Sunday, March 11, 2007


Until Chuck Berry, and later Bob Dylan, came along nearly every song anyone sang was a cover of someone else’s hard work. Before then most pop and jazz artists covered what the top writers of the day were happily turning out. Tin Pan Alley eventually gave way to the Brill Building where writing teams were as popular with the industry as those who gave the songs voice. By the early sixties the Broadway musical was in decline as a quick fix for songs to fill out an album. Some acts had even began slipping some of their own material in the sessions. Only Elvis would continue to mine the songs of others exclusively for the rest of his career.

After Dylan though the pressure was on to show that you could write your own songs and possibly change the world with them. A “moon in June” was OK for some, but it was now time to find words that rhymed with war and peace. Now that most of the great songs have been written (my opinion) there is a wealth of songs out there for anyone with a nice voice and a contract to cover.

After the “Unplugged“ craze ran its course the industry looked for a new stop gap measure to make sure their top acts didn’t have to come up with something original that the public might not like (read: buy). So the next trend was simply have your acts do an entire album of covers and call it a tribute to an era, songwriter, way of life, etc.. The trend has spawned some wonderful albums and even some sales juggernauts. And of course the occasional ones that seem to have no other purpose than to keep Dr. Demento on the air another week.

The real purpose of this blog entry is not to praise or disparage existing recordings. That’s too easy. The aim here is to offer up some suggestions to artists that are missing the boat on a song that they should cover. Discussions like this are more suited to a barstool or halftime at a game, but when you have your own blog what better way to be heard above the crowd?

So below is my list of songs that these artists should head into the studio right now and record. These pairings are so perfect that any producer reading this needs to get on the phone now and start booking time.

Cover These Songs Now

Blasters - Don’t Let Go (Roy Hamilton)

This one I just don’t understand, this bands entire sound and approach to music is based on this song yet they have not recorded it. They have re-written it any number of times, but it’s time for Phil to step up to the mic and say “Here’s a song by Roy Hamilton…count it off Dave!”

Art Garfunkel- Rain On The Roof (Lovin’ Spoonful)

Art was born to sing a lot of songs and he’s sung a good many of them. This one seems to have eluded him though. This gentle ode to love and rain screams Manhattan, Saturday afternoon, and coffee in the Village with friends later. Art, call me so we can get started on your next album.

George Jones - Worn Out Suits, With Brand New Pockets (Dave Edmunds)

Jones has been around so long that the garbage he’s recorded over the years is nearly equal to the classics. Never one to shy a way from a novelty tune Jones seems to have turned his back on this clever ode to poverty that Edmunds wrote, arranged and performed as though he were the illegitimate Welsh offspring of Jones. George however was too busy with his white lightning to notice.

Raul Malo - The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore (Walker Brothers)

When you have a voice like Malo’s it’s inevitable that you will sing all kinds of songs from different eras. He’s been all over the board and hit more than he’s missed. How though could he and his handlers have missed this over the top suicide note of a pop classic? This song hung around just waiting for Malo to come along and claim it. He’s yet to cash in his ticket to riches with this one.

Raul Malo - Runaway (Del Shannon)

Malo hits this list for the second time with this glaring oversight. It’s tough to sound more desperate than Del on this one, but Malo is up to the task. Elvis tackled it live with the help of James Burton so it can be done.

Paul McCartney - Mine For Me (Paul McCartney)

Yeah, I know this is a bit of a stretch since Paul wrote this one. The fact is he wrote it for Rod Stewart who nails it on his otherwise spotty “Smiler“ album. The reason it makes this list though is because Rod covers it exactly the way Paul should have recorded it around the time of “Red Rose Speedway.” It’s not too late for Paul to cover himself with this one. As a matter of fact he should come out with an album of his songs that he’s written for others over the years. It would certainly be as, if not more, interesting than his current output.

Aaron Neville - Unchained Melody (Everybody and their brother)

Aaron is another act who has recorded a pile of junk to go along side his seminal recordings over the years. Why this song has not come to the top of the stack is beyond me. If I didn’t know better I would have thought that it was written especially for him. This borders on criminal.

Rolling Stones - Little Red Riding Hood (Sam The Sham)

If you can’t beat them join them. If there was anyone other than Sir Mick that Sam was channeling on this one please tell me who it was. I’m not calling for a studio cover here, what I’m suggesting is a live version that lets Mick vamp his way through the whole thing and the rest of the gang carry the groove behind him. How hard could that be? I nominate this instead of resurrecting “Saint Of Me” or something else on their next “final” tour.

Dwight Yoakam - Ravishing Ruby (Tom T. Hall)

Dwight has of course graced us with many covers over the years. For the most part he’s done quite well with his choices. This Tom T. Hall song though is still waiting for its Bakersfield treatment. The horns and the tempo of the tune are perfectly suited for his voice and style.

Posthumous Covers

Johnny Cash - Dust Of The Chase (Ray Wylie Hubbard)

During his renaissance with Rick Rubin Cash recorded many songs in many genres. A lot of them throwaways and beneath him. That said, when they hit on the right song it was pure magic. If I could have pitched two songs to them one would have been this one (and the one below) from Hubbard. It would have been the perfect way for Cash to go out. The lyrics and the tune speak to the best of what Cash was capable of. One listen and you’d swear Cash had written it decades before.

Johnny Cash - Lord Of The Trains (Tom Russell)

This would have been the spot on final train song for Cash to record. Had it surfaced on one of his “American Recordings” it would have had the same impact as “Hurt” did. I would bet that Johnny crossed Tom’s mind a few times while writing this one. This is a real shame, no other way to put it. I'd give anything just here Johnny belt out the line "I am still the Lord of the trains."

Elvis Presley - San Francisco Mabel Joy (Mickey Newbury)

If this would have been included on one of Elvis’s late sixties recordings from American Studios it would have caused time to stand still. Instead, he chose to cover “Hey Jude.” This Newbury song is one of his best and the version by Waylon Jennings a few years later comes close to evoking the sentiment that I think Presley could have brought to this one.

That’s all for this round. Look for future posts on this subject down the line.