It's a drag that pop music has become so fragmented that we've lost the communal feeling of the culture-wide hits that used to fill the airwaves -- even Sometimes The Air That We Breathe(d). There was something comforting about knowing that just about everyone in the country was listening to the same music, from the glorious noise of The Beatles to novelty smashes like the Playmates' "Beep! Beep!"
But all musics are fundamentally interrelated, a fact best demonstrated by the genre-jumping "covers" of great songs. Consider the following lineage as evidence that we may be more connected than we realize. Most of these interpretations do the material proud, though some may leave you wanting to, well, hide under the covers. Making up your own lists and sharing with friends might make for a more soul-satisfying parlor game than, say, Geography.
My own self-imposed rule: No fair playing such top-tier giants as Elvis, Dylan, Chuck Berry, The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, Willie Nelson, Bruce Springsteen or The Kinks on the theory that they are universally covered, and have themselves covered too many songs to list in a book, let alone a blog.
We begin with veteran gospel quartet Oak Ridge Boys' recording of the White Stripes stunner "Seven Nation Army," where they unabashedly harmonize "bu... m-bum-bum-bum-bum-b... um, b... um" in place of the iconic guitar riff. The Stripes in 2003 awesomely covered Dusty Springfield's "Don't Know What To Do With Myself," also notably reimagined by Elvis Costello. Dusty, for her classic "Dusty In Memphis" collection, cut "I Can't Make It Alone," also sung by Dolly Parton, who sang Led Zep's "Stairway to Heaven" better than they ever did on her way to covering "Higher and Higher," Jackie Wilson's signature song. Jackie's cover of "My Yiddishe Momme" connects him to Leo Fuld, Sophie Tucker and Al Jolson, plus Connie Francis and Tom Jones.
The ubiquitous Dolly also recorded Joan Baez's "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You," which was covered by Led Zep too. Baez, in turn, penned "Diamonds and Rust," which was nailed by, of all groups, heavy metalers Judas Priest, who themselves were covered by the inimitable Pat Boone during his "Metal Mood." Boone's mood was even bluer for his epic teen tragedy, "Moody River," covered by Ol' Blue Eyes (and John Fogerty), among whose signature songs was the cheesy "My Way," written by Paul Anka and mercilessly deconstructed by Sid Vicious. Anka, in his metal mood, circled back to Zeppelin's "Stairway."
Speaking of teen tragedies, Lieber/Stoller's "Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots" was covered by Edith Piaf (!) (her "Milord" was covered by Bobby Darin, who covered "If I Were A Carpenter" by Tim Hardin, who covered Darin's "Simple Song Of Freedom"). It was Piaf who inspired the sweet Browns' hit "The Three Bells," an English-language cover of her "Les Trois Cloches." "Black Denim" was also sung by the Diamonds, whose "Little Darlin'" was itself a cover of the Gladiolas' original -- they later became Maurice Williams & The Zodiacs, whose "Stay" was covered by Jackson Browne, who sang "El Salvador" by Joan Baez, who sang "Little Darlin' with "Ya ya ya ya yas" intact.
Baez, in turn, covered "Brand New Tennessee Waltz" by Jesse Winchester, whose "My Songbird" was covered by Emmylou Harris, who made a divine album with Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton before Dolly recorded one with Loretta Lynn and Tammy "Stand By Your Man" Wynette. Tammy totally broke the mold when she joined The KLF on "Justified and Ancient," which samples Hendrix, who deconstructed "The Star Spangled Banner," which has been sung at sporting events by the likes of Roseanne Barr, the lyric-forgetting Christina Aguilera (twice on successive nights) the side-splitting Maya Rudolph and the sublime Marvin Gaye, whose "Sexual Healing" was covered by Kate Bush, who also covered Diana Ross, who recorded a duets album with Gaye.
Gaye had his chart-toppingest charttopper with "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" (a cover of Gladys Knight & The Pips), stirringly covered by Creedence Clearwater Revival, whose John Fogerty-penned "Fortunate Son" was covered by Cat Power, who did a fantastic version of "Sea of Love," the Phil Phillips chestnut covered by Del Shannon (and Led Zep's Robert Plant on his Honeydrippers project), whose runaway hit "Runaway" was covered by Narvel Felts, who had a country hit with "Lonely Teardrops," made famous by, yes, Jackie Wilson.
And speaking of Wilsons, funkmaster Wilson Pickett scored with "Mustang Sally" (but covered bubblegum anthem "Sugar Sugar"!) with Otis Redding, who, of course, wrote "Respect," Aretha Franklin's biggest hit.
The Queen of Soul turned the "opera diva-goes-pop" formula on its head with her tour de force reading of "Nessun Dorma," which Jeff Beck later recorded as an instrumental. Beck made his name with the spectacular '60s rock band the Yardbirds, and decades later was joined for a performance of that group's "Evil Hearted You" by none other than the White Stripes.
Can a Jack White cover of "Elvira" be far behind?
(Hat tips to David "Go, Cat, Go" McGee and Art "So" Fein. Special thanks to Gregg "Best Ears in the Biz" Geller.)
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