1st May 2020

Culture / Featured / Charlie Gladstone

SGI Library: Some Good Covers

0 11 mins 1

TThe Some Good Ideas Library of Cover Versions. Notes and a Playlist. Compiled by Charlie Gladstone.

Like all libraries, we add to this as time passes. It will start off small and then grow, perhaps forever.

Hurt by Johnny Cash. Original by Nine Inch Nails.

Hear Anthony Oram talking about these songs on the Some Good Mavericks podcast.

Ode to Bille Joe by Mercury Rev and Lucinda Williams. Original by Bobbie Gentry.

Hear Charlie Gladstone talking about these songs on the Some Good Mavericks podcast.
All Along the Watch Tower by XTC. With another version by Jimi Hendrix. Original by Bob Dylan.

Hear Nick Wickham talking about these songs on the Some Good Mavericks podcast.

Book of Love. By Chaps Choir. Original by The Magnetic Fields.

Hear James Sills talking about these songs on the Some Good Mavericks podcast.

We Can Work It Out. By Stevie Wonder. Original by The Beatles.

Hear Steve Abbott talking about these songs on the Some Good Mavericks podcast.
Johnny and Mary. By Todd Terje and Bryan Ferry. Original by Robert Palmer. 

Hear Kristian Brodie talking about these songs on the Some Good Mavericks podcast.

Letters from the 9th Ward/Walk Away Renee. By Rickie Lee Jones. Original by Leftbanke with a cover by Four Tops.

Hear Nicki Leighton Thomas talking about these songs on the Some Good Mavericks podcast.

Y Teimlad. By Super Furry Animals. Original by Datblygu.

Hear Rhys Mwyn talking about these songs on the Some Good Mavericks podcast.

Smells Like Teen Spirit. By Patti Smith. Original by Nirvana.

Hear Dr Fred Baveystock talk about this song on the Some Good Mavericks podcast Cover Stories.

Blue Monday. By Flunk. Original by New Order.

Hear Lauren Gregory talk about this song on the Some Good Mavericks podcast Cover Stories.

This Corrosion. By Lambchop. Original by Sisters of Mercy.

Lambchop -from Tennessee- are masters of alternative country music. For my money, they’re one of the finest bands of the past 25 years. Their soft country music is the definition of gentle; sometimes -at its best- it is so reserved that the quiet and space overpower the actual music. Their finest album is 2002’s Is A Woman (one review said ‘every song contains four or five things that will whip your head around in disbelief’). And on that fine record is this cover; a stately, poised thing with Kurt Wagner’s beautiful voice supported by the lightest of harmonies. Honestly, it’s perfect. For years I’d listen to this and know that I knew the song but never did much detective work. And then one day it struck me, it’s a Sisters of Mercy song from 1987. For those of you that seems almost comically 1980s. But this is a great song and it was a big hit in the UK. Compare the two and see what you think.
Find these songs in the Library.

Mad World. By Gary Jules. Original by Tears For Fears.

Gary Jules’ beautiful, aching and almost violently painful version of Mad World first came to international attention after its inclusion in the -brilliant- film Donnie Darko. Jules’ version was a global smash hit (his only proper hit) and what an unlikely one it was, with its key lyric ‘the dreams I’ve had of dying are the best I’ve ever had’. At once painful and uplifting, Gary stripped the song back to its basics. It’s a fine reinterpretation; true to the original but simultaneously reinventing it completely. Tears For Fears’ original is a completely different beast; sparkling 1980s music meticulously produced to within an inch of its life. But what an interesting song it is, bravely juxtaposing perky , cheerful ‘80s synths amd upbeat vocals with the darkest of lyrics. Tears For Fears were a brilliant band and so one can only assume that they chose this route rather than being forced down it by their record company in the search for yet another hit. But, either way, these are two fine versions of a fine song.

Hear John Williams, the man behind Gary Jules’ hit, talking about the song on our Some Good Mavericks podcast series Cover Stories.

Or find these songs in the Library.

Comfortably Numb. By The Scissor Sisters. Original by Pink Floyd.

 The Scissor Sisters’ brilliant 2004 version of Comfortably Numb starts off sounding like a fairly faithful electronic version of the original and then -within a minute or two- morphs into a full on, cheesy, camp-as-hell disco record. It’s brilliant and it was an international mega hit, bringing the joy and vigour of The Village People into the more sophisticated world of The Pet Shop Boys. It’s hard to listen to it without visualising the uber charismatic singer Jake Shears giving it his all in the tightest of shiny trousers. The original -again brilliant- version is one of many exceptional songs on Pink Floyd’s magnum opus The Wall. It’s at once plaintive, ponderous, sad and resigned; things that certainly can’t be said of the Scissor Sisters’ version.
Find these songs in the Library.

Express Yourself. By NWA. By Leroy Sibbles. Original by Charles Wright and The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band.

