49 thoughts on “Best Cover Artists Ever?

  1. Hi Amylee

    I am always very interested in cover versions as often they give me an different view of a familiar song.

    The version by Left Banke, I think really did not do the song justice. It was too flat and the vocals not strong enough to convey the emotion. So I have always liked this version more, you can really feel the strong , but controlled emotion. The arrangement is so much richer in this version also. I love it!!!

    If I Were A Carpenter. Is a much more difficult choice. The original by Tim Hardin is a very complex performance emotionally and quite ambiguous in parts. None of the cover versions by white groups or singers (Bobby Darin, The Small Faces, or even Johnny Cash could not better the original in my opinion (Especially as JC made it a duet with his wife)

    But the Four Tops abandons the country / folk roots of the song and make it a soul track and bring a new dimension to it, and it really works in the soul genre.

    By The Time I Get To Phoenix. Oh dear, I have never liked this song!!! I actually really hate it. Not just the tune but the words and morals behind it. I really hate weak men. The whole idea of creeping out in the night because you have not got the guts to tell the truth about your feelings and are not strong enough make a difficult decision and follow it honestly and honourably is totally abhorrent to me. It is like dumping someone by SMS. Coward!!!

    Jeeze this song pisses me off!!!

    But being possitive, at least in this version we do not have the self-pity tone of Glen Campbell boring us with his self inflicted sorrows, so it is a big improvement!!!!

    • Oooh – a bit harsh on poor old Glen there – the guy has Alzheimers. He is about to embark on his final tour with band members from his family and a teleprompter which is a brave move.

      • Did you read that Guardian interview? It was actually pretty sad. I had no idea he was a right winger though, but i guess i should have figured.

      • But Sakura – if he’s a coward for the way he sneaks out on her (no argument there – we’re not meant to be cheering him on), isn’t a self-pitying tone quite in character?

    • I actually loved the Left Banke original, but i have to say i like the Tops’ better. I don’t have a favorite version of If I Was a Carpenter. But i very much like the Tops, and i do like Stevie’s too. Leon Russell had a hit with it over here, but its not my favorite.

      I love Phoenix, and as a Stones and rock fan, i have no problem with un-PC lyrics! Shooting up, walking out on someone, two-timing, threesomes with 13 year olds, its all part of life.

      Thanks for listening!

  2. Ha ! Funnily enough I feel almost the same way as Angry HoshinoSakura but about If I were a carpenter !
    Being,in essence the “carpenter” myself ( albeit without the skills) and my wife the “lady” I find it make me uncomfortable.
    The truth is, I think, that most ladies wouldn’t have anything to do with carpenters in the long term other than taking care of their basic shelving needs.
    As for best covers band ever, I’d put a shout in for the Byrds myself. They turned many a Dylan dirge into a think of sparkliness.

    • I think I agree with out about Dylan and the Byrds actually, they made some great lyrics and dull music into wonderful pop songs!!

      But Dylan also made some really fantastic tracks also. I think maybe he had good days and bad days and sometimes needed an imaginative producer and engineer who did more than just turn the tape machine on!!!

      • I may have phrased that badly, I’m a big fan of Dylan ( at least up to about 1969). It’s just that the Byrds made his songs so much more tuneful and “sparkly”.
        Depending on mood, though, I would chose either Dylan or the Byrds equally. They’re just as “good” only different.

      • I have to agree with you about the Byrds, they turned Dylan tunes in something sublime. But you’re wrong about carpenters, what lady doesn’t fancy a bit of rough every now and again. It’s the having the baby part i’d take a pass on, but i’d pass on that with a banker too.

      • “Fancy a bit of rough” !
        What a terribly demeaning and dehumanising phrase. Why not just shag Gorillas ( apart from the fact that they are very poorly endowed, of course) ?
        Besides carpenters would be all sawdusty, it would get everywhere and probably cause irritation.
        Far better to go for a sensitive, poetic sort such as I .
        No wonder the world is in a mess.
        Perfidy, thy name is woman.

      • Just to get it on record, i come from a family of carpenters. My dad’s father and most of his brothers were carpenters by trade. I’m pretty handy myself actually.

        I’m not even going to ask how you know about the endowment of gorillas.

    • You might be on to something with The Byrds, pairubu. However I would disagree with you about the merits of being squired by a tradesman. Seems to me that these days they are among the few of us who are still in demand work-wise.

    • They covered everything. I have to say i’m not big on their Monkees covers (I’m a Believer and Last Train to Clarkesville). They covered a lot of 60’s tunes.

  3. This will not be too popular with some RR regulars, but I suspect Bryan Ferry is up there as one of the great coverers. It is certainly not for want of trying – he’s been at it for nigh on forty years.

    I think his best is Neil Young’s Like A Hurricane. I know it’s from late era Roxy, and it’s oh so tasteful, but I saw them earlier in the year in Glasgow and this was just fantastic!

  4. Actually, if i was serious about trying to pin down the best cover artist ever, i’d probably have to throw Linda Ronstadt and Sinatra into the mix.

    Wyngate comes up with some interesting covers.

