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Bin Dive's Five Favorite Cover Songs

Cover songs are the ugly step-sister necessity of bar and wedding bands everywhere, yet they also seem to attract the already-famous who are happy to use covers to suck money from the music fan trough without actually putting forth much effort. This has been a staple of American music since the 78rpm vinyl disc was invented, allowing musicians and singers to copy, refresh, or completely remake some dusty zero into a current-day hero.

The 1960s was especially littered with the corpses of gone-nowhere originals like The Olympics' "Good Lovin'" or The Top Notes' "Twist and Shout" being turned into monster chart-toppers by bands like The Young Rascals, The Isley Brothers and The Beatles. Or if you were Carl Perkins, you were waking up pretty much every other weekend to find out someone was scabbing your rockabilly songs like "Blue Suede Shoes" and "Summertime Blues" into records that would eclipse your own.

On the other hand, it's not hard to imagine Tennessee Ernie Ford going to bed every night praying ABBA might figure out some way to turn "Sixteen Tons" into the next "Dancing Queen."

Of course, there are tons of remarkable and notable remakes in the world. Here are five of our favorites that rank pretty high on our iPod playlist:

1. "Baby Now That I've Found You"
Original: The Foundations (1967)
Cover: Alison Krauss & Union Station (1995)

If I could be stranded on a desert island with a good-looking woman, 30 crates of tequila and just one cover song ever made in the history of recorded music, "Baby Now I've Found You" by Alison Krauss & Union Station would be it. And really, if I had to choose between the song and the tequila, a boatload of pirates would probably be pretty happy with the tequila.

If you were around during the summer of 1967, The Foundations found a way to turn throbbing, slice-my-wrists heartache into almost three minutes of the same sort bouncy happiness that any harried mom in 1967 had to shell out good money for. "Baby Now I've Found You" had a horn section that knew its business, a singer who had a great Caribbean accent, and backing vocals that made you sing along even if you couldn't carry a tune in a paper sack.

This is a song that I'll forever think of as beach music because at the time, Chicago AM-radio juggernauts WLS and WCFL were busy beating the living hell out of it on a bazillion tinny little transistor radios sitting on a bazillion beach blankets spread out on the Southeast Side sand along 98th Street and the lake, back when I was a kid in Calumet Park's summer day camp. Even now, it's hard to be sick of "Baby Now I've Found You" because if this song ever stops making you feel good, there's something really wrong with you, Jack.

Alison Krauss and Union Station is probably the most talented band of unassuming and humble Regular-Joe folks to land a recording contract. Krauss - who occasionally veers into pop and beyond and wins armfuls of Grammy awards - is an awesome fiddle player with a breathy, clear-as-a-cold-mountain-stream voice. Still, their bread and butter is bluegrass, a genre where the only kind of "beach music" is an Appalachian dirge about a beach collapsing into a coal mine and killing all the menfolk in town. That's exactly why this live AKUS version of "Baby Now I've Found You" - which is far more warm and intimate than the recorded version on their 1995 LP of the same name - turns the heartache of the original into one the prettiest damn songs you'll ever hear.


2. "Brand New Key"
Original: Melanie (1971)
Cover: The Dollyrots (2007)

Before rollerblades, there was this innocent, ubiquitous little ditty from folkie-singer/songwriter Melanie Safka about a girl with a brand new pair of roller skates pining for (these days we'd call it stalking) a boy with a brand new key. It was innocent. It was cute. It was catchy. It was just odd enough to work. In fact, it worked so well that after about two weeks - in a world, mind you, where Internet file-sharing servers with 932,467,981,395,742,000 other songs at your immediate disposal hadn't been invented yet - this song got incredibly old and annoying incredibly fast.

"Brand New Key" was really nothing more than what it was: an adorable little AM-radio ditty adored by children and mothers and grandmothers waiting for someone to hurry the hell up and invent Branson, Mo. Today, "Brand New Key" would be one of those weird, kitschy little songs plucked from obscurity for an Apple iPod or Target commercial. Had she not been as socially conscious, socially relevant and fundamentally talented as Joan Baez - and if not for a voice that could go from plaintive ("Look What They've Done To My Song, Ma") to powerful ("Lay Down {Candles in the Rain"}) - Melanie might have joined Terry "Seasons in the Sun" Jacks and Sammy "Chevy Van" Johns on the same 1970s scrap heap of one-hit-wonder roadkill, duking it out with The Bay City Rollers every S!-A!-T-U-R!!!-D-A-Y!!! Night!!! Night!!!

I'm not sure what compelled one of the neatest neo-punker bands nobody's really heard of like The Dollyrots to raid someone's stack of old 45rpm records and turn "Brand New Key" into this neat little piece of work on their 2007 LP Because I'm Awesome. No matter how it came about, I'm just glad it did.

Really, this is the problem I've had with just about every garage/bar band I've ever heard since 1979: The really good ones worth a record deal find a way to mold the original into something that sounds like "them," not the closest approximation to the record. If you think there's no truth to that, Eddie Van Halen might suggest you go home, fire up his version of "You Really Got Me" off the first album - written when Van Halen was basically still a garage band - and go screw yourself.

Otherwise, extra points go to The Dollyrots and singer/bassist babe Kelly Ogden for coming up with something close to what I imagine Joan Jett might do if she got bored and decided she needed some harmless little song to fuck with.