NWA caused quite a stir when they emerged, angry, fully-formed and tough as hell in the mid 1980s. For me the highlight of their seminal debut (1988) Straight Outta Compton was Express Yourself; funky, loud and possibly one of the finest pieces of pop music ever made. Produced by Dr. Dre, it gives the listener a sense of the prolific genius he was about to become. In fact it’s a remarkably true representation of the original, updated with taught beats and fresh attitude. There are plenty of other covers of this brilliant song and Leroy Sibbles’ version is a gentle, funky, ska-lite single from the consistently reliable Studio One. And then there’s the original from Charles Wright and The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band. I’m glad they aren’t my favourite band because I can never remember their name. But this was a smash hit and it lays out such a perfect template that covers haven’t had to deviate much to reach its dizzy heights.
Find these songs in the Library.

Where The Streets Have No Name. By The Pet Shop Boys. Original by U2.

 This pair merit comparison with The Scissor Sisters’ and Pink Floyds’ Comfortably Numb. One, the Pet Shop Boys’ version, is high camp, disco-heavy pop; the other, wonderful, super emotional rock and roll. The Pet Shop Boys brilliance is to mix the U2 classic with I Can’t Take My Eyes of You in an early, sparkling mash up. It isn’t The Pet Shop Boys (can I call them The Boys or The Pets?) finest moment -of which there are many- but it’s an interesting reinterpretation. U2 have never been fashionable, but for many years they were absolutely brilliant. This incredible song opened their multi-mega-selling-world-conquering The Joshua Tree. And what an opening it is, gaining spine-tingling momentum within 30 seconds and setting the tone for an album of wonderful songs and perfect production. I’m not sure it could be bettered, but hats off to The Boys for a decent stab.
Find these songs in the Library.

Caravan of Love. By The Housemartins. Original by Isley Brothers.

Hear Mark Shayler talking about the Housemartins’ version on our Some Good Mavericks podcast series Cover Stories.

Nothing Compares 2 U. By Sinead O’ Connor. Original by Prince.

This is possibly the greatest cover version of all time, partly because Prince almost cast the original song aside by recording it as part of a side project called The Family. But what a  song it is; at once melancholy, complex and bombastic, its narrator aching with longing. O’Connor’s version -recorded by super-producer of the day, Nellee Hooper- was a massive worldwide hit for O’Connor in 1990. Prince’s versions -and there is rarely just one version when The Purple One is involved- remains relatively unknown, though a simple version appeared on his posthumous album Piano and a Microphone 1983.
Find these songs in the Library.

Limit to Your Love. By James Blake. Original by Feist.

Canadian singer/songwriter Feist started her career in the hipster collective Broken Social Scene, but really found her voice as a solo artist. Her version of her song is a lovely, folky, smokey one. James Blakes’ cover, from his brilliant debut album, is a completely different beast. Blake emerged as one of the first post dubstep artists to make a mark. (Post dubstep?! Yes, music influenced by but not entirely informed by dubstep; this is often lonely, melancholy music with plenty of light and space that’s best listened to on headphones). Blake’s astonishing cover completely reinterprets Feist’s song as something full of long silences and deep, thudding bass. It’s an astonishing version.

Hear Charlie Gladstone talk about this song on the Some Good Mavericks podcast Cover Stories.

Shipbuilding. By Robert Wyatt. Written by Elvis Costello/Clive Langer.

 This is a slightly odd entry to the library because although Elvis Costello wrote the words to this incredible song, Robert Wyatt originally recorded it. It’s one of the finest songs ever written about the impact of war (in this case the Falklands War) and Wyatt’s version oozes beauty, irony, sadness and anger. It’s widely regarded as one of Costello’s best songs and -indeed- he is quoted as believing the lyrics to be the best he has created. A year or so after Wyatt’s version was released Elvis recorded one with The Attractions. This is also a masterful song, full of beauty, irony and a sort of barely contained rage.

Hear Charlie Gladstone talk about this song on the Some Good Mavericks podcast Cover Stories.

Tainted Love. By Tainted Love. Written by Ed Cobb, recorded by Gloria Jones.

 Tainted Love, you mean that smash hit, global number 1, last-forever tune by Soft Cell? Well yes but the original was written by Ed Cobb who enjoyed million-selling fame with the Four Preps and was recorded by Gloria Jones. Soft Cell’s version was huge and justifiably stands the test of time, never failing to fill the dance floor with its fist pumping keyboard refrain. The original 12 inch version that morphs into Where Did Our Love Go is the best. It’s on our playlist and if you have a record player it’s worth seeking out; it sold so many copies that there are always some on EBay or discogs.
Find these songs in the Library.

The Man Who Sold the World. By Nirvana. By Lulu. Original by David Bowie.

