Jul 022021

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20. Laura Nyro and Labelle – Jimmy Mack / Nowhere to Run (Martha and the Vandellas covers)

Laura Nyro was a bone-deep, dyed-in-the-wool soul girl. She covered many R&B tracks throughout her career and sang every single one to the last like a teenager alone in her bedroom, with a brazenly beautiful, unrestrained heart-on-sleeve passion. The greatest manifestation of Laura’s soul love came via her 1971 cover album with Labelle, Gonna Take A Miracle. A diaristic time capsule featuring some of the most wondrously popping, doo-wopping R&B songs to ever pump out of a transistor radio in the ’50s and ’60s, Gonna Take A Miracle is truly a Desert Island Disc for the ages.

One of the album’s absolute highlights is a cover of Martha and the Vandellas’ unspeakably fabulous “Jimmy Mack.” Laura and Labelle inject the song with a heretofore unseen off-the-cuff street corner sweetness and spontaneity. It is literally joy personified. And when Laura goes high on the second “Jimmy” in each chorus, bolstered by the luscious layering of “oohs” from Labelle, well lord it doesn’t get much more glorious than that. The album’s other foray into Martha and the V’s evergreen songbook, “Nowhere To Run” has an almost ramshackle, first-take quality, which is a large part of what makes the album as a whole so completely embraceable. Well, that plus you get to hear Labelle freakin’ wail in last minute of the song (especially Patti herself, go girl). – Hope Silverman

19. Luther Vandross – All or Nothing (Patti Labelle & The Bluebelles)

As its title suggests, the stakes couldn’t be higher in “All or Nothing.” Recorded originally by Patti Labelle and the Bluebelles — the initial doo-wop/R&B-skewing incarnation of the just-mentioned Labelle, which also featured members Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash — “All or Nothing” draws a stark line in the sand for the future of a relationship with a startling directness, even by Girl Group standards. In his powerhouse live cover of “All or Nothing,” Luther Vandross charts a similarly ecstatic course, taking the song to performative extremes with a mighty ensemble of vocalists by his side. The song itself remains distilled and brief — but, like Labelle, Vandross doesn’t need much beyond his stunning instrument and a single compelling hook to take “All or Nothing” to rapturous heights. – Ben Easton

18. Patti Smith – The Hunter Gets Captured By the Game (The Marvelettes cover)

Patti Smith’s cover of The Marvelettes’ “When The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game” is effortless. Her vocals are melodic and clear, front and center over the electric guitar and bass. Where The Marelettes’ original melody is sweet and compelling, Smith pairs down the song to just the guitar and bass, removing the superfluous sounds, to allow the vocals and in turn the main melody to shine through. The entire effect adds a bit of spunk to a rock cover, giving the softness of the song more of an edge. – Ally McAlpine

17. The Jam – Heatwave (Martha and the Vandellas covers)

The song that really put Martha & The Vandellas on the map, “Heat Wave,” is a Holland-Dozier-Holland song that equates the intensity of love with a burning heat wave. It features great call-and-response vocals and a classic Motown beat. The Jam’s Paul Weller’s love of Motown and Stax music is no secret, with more and more of that sound infiltrating the band’s mod/punk music as time went on, and the influence was even more pronounced in Weller’s post-Jam work. It was, however, a little surprising that they included a cover of the song, retitled “Heatwave,” on 1979’s Setting Sons, a generally hard-edged album. It’s a punk-soul rave-up and it’s fabulous. – Jordan Becker

16. Kim Wilde – You Keep Me Hangin’ On (The Supremes cover)

British singer Kim Wilde did such a fine job of covering the Supremes’ 1966 #1 “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” that it made her, between ’87 and ’88, one of the biggest female pop stars on the planet. She hadn’t been heard of in the US since having a minor hit with “Kids in America” in ’81, yet here she was with a highly confident, Hi-NRG version of the Lamont Dozier-penned classic that had the kind of pulsating bass line Donna Summer would go mad for. She projected plenty of Diana Ross-style attitude, too, and made the lyrics slightly edgier (“You’re just using me / Hey, abusing me”), so as to take the song to #2 in the UK in October ’86. She returned it to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in June ’87, before Michael Jackson called her up to ask if she could be the opening act on his Bad World Tour of Europe in ’88. She could! – Adam Mason