3. "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction"
Original: The Rolling Stones (1964)
Cover: Devo (1978)

It's one thing to have a whacked-out cover song make you wince. It's another thing to have it come along and scare you.

Keith Richards' fuzzed-out intro to "Satisfaction" - which he says came to him in his sleep - is one of the most famous guitar riffs in rock history. Fortunately, it's the intro to THE song that put the Rolling Stones on the map. Back then, this song was actually welcome relief to those of us who wouldn't have minded if any plane carrying the Beatles crashed into the Atlantic Ocean because - contrary to popular belief - the whole country didn't run out and buy electric guitars and burn their Sam Cooke records two seconds after Ed Sullivan introduced them. Screw John, Paul, George and Ringo - holding some girl's hand was for lightweights. Mick was smoking cigarettes and trying to lay some girl. And he was doing his own laundry trying to get his shirts as white as they could be.

Then came Devo, a band that - near as anyone could tell at the time - might as well have been refugees from some Communist bloc chess club who decided to defect to Ohio and start the most disturbing techno-pop band ever. Their debut LP, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, featured the most unsettling cover song ever in American recording industry history. They must have been either bored or stoned enough to record this, because apart from the lyrics, this jerky, spazzed-out version of an otherwise perfectly good Stones song bore little resemblance to the original.

That's not to say I don't like this Devo gem. Quite the contrary. There's something quite remarkable about a Stones song that makes you feel like Charles Manson has shown up to stare at you for two minutes and forty seconds every time you fire it up.

[NOTE: The audio has been disabled due to a copyright claim, so use your imagination - or go buy the record.]


4. "Take Me Home, Country Roads"
Original: John Denver (1971)
Cover: Jason & The Scorchers (1995)

From the time he showed up during the early 1970s, John Denver was guy whose music you either loved or hated. Even if you hated it - and by God, there was plenty enough for a 1970s teenager to hate - you could probably still stand it enough to sit there with an acoustic guitar trying to figure out the signature riff at the beginning of "Rocky Mountain High" by ear to impress the girls (but only after you gave up trying to figure out how to play "Stairway to Heaven.") Still, the premier of China liked "Take Me Home, Country Roads" enough that during a trip to the United States to get a few hundred cassette-tape copies, ordered damn near every radio station in China to play it. This made Denver - unbeknownst to him until a decade or two later - a massive superstar in China.

Meanwhile, Jason & the Scorchers - a Nashville cowpunk band that deserved to be far bigger than it turned out to be - decided to cook up its own version of "Take Me Home, Country Roads" on their 1995 LP A Blazing Grace. You can find a homemade, live version of it here. The video quality blows and I'm not sure it captures a full dose of guitarist Warner Hodges, but the audio is better than average and the band stays pretty true to the album track). My guess is the "Country Roads" point in the Scorchers' career came when someone in the band said, "I swear to God, if I hear that damn song one more damn time . . . " because the band doesn't really cover the song as much as it rips its head off, pisses vinegar down its throat, and gives it a good three-minute ass-kicking.

While the band would also do an honorable-mention version of the Rolling Stones' "19th Nervous Breakdown" (despite demonstrating how wrong things could could go in 1986 when an over-acting, over-dressed and over-coiffed band ends up in the hands of a music video director with far more cameras than he deserved to have - think of every music video made by Poison), Jason & the Scorchers would disband before it might have occurred to someone in the band to drag "Thank God I'm A Country Boy" out to the woodshed, too.

Jason & the Scorchers - Take Me Home, Country Roads
Found at


5. "Roll Over Beethoven"
Original: Chuck Berry (1956)
Remake: Electric Light Orchestra (1973)

There's been a long-standing argument/debate that had he not been black, Chuck Berry - not Elvis Presley - would be considered the true King of Rock 'N' Roll. Which would in turn be naturally left to the followers of Jerry Lee Lewis to debate and argue. Say what you like fer or agin' Elvis or Jerry Lee, few might disagree that Chuck Berry was to 1957 what Jimi Hendrix was to 1967. Until those points in time - Les Paul notwithstanding - nobody had ever heard shit like that come out of a guitar player, much less a black guitar player. Like "Johnny B. Goode," "Roll Over Beethoven" was packed with Berry's legendary wild-eyed duck walkin' down-on-his-knees riffs, runs, and hooks that would go on to inspire some of the hugest British Invasion bands and - thank God! - drive a giant stake into the heart of the crooner/doo-wop era.

About 20 years later, Electric Light Orchestra would turn "Roll Over Beethoven" into something that had us thinking what everyone more accustomed to Pat Boone or The Drifters were probably thinking when they first heard Berry's version: "What the fuck is THIS??" Seventeen seconds of "Beethoven's Fifth" by the cellos and violins of this British light orchestra (hence the "light orchestra" part of the ELO name) crashing head-on into an even slicker, more electrified incarnation of Berry's signature intro - and then careening between three-chord rock rave-up and classical-orchestra jam for another four-plus minutes on the single version - was pretty fucking amazing.

But that was the genius of Jeff Lynne, who didn't just rehab a classic ride but kept the frame and re-engineered the hell out of the whole bucket of bolts into a song even longer - and more original - than the original.


See what else is in the Beachwood Bins. Bin Dive explores rock's secret history through the bargain bins and your old stack of records. Comments - and submissions - welcome. You must include a real name to be considered for publication.


Posted on March 2, 2009

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


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