I Want You

So I hate to shock any regular Left of the Dialians, but I was (mainly) kidding when I said William Shatner was the greatest cover artist ever…although I’m entirely serious when I say that his cover of Bryan Adams’ “Everything I Do” very nearly borders on genius: his timing is brilliant.

When it comes to the greatest covers ever, there are the obvious (and justifiably so) candidates: “Twist and Shout” and “Long Tall Sally” by the Beatles, “Respect,” by Aretha Franklin, “All Along the Watchtower” by Jimi Hendrix, “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” by Elvis Costello.

R.E.M. is one of the greatest cover bands of all time, infusing their best covers with their own distinct sound whilst staying true to the original material, as their “Have You Ever Seen the Rain,” amongst others, shows (although it might have been even better had Michael Stipe gotten the lyrics right). U2 is hit-or-miss when it comes to covers, but when they’re great, they’re great. (Although, again, if Bono had gotten the lyrics to “Helter Skelter” right it would have improved the song immeasurably: as it is, his lyrical gaffes—or alterations—make the song verge on unlistenable.) The Rolling Stones are possibly the worst major band ever when it comes to covers, despite their reputation…although, upon reflection, The Who may be even worse, surprisingly enough. (I confess I do have a weak spot for their “Barbara Ann.”)

And then there’s this guy doing this version of this song.

Since it was never officially released—it’s from a radio broadcast of a February 1975 show—this isn’t very well known, which is a shame, as it’s one of the greatest covers ever, a (soon-to-be) major artist covering a major artist. The way he reimagines the song is revelatory and the performance itself is up to both the source material and the rearrangement. In fact, and I know this is heresy, considering how brilliant the original is, I think this may just be the definitive version.


About the other scott peterson

Writer of comics and books and stuff.
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4 Responses to I Want You

  1. Lickona says:

    Well, I’m not a regular, but here I am again… on the “obvious candidates” front, I think you have to include Jeff Buckley’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” REM once did amazing things with “Love is All Around.” And I just discovered a friend with a bootleg of Springsteen’s one-time Halloween-night concert performance of Johnny Fuller’s “Haunted House”…
    The list goes on, of course. I’d like to hear your take on U2 covers you think are great.

  2. DT says:

    This version of “I Want You” is so perfect that it actually can be hard to fathom that this ISN’T his song. And it’s hard to imagine the song being done any other way.
    As for other great covers…I believe it was Prince shredding the Hades of out Radiohead’s “Creep” that began the latest in this conversation. Take a dull song by an overrated band, put it in the hands of the finest musical genius of this generation, and it turns into musical platinum. Wow.
    I trust you’re not including the transcendent “Summertime Blues” as an example of The Who’s cover-song suckage?
    Lickona is correct about the great “Hallelujah.” I would personally choose John Cale’s churchlike version narrowly over Buckley’s wounded bird epic, but why quibble when dealing with such greatness?
    Janis Joplin’s improvisational freakout that became her posthumous calling card, “Me & Bobby McGee,” belongs on any list of great covers.
    But you know one that strangely always left me cold? Elton John’s “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds.” Covers always have a mark against them, to me, if you get the sense that there was no need to cover the song in first place.
    In fact, and this is just me thinking outloud…have their been any truly GREAT Beatles covers? Hmm. I’m…not sure there have been, save for (depending on one’s taste) Joe Cocker’s reconstruction of “With a Little Help From My Friends.”
    (And to any Aerosmith fans I may have just infuriated, yeah, I like their version of “Come Together” too. But it’s good, nowhere near great.)
    Great call on REM and on that version of “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” They also struck gold on the 1987 tour with a great version of Lou Graham’s near-unlistenable “Midnight Blue.” I guess sometimes its the inventiveness of the cover that makes it truly work. Or, in some cases (like Faith No More’s “Easy”) truly not work.

  3. scott says:

    I think you have to include Jeff Buckley’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
    Excellent call. Absolutely right.
    REM once did amazing things with “Love is All Around.”
    Indeed they did. They also do a KILLER version of “Spooky,” featuring the lead vocals of drummer/writer Bill Berry.

  4. Lickona says:

    It is killer. Though I think they’re a little tipsy when they do it. They stumble a little on the lyrics, and giggle when they do. And then, later on, they sound positively looped when they’re doing “Tusk.” /Geek. I have the wife to thank for knowing about those – she brought ’em back from her visit to Ireland after college…

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