BikeMonkey's Best/Worst Cover Song Meme

I was tagged with a meme by BikeMonkey (whose initials "BM" make me laugh) at Sun Dappled Forest a few days ago but didn't have a chance to get to it.

Post your best/worst covers and tag some more muppethuggers. Oh and do a linkback to whomever tagged you if it wasn't me.

In the meantime, several of those tagged have posted many of those songs that the world agrees are among the best covers of all time: The Jimi Hendrix Experience's "All Along The Watchtower" is phenomenal and so beyond comparison that even its creator, Bob Dylan, is on the record as loving it so much that he adopted Hendrix's arrangement.

It overwhelmed me, really. He had such talent, he could find things inside a song and vigorously develop them. He found things that other people wouldn't think of finding in there. He probably improved upon it by the spaces he was using. I took license with the song from his version, actually, and continue to do it to this day.

Then my dear friend Isis The Scientist tagged me yesterday. So, I figured I'd better get to it.

So, I took BikeMonkey's tag of your best/worst covers from the standpoint of what covers mean the most to me. For the one I like best from over (uh, several) decades of music listening, I selected Wilco's cover/composition of Woody Guthrie's "Remember the Mountain Bed."

Many of you have probably not heard this song and it doesn't exactly classify as a cover. The lyrics were written by Woody Guthrie in 1944 with a very sparse framework of what he wished the music to be. Not until 1999 was a full arrangement put to it by Jeff Tweedy and former Wilco colleague, Jay Bennett.

I pick this one for a number of reasons.

I have been completely fascinated by the Billy Bragg/Wilco project envisioned during the 1990s by Guthrie's daughter, Nora (a nicely enlightening interview here). Hundreds of Guthrie lyrics had lain unrecorded in the Woody Guthrie Archives in New York City and Billy Bragg and the members of Wilco did an extraordinary job on writing music and performing more than two dozen of these. Recorded on the albums Mermaid Avenue and Mermaid Avenue, Vol. II, the songs also feature performances by Natalie Merchant and Corey Harris.

Listening to words put to music 55 years later jazzes me beyond belief. In fact, I encourage you to read the lyrics of "Remember the Mountain Bed" before you even hear it put to music. (Lyrics here but you can also play at the top of the page the version recorded on Mermaid Avenue Vol. II). It's pretty easy to appreciate why Tweedy and Bennett would've wanted to put this one to music.

Second is that Woody Guthrie, voice of the oppressed for social justice, is not very well known for his romantic songs, yet his lyrics of love are perhaps among his best. PharmSis bought me the book Woody Guthrie Artworks a couple of Christmases ago and I was blown away by Guthrie paintings and passion for life. So I really enjoy learning unique sides of historical figures that are masked by their primary reason for fame.

Third, is just simply that this song has taken on several different meanings for me over the 10 years since it was first performed. Having lived in the mountains, although not those in California that I believe were the inspiration for Guthrie, the song represents for me an array of emotions in speaking of a love of nature, life, and a woman, as Guthrie speaks to us over the years as an individual and as a representative of common wishes of us all. The timelessness of the lyrics are self-evident.

Finally, Tweedy and Bennett gave these beautiful lyrics the most tender treatment. A beautifully fingerpicked central acoustic guitar run is repeated throughout the song to provide a moving yet simple backdrop to these amazing lyrics. The album version includes a lovely piano and and Hammond B3 organ by Bennett to accompany Tweedy's guitar.

Here is a version the Tweedy performed solo in 2005:

Oh, and I really hate to adulterate this post with my pick for the worst cover: William Shatner's cover of The Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds."

And as I realize how long it took me to get this, I'll be gentle and not tag anyone else. However, consider all of yoursevles tagged should you wish to join in and let us know of your votes for best and worst cover songs.

More like this

T. Bruce: I have to admit that I find all covers by The Byrds to be outstanding. Speaking of Pete Seeger, "Turn! Turn! Turn!," comes to mind, although Seeger essentially lifted it from the Book of Ecclesiastes 3:1.

Their version of Mr Tambourine Man is another great Dylan cover - Dylan wrote something like 8 or 9 verses and McGuinn selected the best. The Byrds are the entire reason I bought a 12-string.

My vote for best cover would be Simon and Garfunkel's "Scarborough Fair". The original is a ca. 14th century English folk song, in which the singer sends a message to his ex that if she does a series of impossible things he'll take her back.

The worst? Harder to say, but I'll vote for Gang Green's version of "Voices Carry", originally by 'til Tuesday. I'll spare you the link.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 31 May 2009 #permalink

Now that you mention Mr Tambourine Man, The Cpt Kirk version must be down there. Worse than the Lucy In The Sky...

Eric's tip for Scarborough Fair puts me in mind of She Moves Through The Fair. Another folk song done up by All About Eve.

My fave covers are;
The Mission - Tomorrow Never Knows, but they also did a great Like A Hurricane.
Souixsie And The Banshees - Dear Prudence, but they also did The Passenger.
Mudhoney - Pump It Up.

Discover disco covers:
Lost In Music - The Fall.
I Feel Love - Balaam And The Angel.
We Are Family - Babes In Toyland.