Desert Island Discs: Cover Songs Edition

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On this particular island, there will be sun and sand — but nary an original artist. Join us, as we query our intrepid panel on its must-have cover songs for their fateful journey.

Results: The Beatles (as a group, and as solo acts) earned the most mentions with five, headed up by the Fab Four’s remake of the Motown classic “Please Mr. Postman.” The Byrds, their 1960s-era American rivals, finished second with three nods — including a vote for a cover tune by one-time band leader Gene Clark.

Elsewhere, there was a typically stunning array of sounds. On what other island would you find two votes for Robert Palmer (as a solo artist and member of the Power Station), as well as Johnny Cash?

The Talking Heads and Rickie Lee Jones? Bruce Springsteen and Metallica?

Each of them received two votes in our new poll, as well.

Also mentioned were expected favorites like Santana’s “Black Magic Woman,” Devo’s “Satisfaction,” the Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun” and Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower.” Then, there were some more offbeat surprises …


1. TOOTS AND THE MAYTALS, “TAKE ME HOME, COUNTRY ROADS” (1976): I never could get behind John Denver’s one-note delivery, which made me think that this was a terrible song. Thankfully, Toots & the Maytals showed me the way.
2. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, “TRAPPED” (1985): Bruce has been playing this for so long that he’s kind of made me forget it came by way of Jimmy Cliff. As usual, the Boss brings his wonderful sense of dynamics, turning the song into a bit of modern gospel.
3. DAVID S. WARE, “THE WAY WE WERE” (1998): More of a complete deconstruction than a cover, this is Mr. Ware at his unhinged best. Or: Barbara Streisand on acid.
4. DEVO, “(I CAN’T NO) SATISFACTION” (1978): Baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby…
5. CAMERA OBSCURA, “TOUGHER THAN THE REST” (2009): People who know me are well aware of the fact that I’ve got no use for Springsteen’s Tunnel Of Love. Hey, I don’t completely understand it myself. And here’s a song that adds to the confusion. A gorgeous rendition of “Tougher Than The Rest.” I love it. So much better than Bruce’s monotone mumble.


1. THE BYRDS, “MR. TAMBOURINE MAN” (1965): Not only did this record single handedly launch the massively influential folk rock boom, but it also introduced the mainstream pop audience to the work of Bob Dylan.
2. THE BLUES MAGOOS, “I CAN HEAR THE GRASS GROW” (1968): Already a great song, the Blues Magoos remain relatively true to the Move’s original recording of this acid-addled power pop pleasure. There was little to improve on to begin with, but just the fact the band elected to reprise such an awesome tune calls for a celebration alone.
3. CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL, “I HEARD IT THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE” (1970): Gladys Knight and the Pips and Marvin Gaye scored big hits with this brooding song, in 1967 and 1968 respectively, that tells the harrowing tale of a cheating lover who has leaked the word out behind the narrator’s back that the relationship is over. Placed in the hands of Creedence Clearwater Revival, the soulful stinger morphs into a swampy, hard-edged stick of dynamite, complete with a dose of intense jamming.
4. JOHN LENNON, “STAND BY ME” (1975): Attempting to recycle Ben E. King’s beautiful “Stand By Me,” which swept the airwaves in 1961, would be a challenge for any musician, since the tune simply can’t be bettered. But John Lennon approaches the ballad as if it is his own creation.
5. GENE CLARK, “IF YOU COULD READ MY MIND” (1984): Had Gordon Lightfoot not written and recorded this heart-wrenching song, Gene Clark would have. Romance gone sour, “If You Could Read My Mind” serves as a perfect fit for the kind of melancholic stuff the ex-Byrd was known for. Gene’s baritone vocals bristle with clarity and lucidity as he lets loose words of regret, forgiveness and resignation.


1. TOTO, “WATCHING THE DETECTIVES” (2002): Elvis Costello has made his distaste of Toto well known. So they “kindly” covered “Watching the Detectives” for their Through the Looking Glass covers album.
2. QUICKSILVER MESSENGER SERVICE, “WHO DO YOU LOVE” (1969): John Cipollina’s searing guitar work on this Bo Diddley classic is brilliant. Cipollina totally owns it.
3. JOHN FARNHAM, “ONE” (1969): Farnham’s soaring vocals totally own this classic.
4. VANESSA AMOROSI, “PIECE OF MY HEART” (2008): Saucy Aussie Amorosi totally channels Janis in her spot on cover.
5. KEVIN GILBERT, “KASHMIR” (1995): Gilbert takes the Led Zep classic and makes it his own.