15. The Dollyrots – Be My Baby (The Ronettes cover)

The heavy electric guitar strumming starts off, hiding the intent of this genre-bending cover for a few seconds. A kick drum counts down to the big reveal and comes back in throughout the songs to add some dramatic pauses. The Dollyrots launch into this ‘60s song as if The Ronettes were featured on the 10 Things I Hate About You soundtrack. The call to “be my little baby” comes off as almost a challenge rather than a romantic request. – Sara Stoudt

14. Amy Winehouse – Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow (The Shirelles cover)

Amy Winehouse possessed a voice and style that would have made her a star in any era. Her rendition of the Shirelles’ “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” plays like a long-lost ‘60s pop track. On the recording, she channels the great British female solo vocalists such as Dusty Springfield or Lulu. Backed by a full orchestra and earth-cracking snare drum, Winehouse delivers an emotionally-charged rendition of the classic. She captures the heartbreaking spirit of the original and infuses it with a bit of soul all her own. – Curtis Zimmermann

13. Animal Collective – Jimmy Mack (Martha and the Vandellas cover)

Opening with an appropriately weird glitchy noise, this Animal Collective cover of “Jimmy Mack” quickly becomes much more danceable if no less quirky. The vocals follow the original melody fairly closely, with some great unhinged ad libs, but the accompaniment is distorted bass cranked to 11 balanced with intense high-pitched backing vocals and repeating keyboard lines. It’s all over the place in the best way. – Mike Misch

12. Fanny – Sally Go Round The Roses (The Jaynetts cover)

Fanny, the all-female rock band fronted by sisters June and Jean Millington, have a somewhat messy relationship with their Girl Group forebears. Across their seven years and five studio albums as an ensemble between ’69 and ’75, Fanny actively rejected the feminine visual signifiers, codified lyrical tropes and the juvenilia of Girl Groups past, instead forging their own creative style that kept the band’s independence and musicianship at the forefront. In spite of all this, Fanny did indeed dip their toes into the Girl Group repertoire on their very last studio album, Rock and Roll Survivors, where they offered a slow-burning take on “Sally Go Round the Roses.” Fanny amplify all the song’s curious threads for their “Sally,” jamming it out with a blues bar energy, soulful keyboard work, and full-throated harmonies. Fanny elevate the musical sophistication of the Jaynetts’ original and stake some intriguing in-roads to the Girl Group legacy at large. – Ben Easton

11. Afghan Whigs – Come See About Me (The Supremes cover)

“Come See About Me” was part of a run of Supremes number one hits starting in 1964. Although the Supremes recorded it first, the first version released was by Nella Dodds, who had some success with it, until Motown released the more famous Supremes version. It’s a classic Holland-Dozier-Holland Supremes track, funky enough, with, of course, great vocals. Afghan Whigs released their cover of the song on a 1992 EP featuring (mostly) covers of Motown/Stax era songs. Although many reviews that I’ve read of the cover refer to singer Greg Dulli’s soulful vocals, I don’t hear it. What I do hear is an excellent transformation of a Motown classic to an early 90s alternative rocker. – Jordan Becker

The list continues on Page 6.

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  4 Responses to “The Best ’60s Girl Group Covers Ever”

Comments (4)
  1. Great list, and even after your “honorable mentions” there are still a ton of other contenders. I personally like Jeff Beck and Imelda May’s version of “Remember (Walking In The Sand),” that you can see here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IjdkjGwGJQc.

    Also, speaking of the Shangri-Las, their version of “He Cried” was actually a cover of Jay & the American’s hit song, “She Cried,” which ITSELF was a cover! Thanks again.

  2. Imelda May & Jeff Beck – (Remember) Walking in the Sand
    Rachel Sweet – Be My Baby/And Then He Kissed Me
    The Stray Cats – You Can’t Hurry Love
    Lucius – You Keep Me Hanging On

  3. If we accept that My Sweet Lord was rightly found to be a reworking of He’s So Fine, then this cover that blends both those tunes qualifies for this list: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90V–oQ8IwM

    Did I zip through your list too fast and miss where you featured Laura Nyro and LaBelle from Gonna Take a Miracle?

    I’ll pick this one from among the several options off the record: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3JpeBNBrkg

    • You did miss it, Kevin; go to #20 and you’ll see we picked the same song as you, and then one more for good measure!

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