Tom Watson at newcritics calls Patti Smith’s cover of Van Morrison’s Gloria “the greatest rock cover performance (studio release) of all time.” Love how he doesn’t attempt to qualify or temper the statement by prefacing with the usual “All top ten lists are silly, but here I go anyway.” Just comes out and says it.
And onward it goes, every second fiery, living-breathing rock-and-roll. It feels incredibly live, with Jay Dee Daugherty’s singer-focused cymbals and fills and Lenny Kaye’s understated but omnipresent guitar. This song feels like it could only have been released in this performance, in this actual cut, in the recording that was made on that one day with this one band in this one studio. And to me, that’s what great covers are about: building on somebody else’s song, putting your own meat on the bones, creating a singular performance.
Damn straight. Follows up with his own top 10:
Gloria – Patti Smith (Horses, 1975)
Just My Imagination – The Rolling Stones (Some Girls, 1978)
Respect – Aretha Franklin (1967)
Satisfaction – Devo (Are We Not Men?, 1978)
Jolene – The White Stripes (2003)
I Won’t Back Down – Johnny Cash (Solitary Man, 2000)
I Fought The Law – The Clash (The Clash, 1979)
Oops I Did it Again – Richard Thompson (A Thousand Years of Music, 2003)
Stand By Me – John Lennon (Rock-n-Roll, 1975)
Don’t Start Me Talkin’ – New York Dolls (Too Much, Too Soon, 1974)
Timing couldn’t be better, since Patti is about to release Twelve, an all-covers record that’s already got my sandals in a lather. Her cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” may well be more moving than the Gregorian chant version of the same song. You do have to question her choice to cover Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants To Rule the World,” or Stevie Wonder’s “Pastime Paradise,” neither of which rise to the occasion (or maybe it’s Patti not rising) though the missteps are more than compensated for by the inclusion of a floating, haunted cover of The Doors’ “Soul Kitchen.” And her take on “Are You Experienced” is transformed into a mountainous alt-rock dirge.
Smith, interviewed at Salon.com:
That’s why [pioneering New York punk-rock club] CBGB was so important. CBGB was like a mecca. It was just a shit hole, but it was our shit hole. For the new guard, the Internet is their CBGB and their territory is global. … I was an apprentice of some very great people — Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs and Gregory Corso — and we talked endlessly of the duty of the poet. My goal was to infuse more blood into poetry, to bring rock ‘n’ roll into poetry. Not so much to bring poetry into rock ‘n’ roll — Jim Morrison had done that, Bob Dylan had done that. For me, it was the opposite.
So… what covers have made you twitch and moan?