[Continued from Part 2]
Right about now, that voice in your head is probably thinking “He’s given us his ten favorite covers (and a bonus!); but what covers comprised the best of the rest?” I’m so glad you asked… Don’t mistake any of these five covers as also-rans: each of these covers rocks! Click on each of the links to see/hear what I mean.
“The Chain” (Fleetwood Mac) – Florence + The Machine
“This Wheel’s on Fire” (Bob Dylan and The Band) – Siouxsie and the Banshees
“Comfortably Numb” (Pink Floyd) – Scissor Sisters
“Light My Fire” (The Doors) – Dame Shirley Bassey
“Hanging on the Telephone” (The Nerves) – Blondie
3. “Stairway to Heaven” (Led Zeppelin) – Dolly Parton
Assuming arguendo, that it takes balls to cover rock’s most sacred cow; then Dolly Parton is packing the grandes cojones in all of musicdom. Faced with the (now iconic) grandiosity of the song; Parton went back to its (and Led Zeppelin’s) blues roots. She replaced the blistering guitar solos and searing instrumentals with a strong backing band playing acoustic banjo, guitar, fiddle, mandolin, slide-guitar, upright bass, and drums. She took the mystical poetry of Robert Plant’s lyrics, head-on; and replaced the final verse with starkly apocalyptic lyrics of her own (“Oh, the great almighty dollar / leaves you lonely, lost and hollow / you can’t fool yourself forever / you’ve gotta work to get to heaven”). And while Parton starts out singing at a register just above a whisper, as if delivering a lullaby; by the time she reaches the song’s epic crescendo (now seeped in bluegrass splendor)—whence she is joined by a sublime Southern gospel choir—she treats us to that deliciously plaintive spinto soprano voice we know and love. That she did so atop a pair of stiletto-heeled mules, clad in a sparkly nip-waist jacket and toreador pants (as she did in this video – from 2003’s Live and Well Concert, at Dollywood)? Well, that’s just a bedazzled bonus for the viewer.
2. “Love Reign O’er Me” (The Who) – Heart
If I had to pick one band that has really mastered the art of covering classic rock songs, it’d be Heart. And while most would immediately point to the sisters’ 2012 performance of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” (live, at the Kennedy Center) as the epitome of this (and they’d be correct); something about the way they cover of The Who’s “Love Reign O’re Me” really gets me where it counts. From The Who’s rock opera (and sixth album) Quadrophenia, the song tells the story of the main character’s redemption as found through pouring rain; and with one of Roger Daltry’s greatest vocal performances—an acrobatic mélange of singing, wailing, and roaring—it became one of classic rock’s greatest power ballads. In the hands of the Sisters Wilson, however, it becomes a dizzying rollercoaster of emotions - as seen in this video from Heart's 2007 Dreamboat Annie Live concert at LA's Orpheum Theatre. Nancy’s virtuosity on the guitar is fierce, but it’s Ann’s dramatic soprano that punches through your heart, and grabs you until the song’s shuddering release.
1. “Whole Lotta Love” (Led Zeppelin) – Tina Turner
After 15 years under the thumb (and fist) of Ike Turner, Tina Turner’s second solo studio album, Acid Queen (1975), marked the end of the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. And while Ike co-produced (with Denny Diante and Spencer Proffer) his original songs on the album’s B-Side; Side A (covers of songs by The Rolling Stones, The Who, and Led Zeppelin), was produced by Diante and Proffer, sans Ike. The funktacular, hook-laden cover of Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” was the first single from the Billboard-charting album; and the gritty, soulful arrangement paired incredibly with the explosive raunchiness and powerful, husky androgynous contralto upon which Turner would build her massive international solo-career, becoming the most successful live solo performer of all time, and earning the moniker of Queen of Rock n’ Roll. And, in a timely sign of relevance, Turner—as a legendary performer who’s made “outstanding contributions of artistic significance to the field of recording”—received the Lifetime Achievement Award, at the 60th annual Grammy Awards.*
Get into it!
[Editor’s Note: In addition to Turner, the 2018 recipients of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award included Hal Blaine, Neil Diamond, Emmylou Harris, Louis Jourdan, the Meters, and Queen.]