Nirvana recorded their beautiful, haunting version of this genuine classic as part of their mega selling Nirvana Unplugged session. Kurt Cobain had often talked of his love for Bowie’s original and on Unplugged he almost casually tosses out a bruised version which is as fragile as it is beautiful. Originally written and recorded by Bowie as the title track of his third album, it was often overlooked at the time but -in the intervening years- has come to mean much more to Bowie fans.  Bowie’s version, recorded in London in 1970 by Toni Visconti is a beautiful, unsettling and restrained anthem.  In 1974 Lulu recorded a cover which was pretty great, too. It’s a kind of sleazy, disco/cabaret thing. All three of these versions merit investigation. The best? Not sure….Nirvana?
Find these songs in the Library.

Knock on Wood. By Amii Stewart. By David Bowie. Original by Eddie Floyd.

Amii Stewart’s 1979 Knock on Wood is a disco anthem par excellence with it’s arms-in-the-air shout-along chorus. It’s an anthem, up there with the best of its era by Nile Rodgers. It was a global mega smash, reaching Number 1 in the USA and the Top 10 in the UK twice. It’s a perfectly paced record and richly deserved all of its success. Somewhere in between the original version by Floyd and Stewart’s cover, Bowie sung Knock on Wood; it appeared on later pressings of his David Live album but were it not Bowie, this wouldn’t really merit a mention in the library. So, what of the original? Recorded in 1966, it is a brilliant, composed, sately soul song. It reached Number 28 in the USA where it was also Number 1 on the soul chart.

Fun Fact! According to Floyd, he wrote the song during a thunderstorm, hence the line ‘it’s like thunder, lightning, the way you love me is frightening’.
Find these songs in the Library.

Jump. By Aztec Camera. Original by Van Halen.

Aztec Camera’s version of Jump is an acoustic masterpiece, reinterpreting a rock song as a gentle folk ballad. It has gained traction with time, but originally it was simply a B side to All I Need is Everything from the band’s 1984 album Knife. As it gained popularity, largely through word of mouth, it was added to later versions of the album. It’s one of those cover versions that recognizes a great song but reinterprets in such a fresh and original manner that -to the uninitiated- the original comes a complete surprise when they hear it. Van Halen’s original is everything the cover isn’t; a massive, bombastic, arms aloft, feet-on-the-monitor ROCK. It’s great, of course and it was Number 1 all over the world but Aztec Camera’s is better.

Hear Felix Gladstone talking about these songs on the Some Good Mavericks podcast.

Knockin’ on Heavens Door. By Eric Clapton. By Guns N’ Roses. Original by Bob Dylan.

We include this here because although Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door isn’t Dylan’s best song it is probably his most covered and certainly his most covered by significant artists. There are various versions by Eric Clapton, including a lightweight reggae version with Arthur Louis and his better-known cover which just made the Top 40 in the UK but failed to make the Top 100 in the USA. Guns N’ Roses’ live version did better commercially; it appeared in slightly different forms on both an EP and an album. Both of these did well commercially in the USA; and in the UK it reached Number 2 in the singles chart. There are loads of other covers, including one by Randy Crawford, that is quite good. But, truly, it’s the original that’s best.
Find these songs in the Library.

Turn Your Lights Down Low. By Bob Marley & The Wailers with Ms. Lauryn Hill. Original by Bob Marley and The Wailers.

This is a little-known cover version, but it’s absolutely fantastic. It appeared on an album of Marley’s songs called Chant Down Babylon that had been remixed or reinterpreted by hip hop and soul artists in 1999. It’s a really good album and Turn Your Lights Down Low is a highlight with Lauryn Hill at her absolute prime. She contributes a rapped verse which is just great. Intriguingly, Hill was Marley’s daughter-in-law and although he was dead at the point of this remix, there’s something special in that. The original song is wonderful and appeared on what was possibly Marley’s best-known album, Exodus. It’s relatively unknown amongst its neighbours on that amazing album, which is understandable because Exodus included Jammin’, Three Little Birds, Exodus, One Love…all on one album.
Find these songs in the Library.

Hear Charlie Gladstone talk about this song on the Some Good Mavericks podcast Cover Stories.


I Fought the Law. By The Clash. Original by The Bobby Fuller Four.

Although actually written by Sonny Curtis of the Crickets it was the Bobby Fuller Four that first had a hit with I Fought The Law. It’s not a great version; it’s pretty lightweight, but it’s a fine song. The Clash first heard it on a jukebox in San Francisco where they were working on their second album and they were hooked. Back in the UK they recorded it and in 1979 it was released as part of their Cost of Living EP. It kicks off with Topper Headon’s machine gun drumming and you know you’re in for something special; from then on it’s complete power, sparring guitars, vocals that really mean it. It all makes perfect sense; it’s The Clash at their peak.
Find these songs in the Library.

Clap for appreciation

Share   |  
Twitter   Facebook   Copy link
Charlie Gladstone

Charlie Gladstone and his wife Caroline, are the founders of The Good Life Society (The Good Life Experience, Camp Glen Dye, Camp Hawarden and Some Good Ideas), Pedlars, Hawarden Estate Farm Shops, Glen Dye Cabins & Cottages, The Glynne Arms and more. Throughout all their businesses, Charlie champions integrity and sustainability.

ProfileSee All

Connect with us

Our Network