Cover Versions of #1s – Nick Cave & The Villagers

The final two covers for the week, and we’re slowing the pace, ending on a chilled note…

‘The Carnival Is Over’, by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – 1986 album track

(Originally a #1 in November 1965, by The Seekers)

I didn’t have much positive to say about The Seekers’ two 1965 #1 singles, the second of which was the dirgey ‘The Carnival Is Over’. But if you want someone to take a dirge, and make it even gloomier, yet make it completely their own, then look no further than Nick Cave. Based on an old Russian folk song, and given some sixties-folk lyrics by Dusty Springfield’s brother Tom, it sold a million for Australia’s biggest band of the decade. Fellow Aussie Cave and his Bad Seeds recorded it for a covers album twenty years later – ‘the song sort of haunted my childhood’, Cave has been quoted as saying. (Until five minutes ago, I had no idea that Boney M had also recorded a version… And I had no idea that Boney M had ever sounded so miserable. Nobody can make this tune sound fun!)

‘The Wonder of You’, by The Villagers – 2017

(Originally a #1 in July 1970, by Elvis Presley)

Despite being described as an ‘indie-folk project’ on their Wikipedia page, and despite it sounding ready made for a Starbucks playlist, I have liked this version of ‘The Wonder of You’ by The Villagers ever since hearing it on the soundtrack to HBO series ‘Big Little Lies’. It is the polar opposite of Elvis’s bombastic version – lo-fi and intimate, with just a hint of old-style rock ‘n’ roll around the edges. In the show, it soundtracks an abusive husband getting flung to his death down a flight of stairs during an Elvis-themed PTA night at a primary school… (I mean, if that description doesn’t make you want to watch something, then I don’t know what will!)

I hope you enjoyed my second annual cover versions week. Normal service will be resumed in a few days, with our 377th chart-topping single.

Cover Versions of #1s – CCR & The Slits

Last night I did two cover versions of the same band; tonight it’s two cover versions of the same song! Onwards!

‘I Heard it Through the Grapevine’, by Creedence Clearwater Revival – 1970 album track

(Originally a #1 in 1969, by Marvin Gaye)

Before we go any further, I don’t claim that any over version of ‘Grapevine’ is an improvement on one of the most perfect pop songs ever recorded. But these two gave it a right old go… First, Creedence, with an epic eleven minute take on it, from their ‘Cosmo’s Factory’ album. Does any song really need to be eleven minutes long? No, probably not. But the band sound so in-tune, firmly lodged in their groove, that we can indulge them. The first four minutes is the song, what remains is a jam session based around that timeless riff. It was eventually released as a single, in 1973, but couldn’t breach the US Top 40.

‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, by The Slits – reached #60 in 1979

Shorter, though not exactly sweeter, post-punk band The Slits give us an oh so sarcastic rendition. When lead singer Ari Up sings I’m just about to lose my mind… you can’t tell if she’s walking away grinning, rolling her eyes, or preparing to launch herself at her dirty, rotten ex. Plus, the bass line here is really cool.

Two final covers up tomorrow!

Cover Versions of #1s – Fats Domino & Alma Cogan

Day three of cover versions week… and I got a couple of Fab Four facsimiles for you!

‘Lady Madonna’, by Fats Domino – 1968 album track

(Originally a #1 in March 1968, by The Beatles)

Paul McCartney was quite open about the debt that ‘Lady Madonna’ owed to Fats Domino, and so it was perhaps no surprise that Fats himself repaid the compliment less than a year after the original was released. It is probably the most faithful of all the cover versions I’ll post this week… Other than some extra piano flourishes it could easily be Fats singing over the original instrumental track. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t rock, however, and it took the rock ‘n’ roll legend to #100 in the US, just when it looked as if he might never have another chart hit.

‘I Feel Fine’, by Alma Cogan – 1967 album track

(Originally a #1 in December 1964, by The Beatles)

Towards the end of her career, and just before her much too early death aged just thirty-four, Alma Cogan had a go at covering some of The Beatles’ biggest hits. She put her own twist on ‘Help’, and ‘Ticket to Ride’, but I’ve gone for her very swinging-sixties take on ‘I Feel Fine’. (Actually, her best Beatles’ cover is her gorgeous ‘Eight Days a Week’, but that original was never released as a single in the UK…) Cogan had a close relationship with the Fab Four – especially, the rumours suggest, John Lennon – and I covered this in more depth in my post on her a few months ago. Sadly, none of her Beatles covers seemed to grabbed the public’s attention, all of them failing to chart.

