30. Siouxsie and The Banshees – All Tomorrow’s Parties (The Velvet Underground cover)
It feels slightly odd to hear Siouxsie Sioux earnestly dedicate this live performance to anyone who had attended Lollapalooza. Who cares? But in 1991, Lollapalooza was brand-new, a touring festival conceived as a farewell run with Jane’s Addiction and stocked with their and Siouxsie’s scenemates: Nine Inch Nails, Living Colour, The Violent Femmes, etc. It felt like a real moment, rather than the generic corpora-fest it would become. Siouxsie and The Banshees’ “All Tomorrow’s Parties” apparently debuted at Lollapalooza, but there’s no recording, so this Lolla-dedicated live version came from a show a few months later and was officially released as a B-side.
29. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins – Heartattack and Vine (Tom Waits cover)
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Tom Waits are obviously kindred spirits. They likely met on the set of Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train in the late ’80s, though they didn’t share any scenes. Hawkins recorded this raw, roaring cover for his pointedly-titled 1991 album Black Music for White People. Two years later, Levi’s licensed the cover for use in a commercial. Waits sued Levi’s, being opposed to any use of his songs in commercials, even covers. He won, but the saga cast an unfortunate pall on a killer cover.
28. Rickie Lee Jones – I Won’t Grow Up (Peter Pan cover)
In 1991, veteran folk-jazz singer and songwriter Rickie Lee Jones released her covers album Pop Pop. Despite the name, she’s not covering pop stars like Madonna. With the exception of a Jimi Hendrix cover, she’s mostly looking back to the pre-rock era of Tin Pan Alley. The whole album is worth your time, but the standout track is her cover of Carolyn Leigh and Moose Charlap’s rarely-covered 1954 Peter Pan song. Coincidentally, also in 1991, her former paramour Tom Waits came out with a similarly-titled original song.
27. The Lemonheads – Skulls (Misfits cover)
Our recent Paul Simon covers list included, of course, The Lemonheads’ alt-rock-tastic “Mrs. Robinson.” The year before that, main ‘Head Evan Dando was in a more reflective mood. Instead of rocking up a folk song, he folked down a punk song. It sounds like the covers Nirvana would do for MTV Unplugged three years later.
26. Tommyknockers – We Want the Airwaves (The Ramones cover)
One of the last songs to be cut from this list was Sonic Youth’s “I Don’t Wanna Walk Around With You,” off their Ramones covers EP Hold That Tiger. It’s still worth a listen (and will be in our giant group of Honorable Mentions for Patreon supporters), but ultimately if we had to limit ourselves to one Ramones cover, “We Want the Airwaves” by short-lived garage rock band Tommyknockers – an appropriate name, as the Ramones were big Stephen King fans – took the slot. It comes off the hit-and-miss tribute album Gabba Gabba Hey: A Tribute to the Ramones.
25. The Who – Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting (Elton John cover)
Listening to The Who’s 1991 cover of “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting,” you might mistake it for a lost track from the rock opera Tommy. Recording for the Two Rooms tribute album, The Who crank up the amplifiers and throw in some power chords for this spirited cover. Near the end, the band provides a brief interlude and the song shifts into John’s “Take Me to the Pilot” with Pete Townsend taking over on lead vocals (supposedly he and Roger disagreed on which song to cover, so they did both). The Who’s fiery tribute could not be confined to merely one song. (Curtis Zimmermann, via our Best Elton John Covers Ever list)
24. Thee Headcoats – Road Runner (Bo Diddley cover)
Garage-rockers Thee Headcoats’ 1991 Bo Diddley covers record W.O.A.H!-Bo In Thee Garage is a delight from top to bottom. It is fast, ragged, and sounds like dogshit (in the best way possible). Billy Childish’s energy and enthusiasm comes through the super distorted sonics throughout, but the silly fun of adding the Wile E. Coyote’s Road Runner sound effects – on both vocals and guitar, no less – into the Diddley song of the same name puts this track over the top.
23. fIREHOSE – Walking the Cow (Daniel Johnston cover)
After the tragic death of head Minuteman D. Boon, the band’s surviving members Mike Watt and George Hurley got a message from a stranger. Guitarist Ed Crawford heard they were auditioning new guitarists, and traveled all the way from his home in Ohio to San Pedro, CA to meet the pair. The only problem: The rumor was false. They weren’t auditioning anyone. But he’d come such a long way, they met with him anyway, and fIREHOSE was born. Their fourth album Flyin’ the Flannel included this definitive version of “Walking the Cow” by fellow cult favorite Daniel Johnson.
22. Guns N’ Roses – Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door (Bob Dylan cover)
Half the time I hear Guns N’ Roses’ “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” I think it might be the worst Dylan cover ever. The other half, I think it might be…well, not the best (there are higher Dylan covers on this list alone), but famous for a reason. Aesthetically, Guns N’ Roses and Bob Dylan are about as far apart as you can get, so it’s a testament to Axl and co’s creativity that they get this to function so seamlessly as a proper Guns N’ Roses power ballad. If you didn’t know it was by Dylan – and plenty of headbangers probably didn’t – you’d never guess.
21. Nirvana – Molly’s Lips (The Vaselines cover)
Nirvana more famously performed “Molly’s Lips” in October 1990 for a BBC John Peel session, which later got released on the 1992 EP Hormoaning and rarities compilation Incesticide. But the first chance the wider public had to hear the song came on a January 1991 Sub Pop split with The Fluid. Recorded at a Portland show in February 1990, this “Molly’s Lips” is even more raw than the famous version. It’s a furious squall overtop of indelible hooks – sound like any 1991 albums you can think of?
The list continues on Page 5.