  5. Can’t see or hear the vids on my phone but have we thrown the Tops’ Light My Fire into the mix? Notable for the “sizzle sizzle sizzle me baby – light my fire!” backing vocals. Not actually sure if it might advance or damage the original hypothesis but I like it anyway.
    When it comes to covers, I think an artist like Sinatra (or Elvis, Ella etc), whose main job was to interpret songs, doesn’t provide a fair comparison with groups who wrote their own or (like the Motown acts) had them written for them.
    Bobby Womack did some good covers. I’ll have to dig a bit for fuller evidence but his takes on Fly Me To The Moon and California Dreaming would be exhibits A and B.

  6. I am very strongly of the opinion that The Byrds are the best interpreters of other people’s songs around.

    Their Dylan covers are excellent and they have plenty of other covers in their catalogue.

    This Goffin/King cover is superb;

  7. I really can’t say which bands or artists are really good or not on the whole, but my choice has done a lot of covers. I wouldn’t know how she would rate in a list of great cover artists, but this one is one of my absolute favourite songs ever… and none of the other versions I’ve heard even come close. First released by the song’s writer Ron Davis (and he’s been covered a lot).

  8. “By The Time I Get To Phoenix. Oh dear, I have never liked this song!!! I actually really hate it. Not just the tune but the words and morals behind it. I really hate weak men. The whole idea of creeping out in the night because you have not got the guts to tell the truth about your feelings and are not strong enough make a difficult decision and follow it honestly and honourably is totally abhorrent to me. It is like dumping someone by SMS. Coward!!!”

    This is an interesting take on the theme which gives you both sides.

  9. Prefer The Tops’ Carpenter to the original, which I also like. Prefer Glen’s original Phoenix. Not allowed to watch the 1st one, for some reason.

    Sorry, Carole, can’t stand the Byrds – everything they touch turns to bland.

    Think Manics might be a contender, prefer their covers to most of their originals.

  10. OK, got another couple of names for the fray:
    Aretha – think the arse-shaking funk of The Weight; the swelling epiphany of Spanish Harlem; the soaring, almost Coltranish take on Bridge Over Troubled Water; oh, and I believe she did versions of Otis Redding’s Respect and Carole King’s Natural Woman that were well-received. Thing is, with Aretha, Paul Simon rated her version of Bridge… as what he heard in his head when writing it, but some might think she oversang some of these, cranked it up to 11 regardless of what the song needed. I’m not of that opinion but it’s a viewpoint.

    The Ramones – Street Fighting Man, Do You Wanna Dance, What A Wonderful World, Baby I Love You – all completely wrapped within their own sound yet completely faithful to the spirit of each original.

    • Both excellent calls! I have someone else kicking around the back of my brain, but can’t put my finger on it yet. It’s not Rod Stewart though, he does some good covers, but he’s better at stuff written for him, or his oldies or blusier stuff.

      Still, there was Handbags and Gladrags, and this – (ducks)

  11. Amy – really great thread. The Four Tops covers you’ve mentioned were some of my favorite songs back then & I always thought they brought something new to songs. Donds to Aretha , who’s version of Say A Little Prayer is for me the definitive version ( & I love me some Dionne Warwick). A good friend of mine once said K-Tel should do an album called Linda Ronstadt’s Greatest Hits ( As Done By The Original Artists) . One year for a Christmas gift I made him just such a CD & it was a damn fine lineup. Here’s another band who have done some terrific covers though they are more remembered for their own material.

    • I first heard of her from the Guardian, and from someone (Zala? Suzi? Ali?) nomming her covers on RR. Do people hate her for her music / voice, or for the way she lived her life?

      As far as i’m aware, she’s not really known well here in the US.

  12. Ooh, it’s all been kicking off in my absence! Sakura chan hating something – and something I actually really like. Glen Campbell’s take on “By the time I get to Phoenix”, that is. Sure, the guy is weak but aren’t we all in our own ways? He’s no hero but it’s a great premise for a song – who’s to say we have to like/admire a song’s protagonist? I don’t, but I do understand him.

    But then, in my book Jimmy Webb can do no wrong as a songwriter (and yes, that includes Macarthur Park). Which brings me to my favourite Four Tops cover (which I think I have posted here before): Jimmy’s “Do what you gotta do”.


  13. I was going to mention Do What You Gotta Do but couldn’t remember whose song it was originally, for shame (donds to bish re Jimmy Webb). Not ashamed to say that the Tops’ version would always reduce me to tears during a period of my late teens, then life moved on and I just lived with the song and loved it like any other, and then life moved on again and the song started having its old effect over two decades later. And now it’s back again as a treasured old friend

    • Actually, come to think of it, I don’t know who recorded the ‘original’ version of Do What You Gotta Do either, May. Maybe the Four Tops’ version is the first recorded one. But it’s deffo a Jimmy Webb composition – and deffo a heartbreaking tune.

      • Johnny Rivers, according to wikipedia. Not a patch on the Tops’ take on the song (although still rather lovely):

      • Correction: according to Amazon, it was Al “The Snake” Wilson – and was written especially for him by Webb. This is lovely too:

    • Funny how one’s relationship with songs can shift, isn’t it? Because of who introduced it to me, I loved – and then couldn’t listen to – and now love again this track:

      And I don’t objectively even think it’s that good.

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