1. DIO/YNGWIE MALMSTEEN, “DREAM ON” (1999): Didn’t think this song could get any better? Have a listen to this version. The unlikely pairing of Dio and Malmsteen brings a very mystical quality to it.
2. JOHNNY CASH, “HURT” (2002): Cash took this song and made it his. Trent Reznor should never perform it again. The NIN version was a pretty good song, but Cash’s raw, pain-filled, world-weary vocals brought a new depth and meaning to it. It’s one of those rare cases where the cover truly transcends the original.
3. ANGEL DUST, “TEMPLE OF THE KING” (2000): This is my favorite Rainbow tune. It was originally acoustic, which, let’s be honest, was all Dio and Blackmore needed, and perhaps a precursor to Blackmore’s medieval balladry fetish. Angel Dust electrified it and added some atmospheric and symphonic touches, and came up with something a bit more bombastic, but almost as impressive as the original.
4. METALLICA, “STONE COLD CRAZY” (1990): Metallica really is one hell of a cover band. There were so many that I could have chosen from, but it was almost like Queen anticipated in 1974 what Metallica would sound like. It’s the perfect song for the perfect band.
5. BLACK LABEL SOCIETY, “SNOWBLIND” (2001): I had a tough time choosing between this and the cover of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” from the same record, but there’s a bit more depth to this one. Zakk Wylde turns the Sabbath classic about cocaine addiction into a slowed-down, strung out, melancholy piece that puts a really better reflects the subject matter.

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1. THE BEATLES, “SOME OTHER GUY” (1994): A great rockin’ Richie Barrett song that the Beatles made their own in the clubs of Liverpool as an opening number. Released in the early 1990s as part of Live at the BBC.
2. CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL, “I PUT A SPELL ON YOU” (1968): Who would’ve thought that CCR could top Screamin’ Jay Hawkins classic hit with their own passionate swampy version?
3. THE ROLLING STONES, “LITTLE RED ROOSTER” (1964): Howlin’ Wolf’s Willie Dixon-penned song, done Stones style in a timeless way with Brian Jones’ superb slide guitar leading the way.
4. THE EMBROOKS, “CHILDREN OF TOMORROW” (2001): Dare I say it that The Embrooks’ cover of the Mike Stuart Span’s 1968 original tops the original psych-rock classic — and I love the Span’s version.
5. TALKING HEADS, “TAKE ME TO THE RIVER” (1978): A unique inspired cover of Al Green’s popular single that, The Talking Heads had their first Top 40 hit with back in 1978.


1. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, “I AIN’T GOT NO HOME” (1988): Bruce Springsteen and Woody Guthrie have each written many powerful songs and played many memorable concerts. This particular combination of Guthrie’s socially conscious songwriting and Springsteen’s moving and heartfelt performance ranks with the best work of either artist.
2. DAN BAIRD, “HUSH” (1996): I don’t know how he did it, but producer Brendan O’Brien turned Dan Baird’s cover of Deep Purple’s cover of Joe South’s pretty much one-chord song into an updated guitar quagmire sludge-o-rama two-falls-out-of-three event – and somehow got Joe South himself to come in and sing backing vocals as well.
3. DWIGHT YOAKAM, “I’M BAD, I’M NATIONWIDE” (2004): ZZ Top’s original version creeps along as a slinky, tongue in cheek cartoon – Dwight Yoakam’s version feels tougher because he delivers the vocal straight/no irony, which opens up the possibility that in Hillbilly World, this really could and does happen all the time.
4. JASON AND THE SCORCHERS, “TAKE ME HOME, COUNTRY ROADS” (1995): So, if you don’t like the mellow sounds of John Denver, you’ll LUV how the Scorchers dismantle this piece and rebuild it in their own image. Rockin’ with rocket fuel.
5. APRIL WINE, “BAD SIDE OF THE MOON” (1972): Despite the credit written right on the album cover, it was years before I realized eternal Canuck hard rock superstars April Wine’s great song Bad Side of the Moon was actually a cover of a song by the at-the-time obscure songwriting team of… Elton John and Bernie Taupin. Yes – THAT obscure songwriting team.


