Sometimes a performer is so taken with another artist’s song that they just have to do their own performance of it. These cover versions can range from faithful portrayal of the original to something else entirely. Here are some more of my favorites that fall mostly in the latter category: (The original artists for the songs are in parentheses.)
CHEVY CHASE – “I Shot the Sheriff” (Bob Marley/Eric Clapton)
Okay, this is really a parody, but still…it’s a lot of fun. Produced in 1980 by Tom Scott and featuring a stellar lineup of L.A. session musicians (including PS Audio/Octave Records’ own Don Grusin), the album is pretty much all covers with a twist. Other oddball takes include parodies of “Short People,” “Wild Thing,” and a Chipmunks-style rendition of “Let It Be.” Don’t miss the faux-Jamaican-accented asides.
CHRISTOPHER MILK – “Locomotion” (Little Eva) / “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (The Beatles)
Let’s keep the laughter coming with a “twofer.” John Mendelsohn, a rock critic from the 1970s who wrote for Rolling Stone and Creem, was in this short-lived band named for an old San Francisco Bay Area brand of dairy products. Their first effort was an elaborately packaged four-song EP for United Artists Records. They subsequently signed with the Warner Bros. label to record a full album, which was one of the first sessions ever by the legendary producer Chris Thomas (Badfinger, John Cale, Procol Harum, Roxy Music, Sex Pistols and countless others). Mendelsohn’s sense of humor was a hallmark of their style. “Locomotion” comes from the LP, and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was the B-side of their single cover version of Terry Reid’s “Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace,” neither of which was on the LP. The Beatles track is re-imagined as a vocal trade-off between Bob Dylan and another artist. The YouTube graphic implies that it’s Iggy Pop, but I’m not convinced. (Readers, what do you think?)
GLASS MOON – “Solsbury Hill” (Peter Gabriel) / “On a Carousel” (The Hollies)
There aren’t very many covers of Peter Gabriel songs, so this first one qualifies as unusual on that basis alone, even if it’s not that different. Glass Moon was an under-appreciated progressive pop/rock band. They put out three albums, the last having only one member who was on the first two: keyboardist/vocalist Dave Adams. Those early albums also featured guitarist Jamie Glaser, who had been part of Jean-Luc Ponty’s fusion band of the late 1970s. The band had a minor hit with this 1980s-sounding re-make of “On a Carousel.”
THE IGUANAS – “Fortune Teller” (The Del-Rays or Benny Spellman)
The original was an uptempo track from the early 1960s written by Aaron Neville (under the pseudonym Naomi Neville). Here, it gets the “slow ‘n’ sexy” treatment from this New Orleans Tex-Mex band. I use this track to demo my little FoxL Bluetooth speaker – it always impresses.
THE MOVE – “Don’t Make My Baby Blue” (The Shadows/Frankie Laine)
In England, The Move was a highly successful, and just as highly regarded, band in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Their earliest works were more in the pop/psychedelic vein, with song titles like “Flowers in the Rain” and “I Can Hear the Grass Grow." Roy Wood, and later, Jeff Lynne were the driving forces behind the band which would ultimately morph into the Electric Light Orchestra. Shazam, the album from which this track comes, was quite varied, and marked a real departure from their previous sound. Released in 1970, it was also the last album to feature original vocalist Carl Wayne. Here, the band gives a heavy, almost Black Sabbath-y twist to the pop song.
PEOPLE – “For What It’s Worth” (Buffalo Springfield) / “We’re Off to See the Wizard” (from The Wizard of Oz)
This is an ultra-obscure twofer from late 1960s San Jose band People. They had an international hit (big in Japan!) earlier with a cover of the Zombies song, “I Love You.” I saw them in May of 1969 at the Northern California Folk Rock Festival. Jimi Hendrix was the headliner that day, and Poco and Lee Michaels were also on the bill. The Buffalo Springfield track gets a questionable up-tempo, funky treatment complete with horns. “Wizard” starts at 11:30 in the video — and stick around for (or jump to) “The Willie Tell Experience” at 36:25. I think drugs may have been involved.
VANILLA FUDGE – “Some Velvet Morning” (Lee Hazlewood/Nancy Sinatra)
If you know the original, you’ll agree - this one’s waaay out there. A long, spacy/heavy instrumental intro that incorporates a motif from Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” (!) gives way to a light, wistful vocal. Has anyone ever made sense of the lyrics? Years later, the Vanilla Fudge rhythm section would team up with Jeff Beck as Beck Bogert & Appice, recording one studio album and a subsequent live one.
Header image of the Vanilla Fudge, 1967 courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/KRLA Beat/Beat Publications, Inc.