Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
The later ’70s had seen the Rolling Stones, not for the first time or the last, written off and out of touch, booted out of the limelight by the twin prongs of disco and punk. They were just too old: Jagger and co. were mostly in their mid to late thirties, Bill Wyman soon to be an unbelievable 42. Exile on Main Street, from six years earlier, had seemed their last point of mass credibility, the interim recordings treading water.
Mick Taylor had been gradually eased out the band and ex-Face Ronnie Wood recruited to replace him. Good for their image, less so for their muso fans, Taylor having brought back a stronger blues influence into the band. Wood was a more raffish presence, present as much for his visual foil between Jagger and Richards, all spiky raven-haired bouffant and cheekbones, if actually a more than competent guitarist, especially on slide. His presence was soon deemed essential, as Keith Richards was tied up in drug-based lawsuits during much of this period. The Glimmer Twins also made a decision to step back from the panoply of backing musicians now deemed a full part of the Stones bandwagon. So when the time came to start recording the new album, no Nicky Hopkins, no Billy Preston, barely even any Ian Stewart. Extra keyboards came courtesy Wood’s old mucker, Ian MacLagan, with perennial ’70s session man Mel Collins adding sax. Jagger was adding a third guitar more frequently; despite his own accomplishment on the harmonica, that came courtesy of NY bluesman, Sugar Blue.
Released in June 1978, Some Girls was instantly lauded as a return to form, with a strong performance both in the album charts: #1 in the US and #3 in the UK, with top ten attainments in most of the rest of the western world, and with the run of singles, especially “Miss You.” Despite concerns about the lyrical content of the title track, leading to it being banned by many black radio stations, it was the only Stones LP to be nominated for a Grammy, losing out to (o the irony) Saturday Night Fever. It was the band’s highest selling in the US, notching up six million sales by the millennium. I certainly bought it and bought into it, finding my faith restored after the lackluster It’s Only Rock’n’Roll, which I had felt to be near self-parody.
Grace Kelly – Miss You (The Rolling Stones cover)
Having used the Concretes up for our Best Rolling Stones covers piece, this needed a bit of digging. Because, whilst there are quite a few versions of “Miss You” out there, none of them, that beauty apart, quite do it. The vocals on Etta James‘ too lazy, the jazz in Jacqui Naylor‘s too knowing. I wanted neither the harmonica nor the disco, nor, for that matter, any hard blues take on it. And then I caught this, it sounding the link between K-pop, Frank Zappa and a cheap drum machine. Actually her real name, by virtue of her adoption, Grace Kelly is a highly respected alto saxophonist and has been described as a prodigy: she is still only 28 and has been working for most of that time, at least since hitting double figures, her first composition coming aged seven. I confess I have not heard much of or about her, but I like this bonkers version, which pays little regard to the vocals once they are out of the way, using the basic melody merely as a launchpad for some instrumental noodling that is sufficiently inventive to entice further listens.
Merry Go Round – When the Whip Comes Down (The Rolling Stones cover)
Sadly not the hyphenated Merry-Go-Round, Emitt Rhodes’ band of the mid-60s, but a Norwegian band from Oslo, active during the ’90s. Which is pretty much all I can find out about them. This somewhat generic facsimile somehow manages to lose the energetic and almost punk feel of the original, rendering it into a standard autopilot boogie in the style of the lazier output from, perhaps, the aforesaid It’s Only Rock’n’Roll, but has a pleasant enough piano break and harmonica solo. It comes from an (other) all-Scandi tribute, Perfectly Stoned. Better may have been this version by Chuck Prophet, ex-Green on Red, and Charlie Sexton, from Bob Dylan’s band, which stems from a tour wherein the duo re-presented the whole Some Girls album. If only I had been able to find a clip with clearer sound.
Terry Callier – Just My Imagination (The Temptations cover)
By now a cover was expected to appear on every new Stones record; Some Girls saw “Just My Imagination” filling that slot. This 1971 Temptations #1 was surely one of the band’s favorites, given the number of times they’ve performed it live. Unsurprisingly, the song has sustained a huge cover history, both between and after the Stones shot their shot. So it is to 2002 that I go, with this version putting both quite a spin on the song and any preconceived notion of Terry Callier. A solid if largely unacclaimed soul singer throughout the ’60s and ’70s, Callier’s career was crumbling and he retired from performance in 1983. But he had not been forgotten in the UK, and was picked up by the DJs of the emergent acid-jazz movement, who enabled his career to continue. He went on to work alongside both Beth Orton and Massive Attack, his smoky vocals a perfect foil between the organic and the electronic. He died in 2012. This comes from an album of remixed songs called Total Recall, with the hands of Groove Armada behind in this revision.
Barry Goldberg – Some Girls (The Rolling Stones cover)
Uncertain whether it what was the black girls are said to do all night long or otherwise, but there are surprisingly few covers of Some Girls‘ title track. Arguably one of the album’s weaker songs, here it is lifted into a slower and bluesier groove, courtesy Goldberg, a veteran of the Chicago blues scene, and a member of Paul Butterfield Blue Band when they backed Bob Dylan going electric at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. Involved successively of The Electric Flag and Steve Miller’s first band, the Goldberg/Miller Blues Band, he moved mainly into songwriting and production, albeit popping up with his own material in the ensuing years, notably with Stephen Stills’ 2013-16 blues project, as/in the Rides. This track comes from a 2002 release, Stoned Again, playing keyboards on an instrumental framing of all Stones’ songs. Maybe a little too smooth for some, it is a decent set and features Mick Taylor on a couple of cuts.