1. LIVING COLOUR, “MEMORIES CAN’T WAIT” (1988): When I found Living Colour in high school, I wasn’t all that aware of Talking Heads and wouldn’t be for some time, but this standout tune from the great Vivid opened the door later on. There’s almost no comparing the two, however. Living Colour took the Heads’ song and really made it their own, amping it up in exactly the way you’d expect knowing what that band was capable of – wild guitar histrionics, soulful vocals, and a powerful, hard-hitting rhythm section.
2. METALLICA, “BREADFAN” (1989): Metallica’s choices in cover songs was impeccable in the 1980s. The riff in this Budgie cover is massive. It remains one of the Metallica songs that I simply have to have around because it snakes its way back into my consciousness and I have to hear it now, right now!
3. STANLEY SNAIL, “SIBERIAN KHATRU” (1995): This isn’t even a band, technically. It’s “just” guitarist Mike Keneally with long-time cohort and bassist Bryan Beller, drummer Nick D’Virgilio, and the late Kevin Gilbert doing a spot-on cover of this great Yes tune. Where’s the name come from? Why it’s from a mis-heard lyric from the song itself. “Go, Stanley Snail!”
4. SEU JORGE, “LIFE ON MARS?” (2005): I could have almost have picked any of the Bowie songs that Seu Jorge covers on The Life Aquatic soundtrack, but this one has a slight edge just because I like the original so much. Just voice and guitar, its simplicity lets the song’s beauty shine through, but Seu Jorge takes it one step further by singing the songs in his native Portugese.
5. CORINNE BAILEY RAE, “SINCE I’VE BEEN LOVING YOU” (2006): Led Zeppelin tunes are kind of musical holy ground. There has to be something extra special brought to the plate to make these really work or else they completely fail. The first points are won by Rae carrying the tune on piano and upright bass. The rest is balanced on a stunningly tender and powerful vocal performance.


1. THE BEATLES, “PLEASE MR. POSTMAN” (1964): The Fab Four took a whiny vocal performance by The Marvellettes, upped the ante, and rocked the song to death. Pretty bleeping loud and raucous for 1964.
2. THE ANIMALS, “THE HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN” (1964): A cover version of other cover versions of a folk song of unknown origins. The Animals changed the subject of the song from a woman working in a house of ill repute to one of a gambling, drunkard male in order to make the song more friendly for radio. Even the revised version was quite provocative for its day and it just might be the most famous rock cover song of all time.
3. CHICAGO, “I’M A MAN” (1969): Better than the Spencer Davis original, here is where CTA proved they had one of the hottest rhythm sections in rock. In 1969, Peter Cetera and Danny Seraphine could hang with anybody. Great vocals and arrangement too.
4. JOAN BAEZ, “SIMPLE TWIST OF FATE” (1974): A rocking, unique take on Bob Dylan’s song from his classic Blood on the Tracks album. Baez offers up a great vocal with a spot-on Dylan impersonation that provides the song with a sense of humor that the bard’s version doesn’t have. A glowing performance.
5. THE BRIAN SETZER, “PENNSYLVANIA 6-5000” (2000): A roaring, ear-splitting, guitar-fueled, cover of the old Glenn Miller tune that would have sent the late big band leader running for cover.

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1. ROBERT PALMER, “I DIDN”T MEAN TO TURN YOU ON” (1987): A sly, gender table-turning cover, Palmer took notice of Cherelle’s moderate RnB hit and turned it into an irresistibly funked up groove for the ages.
2. HINDU LOVE GODS, “RASPBERRY BERET” (1990): Listening to Zevon take on Prince’s smirky, boastful lines like “built like she was, she had the nerve to ask me if I planned to do her any harm” is alone worth the price of admission.
3. RICKIE LEE JONES, “SHOW BIZ KIDS” (2000): Jones pulls Steely Dan’s soul-jazz gem into her familiar beatnik playground, putting an emphatic punctuation mark on the climatic line “show business kids makin’ movies of themselves; you know they don’t give a fuck about anybody else.”
4. EVA CASSIDY, “WOODSTOCK” (2000): Accompanied by only a well-picked acoustic guitar, Cassidy delivers a moving rendering of Joni MItchell’s striking account of the the hippie movement’s pivotal event.
5. SPOCK’S BEARD, “SOUTHSIDE OF THE SKY” (2002): The Beard creatively grafts the intro to Yes’ “Perpetual Change” into the beginning of “Southside,” giving the song a grand entrance. Rick Wakeman’s sublime acoustic piano in the instrumental break section is replaced by equally tasteful acoustic guitars.


