Over our time tracking cover songs (13 years this month!), we’ve written about hundreds of new tribute albums, across reviews, news stories, and, when they’re good enough, our best-of-the-year lists. We also have looked back on plenty of great tribute albums from the past in our Cover Classics series. But we’ve never pulled it all together – until now.
In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.
On the morning of October 17, 1961, a skinny, scruffy-haired teen was standing on platform 2 of Dartford station, waiting for a train into London. He was holding a guitar case. Slightly further down the platform stood another, less scruffy teen. He clasped two vinyl records under his arms, held at just the right angle that the titles were visible. The scruffy-haired teen tilted his head to get a better look, his eyes widening as he read the large print emblazoned across the record covers. Chuck Berry Rockin’ At the Hops and – could it be? Yes! – The Best of Muddy Waters. Trying to act naturally, the scruffy teen took a step closer to to the young man with the records. Then another step. And another. Before long they were right next to each other. The scruffy teen cleared his throat. “Hello,” he said. “My name’s Keith.”
So there you have it: Muddy Waters was partially responsible for the first meeting of Keith Richards and Mick Jagger since primary school. It would not be his last contribution to their history. A few months later, Brian Jones was on the phone attempting to secure a booking for the newly formed group. The promoter asked for the band’s name. They didn’t have one. Jones’ eyes darted around the room and fell upon that same fateful album, The Best of Muddy Waters – specifically, side one track 5: “Rollin’ Stone.” The Rolling Stones were now christened.
The usual disclaimer: Our monthly “Best Cover Songs” aren’t ranked, and the “Honorable Mentions” aren’t necessarily worse than the others.
Update: Hear me discuss this list, along with our Best Pink Floyd Covers ranking, on SiriusXM Volume:
Angus and Julia Stone – Passionfruit (Drake cover)
Three prominent indie artists covered Drake’s “Passionfruit” this month: Franz Ferdinand, Cornelius, and, the best of the bunch, Angus and Julia Stone. Covering a rap song is easier, I suppose, when there’s no actual rapping. Few political or racial minefields in the lyrics for artists to navigate help too (for a counterexample: this month’s worst cover). For Triple J’s great series “Like a Version,” Angus and Julia Stone brought their beautiful harmonies to a smooth soul bed. It floats like Gram and Emmylou singing a Marvin Gaye song.
Our official list of the Best Cover Songs of 2017 comes next week. But first, we’re continuing the tradition we started last year by rounding up some of the songs it most killed us to cut in a grab-bag post. No ranking, no writing, just a bunch of knockout covers.
Buddy Guy and the Rolling Stones have crossed paths many times over the years, regularly sitting in at each other’s concerts and paying mutual homage in interviews. But they haven’t actually recorded together much. That changes on a new tribute album.
On Chicago Plays the Stones, a host of Chicago blues vets cover classic Stones tracks for a fitting response to the Stones’ own recent blues album Blue & Lonesome. One name stands above the rest though: Buddy Guy’s. And he pulls in a special guest for his cover of Goats Head Soup rarity “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker).”
As anyone who has seen Guy live recently can attest, the guitarist hasn’t lost a step at age 80. His solos on “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo” remain furious, and his singing as emotive as ever. Then, about halfway through, that special guest slips in: Mick Jagger himself, trading vocals with Buddy in a wonderful back-and-forth and wailing on some serious blues harmonica. It’s a fantastic duet that has somehow remained under the radar since its release last month, not appearing on Spotify or YouTube or anywhere else. Well, we’ve got it below. It was worth the wait.
In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!
When you consider their longevity, the sheer number and variety of their live performances, and influences as diverse as bluegrass, country, soul, rock, psychedelia, blues, and jazz, it is likely that the Grateful Dead may have recorded and/or performed more covers than any other band that is best known for its original songs. (There’s probably a wedding band out there that has a bigger songbook, but that’s not really the point.) Grateful Dead fans have been trading and cataloging their favorite band’s performances since long before the idea of digital music and the Internet even existed, and now there are numerous databases available online — one of which shows 343 separate covers performed by the band (and solo projects and offshoots), including soundchecks and performances with guests.
Therefore, it is somewhat surprising that Cover Me has never turned its lovelight directly on the Grateful Dead. We have written numerous times about covers of Dead songs, but a quick review of the archives indicates that only three covers by the band have been featured—Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row” and Merle Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee” and “Mama Tried.” So, that leaves us a mere 340 to choose from today. To make this project (inspired in part by Phil Lesh’s 75th birthday this Sunday and by the recent announcement of the band’s 50th anniversary shows in Chicago this summer) somewhat less insane, we will limit ourselves only to recordings or performances by the Grateful Dead, proper — no solo projects or anything from after the death of Jerry Garcia.