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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

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?

From → Cut-Out Bin

  1. For me:

    Pussy Galore — Nothing Can Break Me Down (cover of Nuggets-like band The Twilighters from Texas)

    Dwarves — Hurricane Fighter Plane (original by Red Krayola)

    Rocket From the Tombs — Raw Power (the band that would later become Pere Ubu did an instrumental take on the Stooges’ song that absolutely smokes)

    New Bomb Turks — Jivin’ Sister Jinny (Great, low-fi cover of the Stones song)

    Dinosaur Jr. — Just Like Heaven (I even like that hardcore chorus)

    Did anyone see the Smith’s performance of Rock and Roll Nigger for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Holy shit…

  2. shacker permalink

    Lemon, I’ve *got* to dig up that Smith’s performance, thanks for the tip. Funny, the Smiths covering Smith.

    Just listened to Patti’s “Birdland” from Horses in the morning sun a while ago and started to cry a little bit. Mind blowingly moving.

  3. It wasn’t “*The* Smiths”, I believe Lemon made a typo… Patti Smith performed Rock & Roll Nigger at the induction this year… It was really nice that VH1 Classic showed the entire ceremony uncut this year, I was really pissed off when Talking Heads reformed for their induction and VH1 only showed a few of the songs they performed…

    Which brings me to a great cover: “Take Me to the River” by Talking Heads….

  4. shacker permalink

    LOL – Nevermind :) I thought it was pretty weird that they would cover that song… which is why I had my heart set on finding it. But will still try to find Patti’s induction thing.

  5. Tying together two recent threads, there’s a bootleg of Patti Smith called something like Teenage Perversity.

    Iggy is on this too, and I think Smith comments about how he just woke up from being passed out on the stage at one point. I think there were some other choice comments too, and a rousing cover of Louie Louie.

    This was recorded in 1976, and according to this, the bootleg was already being closed and reissued by 1978:

    “”Patti Smith released some good albums, but any serious fan of hers will tell you that she performed most of her material better live. There are a number of fine Patti Smith bootlegs, but this one — taken from a January 1976 show at the Roxy in Los Angeles, with near-perfect fidelity — is both her best and her best-known. Besides incendiary versions of several songs from her first few LPs, it features covers of “Louie Louie,” “My Generation” (with John Cale guesting), and The Velvet Underground’s “We’re Gonna Have a Good Time Together” and “Pale Blue Eyes,” as well as entertaining between-song raps and even a brief cameo by Iggy Pop. It’s no exaggeration to claim that this may be her best album, and one of the best ’70s punk/new wave albums of all.” ~ Richie Unterberger, All Music Guide

    I thought she had been gigging wth Cale around then. I think I may have heard that she did some shows with him before Judy Nylon stepped in for the wonderful performance on the live Cale release, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. The quality of the recording with Nylon is a bit lacking but the performance and music easily make up for it, though I think it’s agruable it’s channeling Patti.

    When I think of early Patti= Smith I still get memories of Gilda Radnor throwing herself around the stage with a bottle of booze in her SNL Patti parodies Those had to be right around when Patti was a regular at CBGB’s in her prime.

    With Patti on a Rimbaud influenced path of disorienting her senses in the name of poetry and art, Gilda was probably not far from reality. I think I saw Gilda as Patti before I ever heard Patti’s music.

    Anyway, there are lots of covers on the Teenage Perversity boot, and well worth hearing if you get a chance.

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