1. RONNIE SPECTOR, “DON’T WORRY BABY” (1999): What goes around … Just as Brian Wilson was inspired by the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby,” Ronnie Spector bounces back in sublime kind like something’s been building up inside of her for, oh, I don’t know how long.
2. TOM WAITS, “HEIGH-HO! (THE DWARFS’ MARCHING SONG)” (1989): Apparently from Curmudgeonly, the missing eighth dwarf. This is not your mother’s Snow White, and we’re not in the happiest place on earth. Not that I’d have it any other way.
3. RICKIE LEE JONES, “WALK AWAY RENEE” (1983): As she wrings out every drop of poignancy from this affecting Left Banke song, Jones’ version “still finds a way to haunt me.”
4. PAUL McCARTNEY, “IT’S SO EASY” (2011): Really letting loose, a manic Macca goes all “Monkberry Moon Delight” all over Buddy Holly.
5. FIONA APPLE, “I WANT YOU” (2006): Apple’s not content to merely “toss some tatty compliment your way.” In a release from a VH1 tribute to Elvis Costello, she seethes and “scares you witless,” obsessively insisting on knowing “the stupid details that my heart is breaking for.”


1. JAMES TAYLOR, “YOU’VE GOT A FRIEND” (1971): Originally written by Carole King, Taylor added a more intimate spin to the track with his elegant vocals and exquisite guitar picking.
2. ELVIS COSTELLO AND THE ATTRACTIONS, “(WHAT’S SO FUNNY ‘BOUT) PEACE, LOVE AND UNDERSTANDING” (1979): This track has become so closely associated with Costello, it’s often forgotten that it’s a cover of Nick Lowe’s 1974 original. Costello infused it with punk attitude, his defiant lead vocals virtually demanding peace, love, and understanding.
3. TALKING HEADS, “TAKE ME TO THE RIVER” (1978): Who would have thought that this neo-punk band could retain the deep soul of the Al Green original? Somehow David Byrne’s vocals, along with a driving beat, sound as passionate as Green’s 1974 take.
4. THE BEATLES, “PLEASE MR. POSTMAN” (1963): The Beatles made no secret of their fondness for Motown, and they proved it with this cover. With Lennon’s raspy vocal, he added a sexy layer to the Marvelettes’ 1961 original.
5. THE BYRDS, “MR. TAMBOURINE MAN” (1965): I must admit that I often prefer covers of Bob Dylan songs to the originals, and the Byrds’ version of Dylan’s 1964 composition is a perfect example. Their folk rock treatment became a 1960s signpost, a symbol of the then-burgeoning hippie movement.


1. JOHNNY CASH, “HURT” (2002): Unlistenably beautiful, one of those songs I don’t put on too much — for fear that this Nine Inch Nails cover song’s billowing power will somehow fade. Rare, too, in that the video, shot in the desolate ruins of Cash’s museum after the death of his beloved June Carter, only adds to its sense of shattering loss.
2. POWER STATION, “GET IT ON (BANG A GONG)” (1985): Tony Thompson, Chic’s secret-weapon drummer, begins with a beat that could bring down buildings, then Duran Duran’s Taylor brothers set the groove. By the time Robert Palmer arrives, fashionably late but as smooth as 007, Marc Bolin’s original take with T Rex has turned to ash.
3. SANTANA, “BLACK MAGIC WOMAN” (1970): Carlos Santana’s sinewy riff gets all the notice, but Greg Rolie’s darkly mysterious keyboard signature, not to mention his raw and emotional vocal, is what whisks this old Fleetwood Mac song to an entirely new place.
4. THE CLASH, “I FOUGHT THE LAW” (1979): The Clash blew Bobby Fuller’s version apart, with a galloping beat and a snot-nosed approach to the lyric that rang out as a clarion call for the looming decade’s sense of style and attitude. No London Calling, no 1980s.
5. JIMI HENDRIX, “ALL ALONG THE WATCHTOWER” (1968): There are those rare moments when someone so completely realizes their own vision within the context of a remake, it’s like the original never existed. Hendrix’s scalding take on “All Along the Watchtower” is one of those moments. Even Bob Dylan does it Hendrix’s way now in concert.

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