Silas Hoveley – Lies (The Rolling Stones cover)
There’s always one. Every Full Covers album has a clunker in the track listing, the one no one has seen fit to cover, at least outside poorly filmed sloppy bar bands. “Lies” isn’t a bad song, if just a bit Stones by numbers, an autopilot boogie. Call it forgettable, as in, everybody forgot to cover it. So I again had to put this out to tender, not without a sense of foreboding. It was with some surprise an old school friend, now a name producer, put me onto an eccentric body of work by autodidact Stones fanatic Silas Hoveley, who, appreciative of the lack of any talent still deigned to produce a cover of every song in the Jagger-Richards canon. Whether he succeeded in that task, I don’t know, the MySpace source long since deleted, and this all I had appraisal of. I think you will agree it is interesting, if bearing little in common with the original, bar the title and the oddly enunciated closing lyrics.
Todd Snider – Faraway Eyes (The Rolling Stones cover)
Again, having used up the only other version in the 50 Best Covers, it was reassuring to find this live version, performed by Todd Snider at a Canadian Folk Festival. He plays it straight, as in as straight as the ludicrous lyric allows, and rather than pointing out the in-joke of the hideous ineptness of Mick’s accent, he duplicates it, in such a way as to fool you into thinking the original maybe wasn’t that far off how country hicks sing and speak. The hint of a smile plays around his mouth, and I am sure the audience are none the wiser. I like to believe, a naive belief I am sure, that the audience might not even have heard the original. Snider, no stranger to Cover Me, is a treasure, panning for and finding gold with his gruff mix of folk and Americana, often pushing a sly political message with thoughtful lyrics that both challenge and entertain.
The Shop Assistants – Respectable (The Rolling Stones cover)
When I say this is one of the best two covers on a 1990 Stones tribute called Stoned Again, quite different, other than name, from the Goldberg similarly titled above, you can probably begin to imagine quite how awful are the others. It being an execrable compilation. I will grudgingly accept there is a some naive charm in this soulless bash and bluster, mainly from the total disengage of the vocals and the general chaos unfolding at the end. It’s a shame, as the Shop Assistants I actually had time for, back in the day, their bored nihilism having a spark more originality than this cover suggests they had. (The other OK cover, should you wonder, is the Inspiral Carpets take on “Gimme Shelter.”)
Steve Earle & the Supersuckers – Before They Make Me Run (The Rolling Stones cover)
The thing about the songs Keith Richards sings lead on is that they are often the best songs on the album, so much so that you you have to sort of forget what a thin din is that instrument, and have to convince yourself as to the charm of his delivery. And of course that is tosh, as whenever somebody who can actually hold a tune will display, given one to play with. In fact, there is probably a whole as yet to be made tribute record, Songs Sung by Keef, and I will gladly take the praise, should anyone run with that inspiration. Earle can sing, if with a hefty idiosyncratic sideways slur across both the notes and the received pronunciation. To pair him with the Supersuckers, Eddie Spaghetti’s punk metal band, so OTT that nobody knew if their tongues were in their cheeks or licking the paint off Kiss, was pure genius. Best song here, as I suggested at the start.
Bette Midler – Beast of Burden (The Rolling Sones cover)
No, really, Bette Midler. That one. But don’t roll your eyes; shut them and listen to how she treats “Beast of Burden.” With both the Holmes Brothers and Buckwheat Zydeco covers previously taken, this is one of the few other versions that don’t merely ape the original. Given the Divine Miss M had to make her pre-fame living actually singing for her supper, and and having to sing hard and loose, she paid her dues and then some. If you can forget her showbiz Betty Boop/Jessica Rabbit hybrid, gurning her way through a whole troupe of Bugle Boys from Company B, she has both the range and raw power to give this song a good kicking. (By the way, there is another video, with some prolonged opening dialogue and a bemused Mick Jagger playing his supposed self. I was unsure which was the more embarrassing.)
Ninette Terhart – Shattered (The Rolling Stones cover)
“Shattered” is another Some Girls falling shy of having many covers, which then took some grit in avoiding this, um, somewhat different version, by Eddie Vedder and Jeanne Tripplehorn, but please, anyway, follow the link. This one is at least serious, or has a serious intent, that being to twist and subvert the not-so-passive aggression of the original, taking a moment to reflect on the idiotic lyric. Don’t get me wrong, but have you heard what Jagger is actually saying? It is only the gritty arrangement, another acknowledgement of the punk rockers nipping at band’s ankles, that allows Mick (because it’s Mick) to fully get away with it. For Terhart to poke some irony between the spokes is a delightful way to end this version of the album. For the record, she is a professional voice artist, and bodybuilder it seems, from Canada, who, at one time was the singer of Powder, the band formed by her ex-husband, ahead of his replacing Richie Sambora in Aerosmith.