Joe Cocker, “With a Little Help from My Friends” (Original)
This is a glorious performance, perhaps the only cover of a Beatles’ song that surpasses the original; no mean feat. It’s from Joe Cocker’s “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” tour (1969-1971), which was a crazy affair — a huge traveling band (including a retinue of superlative backup singers, two drummers and a full horn section) — and might be regarded as the tour that effectively marked the end of the hippie era. If that’s so, it went out with a sweet-natured little pop tune transformed into a secularized hymn.
Now that we’ve had a look at Frye speaking and writing about rock ‘n’ roll and popular music generally as a bona fide element of culture and worthy of study (here, here, and here), our occasional Saturday Night Video selections maybe enjoys a little more cachet.
Here’s a collection of great cover versions of great songs, most of which are more famous than the original. A link to the original artist is included, if you want to compare.
Jimi Hendrix, “All Along the Watchtower” (Original)
Yeah. Undeniably the definitive version, and one of a handful of Hendrix performances most closely identified with him.
Cream, “Crossroads” (Original)
Dear Lord. While listening, keep reminding yourself that this is a trio. Ginger Baker alone is playing like a one man drum line.
Janis Joplin, “Me and Bobby McGee” (Original)
Ditto. Can be heard and enjoyed anywhere, anytime, and it might break your heart every time.
Rod Stewart, “Reason to Believe” (Original)
Anyone who doesn’t remember that Rod was once one of the great rock ‘n’ roll singers, this’ll remind you.
Sinead O’Connor, “Nothing Compares To You” (Original)
Again, a definitive version of the song. Hands up anyone who has actually heard the original.
Okay, New Order was the direct descendant of Joy Division, whose song this originally was, so this may only technically be a cover. Thanks to Amanda Etches-Johnson, I was reminded that “Ceremony” remains in everyone’s top ten New Order songs. This version is from Sofia Coppela’s Marie Antoinette. (Original)