These go to 11: Peter Gabriel and “Back Scratchers” that really workBy Michael Behrenhausen | June 13th, 2011 | 7 comments
Peter Gabriel will play Red Rocks tonight with a full orchestra rather than a traditional backing band. If that weren’t odd enough, it’s his first U.S. tour since the release of his recent, rather disappointing album of cover songs “Scratch My Back.”
What Gabriel may have misunderstood in his effort is that the idea of the very best cover song is not to just pay tribute to the original artist, but to make the song your own.
Thus, we thought we’d provide you, dear readers, with a list of artists and their cover songs that, in our opinion, do just that:
11. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, “Do You Want To Touch Me?” (Original By Gary Glitter). Ironically, it took Joan Jett to really put the balls in this 1973 glam rock anthem. Her sneering take stomps all over Gary Glitter’s original to make it the definitive version. Plus, given Glitter’s (ahem) legal troubles, Jett’s version is tough and sexy rather than just plain creepy.
10. The Clash, “Pressure Drop” (Original by Toots and the Maytals). Already adept at bringing reggae to the punks, the Clash take on a dancehall classic and own it. Though not one of the Clash’s more well-known songs (a b-side to a 1979 single), it’s an undeniable fan favorite and consistently makes for a fantastic sing-along. Pick it up!
9. John Cale, “Heartbreak Hotel” (Original by Elvis Presley). With his 1975 version, punk rock godfather Cale (formerly of the Velvet Underground) takes a seemingly trite golden oldie by Elvis and twists it into an angry howl about being brutally and bitterly alone. Terrifying and honest — bands limply tagged “emo” can only wish they had a fraction of the raw emotion Cale displays here.
8. Devo, “(I Can’t Get No) Statisfaction” (Original by the Rolling Stones). Solidifying the coming of the new wave era, in 1977 a bunch of spuds from Ohio take on the Stones’ slinky classic and devolve it into a glorious, herky jerky glimpse of the future.
7. Gary Jules, “Mad World” (Original by Tears for Fears). Jules takes an obscure, mopey tune by ’80s hitmakers Tears for Fears and turns it into a fragile, gorgeous piano ballad. It will be forever associated with the cult film “Donnie Darko” in which it first appeared; and it will forever resonate with confused teenagers everywhere.
6. Soft Cell, “Tainted Love” (Original by Gloria Jones). You didn’t even know this was a cover did you? That’s how good this ’80s mega-hit version is — multi-instrumentalist David Ball and vocalist Alan Vega literally electrify a ’60s soul classic.
5. Jeff Buckley, “Hallelujah” (Original by Leonard Cohen). The original is easily one of the most beautiful and poetic songs ever written. But Buckley’s tender version is all the more poignant — not only due to his untimely death and posthumous success. It succeeds via stark and gorgeous guitar work combined with stunningly intimate vocals that range from a whisper to a cry. Soul stirring.
4. Aretha Franklin, “Respect” (Original by Otis Redding). As if her unbelievable voice weren’t already enough to garner worship; Aretha, in 1967, instantly earns everyone’s respect by taking Otis Redding’s sugar daddy tune from two years earlier, turning it on its head and into an iconic feminist anthem. It’s been her signature ever since and arguably the greatest R&B recording of all time.
3. The Beatles, “Twist and Shout” (Original by the Isley Brothers). A cover of a cover (the original was called “Shake It Up Baby” by the Top Notes), the Fab Four take on the Isley’s 1962 reworking and instantly create thier own rock and roll classic (they were pretty good at doing that). It’s fueled by John Lennon’s scratchy vocal take (he was fighting a cold at the time of recording) and a vibrant performance from a young group on their way to becoming the most important band of all time.
2. Johnny Cash, “Hurt” (Original by Nine Inch Nails). In 2002, shortly before his death, the Man in Black covered Trent Reznor’s ballad and ever since, it seems the song was written as his epitaph. Suffering from a disease to his nervous system, his once powerful voice now frail with age, Cash sings the lines “What have I become, my sweetest friend? Everyone I know goes away in the end,” before grimly promising to leave behind an “empire of dirt.” Heartbreaking and powerful, a perfect end to a legendary career.
1. Jimi Hendrix, “All Along The Watchtower” (Original by Bob Dylan). By taking Dylan’s bare bones original folk tune to heights previously undreamed, Hendrix brilliantly creates the soundtrack to the turbulent times of Vietnam War-era United States. More than just a showcase for Hendrix’s guitar wizzardry, this is a stone-cold classic, and it’s so good that it got Dylan himself to change the way he plays his version.
Michael Behrenhausen is a Denver-based writer, musician and regular Reverb contributor. The worst crime he ever did was play some rock ‘n’ roll.