Ten Cover Versions

Often cover versions are seen as being an easy way to fill an album, a way to make some easy money or even a lack of creativity on behalf of the artiste. However, this is not always the case, and in many cases cover versions can become the version of the song; the very many versions of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah often usurp the original (but not obviously Alexandra Burke’s over produced X Factor travesty of a song.) In this blog I’m going to post ten great cover versions that I hope you enjoy as much as I do.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps – The Jeff Healey Band

Blind Canadian guitarist, Jeff Healey, first came to my attention through his role in the Patrick Swayze film, Roadhouse. Having become blind at an early age due to a cancer that eventually took his life, Jeff had a unique style of playing with his guitar played flat across his lap; legend has it his father left a guitar on a bed which the young Healey started to strum in this fashion. The style of playing gave him a sound that was as different and revolutionary as Jimi Hendrix playing left handed and upside down or Django Reindhart’s playing style. And it is no better demonstrated on the understated but electric shredded crescendo Healey brings to George Harrison’s Beatle’s ballad.


Yellow – Alex Parks

In 2003 Alex entered and subsequently won the BBC talent show, Fame Academy, before recording two albums, Introduction in 2003 and Honesty in 2005. The first album was a mixture of self-penned songs and those by some of her favourite artists. While many of the songs could never live up to the originals (Imagine, Mad World and Everybody Hurts) her version of Coldplay’s Yellow is a fabulous one, mainly, for me, because I believe her, something I can never get with Chris Martin.


Angel Eyes – The Czars

One of, if not the, stand out artist of the last ten years is John Grant. Grant brings an emotion and depth to his songs that can cut your heart in two. Along with Bowie’s Blackstar, his second solo album, Pale Green Ghosts, is the album of the 21st century. Before Grant went solo he worked with the band, The Czars, who put a spin on Abba’s song Angel Eyes, taking it from a simple love song into something more perhaps creepy, even perhaps sinister whilst still retaining the element of love albeit from the point of view of an older gay guy. To see Grant perform this live is an experience that can never be forgotten.


When The Levee Breaks – Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin were at the forefront of the British Blues explosion of the late 1960’s developing as they did from Jimmy Page’s former band The Yardbirds. In their early albums they had plunged into the songbooks of such great bluesmen as Willie Dixon. But by 1971 and the release of their third and fourth albums Zeppelin had begun to experiment with elements of world music and traditional folk to create a new sound. However, they still were looking at old Blues songs including as the last track a magnificent hard blues rock treatment of the 1927 song by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie, When The Levee Breaks. With John Bonham’s relentless and tireless drum rolls holding together the whole song allowing Page, Plant and Jones to build this song to a tumultuous crescendo making it probably the greatest ever end track on any album.


Solo – Fish

One of my favourite artists, who I’ve followed since my early teens, is Fish, who since leaving Marillion in the late 1980’s has recorded a number of albums including one, Songs From The Mirror, his third and final one for Polydor, in 1993. Heavily influenced by David Bowie’s Pin Ups the songs featured were ones that had made their mark on Fish including his version of a song written and recorded by Sandy Denny on her 1974 solo album Like An Old Fashioned Waltz. Having subsequently seen Fish perform this song on the stage at the Cropredy festival with members of Sandy’s former band, Fairport Convention, has added an extra level of poignancy to his version.

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Framed – The Sensational Alex Harvey Band
SAHB, led by the unique showmanship of Alex Harvey, was, even in the outlandish years of early 70’s glam rock, an eccentric art form mixing rock music with old rock ‘n’ roll, 50’s crooning and music hall to bedazzle, confuse and enthuse audiences. Maybe their most famous cover was that of the song, made most famous by Tom Jones, Delilah upon which Harvey injects a weirdness and madness that takes the song in a direction maybe more suited to the songs subject. But my favourite SAHB cover is their version of the Leiber and Stoller song, Framed, which Harvey gives, especially in his sung conversations with police officers, a typically melodramatic performance.
Lilac Wine – Jeff Buckley
It is quite possible that Grace, Buckley’s 1994 album, could be one of the best albums released in that decade. From it is taken his version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, which for many is the version of the song. However, on the album is another cover which I find equally as beguiling, that being his version of the 1950 song written by James Shelton, Lilac Wine. This song first came to my attention through a version by Elkie Brooks that my father had on record in the early 70’s. Re-hearing the song given Buckley’s other worldly treatment is a special moment in musical history.
In A Broken Dream – Kathryn Williams
In 1972 Rod Stewart added vocals to Australian band, Python Lee Jackson’s song In A Broken Dream. In 2004 folk performer, Kathryn Williams, performed a version of this song on her album Relations which also included her version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. Williams version adds a different perspective to the song and is a stand out track on the album.
White Room – Richard Thompson
Quite simply, Richard Thompson is the greatest guitarist I have ever seen. The things he can do with an acoustic or electric guitar are just beyond the realm of mere mortals. On recent tours with his Electric trio, featuring Michael Jerome on drums and bassist Taras Prodaniuk, RT has performed some classic 60’s blues tracks. His version of Cream’s White Room is a virtuoso tour de force of electric guitar playing.
Day Tripper – The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Jimi Hendrix exploded into the world of Blues Rock in 1966 like a bright burning star and although he only was around until 1970 he left behind a body of work of greatness. His take on the blues laid the groundwork for the likes of Led Zeppelin to follow. However, Jimi wasn’t adverse for putting his own take on others songs, most famously Bob Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower. But my favourite Hendrix cover is one he first did for a John Peel session on BBC Radio 1, his version of The Beatle’s Day Tripper.