Prine cover. You’d certainly never guess from hearing it, full of hip-hop techniques and electronic production. They even add a quasi-rap verse. That said, the singer does have a good country twang, and you can catch a steel guitar and distorted harmonica emerge from the mix at times. He calls this “country acid house” at one point, and that’s as good a description of this indescribable sound as ever. – Ray Padgett

1. Miranda Lambert – That’s the Way the World Goes ‘Round

One of two covers on her third album, Revolution, Lambert turns an originally chipper tune with a deep and plodding bass and a light flute into a rockified gender reversal. This is most notable when “Beat his old lady with a rubber hose” becomes “And she beats her old man with her pantyhose.” Lambert puts the “spit” in spitfire with her caustic delivery, less hopeful than bitter. The heavy electric guitar opening joins with forceful percussion, juxtaposing the easygoing attitude of the original. However, the dueling percussion and banjo helps the tune return to its country roots towards the end. – Sara Stoudt

Check out more installments in our monthly ‘Best Covers Ever’ series, including Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Radiohead, and Pink Floyd.

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  7 Responses to “The Best John Prine Covers Ever”

Comments (7)
  1. Eddi Reader’s version of ‘Hello In There’ is really great, I think.

  2. Listened to all John prine songs luv them all

  3. Are you collecting John Prine covers from not so well known artists for a future post?

  4. That disappoints that Johnny Cash didn’t know John Prine. If you are gonna borrow someone’s art you really should know credit with authenticity. Also Phil King– obscure music man strikes again! There are some not prime time players in the first 3 installments/pages of this series. Cmon srsly there are no Taylor Swifts or Eddie Vedders here! I’m sure Youtube is full of unsigned folks covering Prine songs.

    • Hi I like to put together music collections (I make no money off of it share it with a few friends). I am working on a collection honoring John Prine, his buddy Steve Goodman, and Michael Smith. So I am researching covers too as part of this endeavor. I came across a clip of John being interviewed the other day, and he spoke about Johnny Cash’s cover of Sam Stone. Johnny had a conversation with John P., and indicated that he loved the song. But that he was troubled by the line “Jesus Christ died for nothing I suppose,” and John P. responded politely that the line was really the core of the song. But John also said to the interviewer, “hey it was Johnny Cash,” suggesting that he was not going to push it with Johnny because Johnny was, well, Johnny Cash. If you listen to the cover, Johnny did change that line, and though I respect Johnny’s religious leanings, really I agree with John P. that the line about Jesus just demonstrates the hopelessness of Sam Stone’s state of mind and his entire being. The line is really kind of essential. So Johnny did have some interaction with John P. about the song, and likely about more than that, and it is somewhat unfortunate that Johnny incorrectly stated John’s last name at the end of the cover. Not defending Johnny Cash, but I think it was just an honest mistake.

      • Cash knew him. He shared once that he listened to Prine when he needed inspiration. It may have been a slip of the tongue. I’m sure Cash felt badly later.

  5. You missed out on Jeffrey Foucault. He recorded an entire (brilliant) album of all Prine covers called Shoot The Moon Right Between The Eyes.

    It’s a beauty… Highlights include the most heartbreaking Mexican Home… A stunning One Red Rose… And a superb That’s The Way That The World Goes Round.

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