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.