Another two tomorrow, this time a couple of takes on the same well-known chart-topper…

Cover Versions of #1s – The Sugarhill Gang & Shirley Bassey

Our next couple of covers… Aren’t really cover versions at all. More re-imaginings of #1 hits…

‘Apache (Jump On It)’, by The Sugarhill Gang – #53 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1982

(Originally a #1 in August 1960, for The Shadows)

The instrumental ‘Apache’ has passed through as many hands as an old five pound note. Originally recorded by Bert Weedon, it was then released to great acclaim by The Shadows – resulting in their first solo chart-topper. In the US, meanwhile, the version that hit big was by Danish guitarist Jørgen Ingmann in 1961, making #2. Skip forward a few years, the Edgar Broughton Band took the guitars and chopped them up with some Captain Beefheart to create this. And then, the Incredible Bongo Band did this:

Their über-funky version became a touchstone of early hip-hop, sampled by LL Cool J, The Roots, and The Sugarhill Gang, the band that had scored the first big rap hit: ‘Rapper’s Delight’, a #3 in 1979. In the space of twenty two years, then, ‘Apache’ had gone from atmospheric instrumental to raucous hip hop, featuring lines like: Custer, Jump on it, Jump on it… and To all you girls that wanna join my tribe, Just move to my rhythm and feel my vibe…

‘As I Love You, by Shirley Basseyalbum track from 1969

(Originally a #1 in February 1959, for Shirley Bassey)

No, not a typo… This one isn’t a straightforward cover version, either. Ms. Bassey is covering herself. Well, if anyone can, it’s her. For her 1969 album, ‘Does Anybody Miss Me’, Dame Shirley re-recorded her first #1 hit from a decade earlier. I actually discovered the remake first, and had started to write my post on it before sensing something was wrong. The 1969 version is light, fun, playful… very ‘swinging sixties’. I thought it sounded ahead of it’s time for 1959. Alas, I was right. It was ten years off. The 1959 version that I had to write my original post on is slower, weightier, and nowhere near as playful. Bassey belts it out as only she can… but it’s very old-fashioned. Give me the later version any day!

A couple more tomorrow!

Cover Versions of #1s – Girlschool & Van Halen

I’ve been writing this blog for… *trumpet fanfare* …three whole years! Plodding along, at a post every two or three days, we’ve made it through the pre-rock years, the rock ‘n’ roll boom, the rock ‘n’ roll slump, the Mersey sound years, the Summer of Love, the late-sixties comedown, the glam era, and the arrival of disco… So, to celebrate, this week I’m taking a break from all the actual chart-topping singles… to bring you more chart-topping singles, in versions you may never have heard before.

Let’s kick it off with a couple of straightforward, balls to the wall rockers…

‘Tiger Feet’, by Girlschool – 1986 album track

(Originally reached #1 in January 1974, by Mud)

(Actually, when I said ‘balls to the wall’, I forgot that this first band are all ladies… Anyhoo…) My one complaint about the original glam rock hits is that they sometimes come out a little light in the mix. So when a ’70s glam classic gets covered with the crunchy bite of ’80s hard rock then I kiss my fingers like a French gourmet tasting the perfect roux. Girlschool were mates with Motorhead, and were the logical result of Suzi Quatro’s pioneering work with a guitar a decade before. They covered plenty of glam classics, including ’20th Century Boy’ (oh, if only that had been a #1) and ‘I’m the Leader of the Gang (I Am)’ featuring an actual pre-fall from grace Gary Glitter… Their take on Mud’s signature tune takes an ‘if it ain’t broke then just turn the volume up and rock the eff out’ approach, and it is wonderful.

‘You Really Got Me’, by Van Halen – 1978, reached #36 on the Billboard Hot 100

(Originally reached #1 in September 1964, by The Kinks)

A breakthrough single not once but twice. Fourteen years after ‘You Really Got Me’ launched The Kinks to the top of the UK charts, and into the Top 10 in the USA, a glossier, brattier update started getting airplay on the West Coast. While the Kinks were gritty, tough Londoners – Dave Davies resorted to ripping his guitar amp open to get that really scuzzy sounding riff – Van Halen were tanned and gleaming Californians, with confidence and swagger to spare. Just watch David Lee Roth in the video below, acrylic shirt swinging wide, hips swivelling, as he sets the template for every American rock ‘n’ roll frontman for the next decade, while Eddie Van Halen shows off like only Eddie Van Halen could (RIP). I would never go as far as saying that it’s better than The Kink’s original; but it is a brilliant calling card for a band about to become superstars.

More tomorrow!

2nd Anniversary Special! Cover Versions of #1s Part V – The Ramones & CAKE

It’s two years since I started this blog and I’m exactly 250 number ones in! To celebrate, I am doing a week-long special: cover versions of #1 singles! Whenever I write a post, I not only discover and enjoy the #1 singles, I also often discover and enjoy other recordings of these hit songs.

My final two covers take us down a rockier road…

‘Needles and Pins’, by The Ramones (1978)

(Originally reached #1 in 1964, with The Searchers)

The Ramones are one of my go-to bands, that I can listen to at any time, in any mood… Alas, they will come nowhere near the top of the UK Singles chart. I also love The Searcher’s version of ‘Needles and Pins’, a perfect slice of melancholy Merseybeat. So, put the two together and you got a good ‘un. Of course, this is actually a cover of a cover, the original being a version by Jackie De Shannon, but hey (ho!) Enjoy!

‘Strangers in the Night’, by CAKE (2005)

(Originally reached #1 in 1966, with Frank Sinatra)

I discovered this cover on the soundtrack to ‘Stubbs the Zombie’ – a video game that I have never actually played. I found the CD in a bargain bin years ago and it is one that’s stayed with me. It’s full of covers of ’30s through ’60s hits by mid-00s indie bands like The Dandy Warhols, Death Cab for Cutie and The Flaming Lips. Seriously, check it out… Anyway, CAKE do this cover of Ol’ Blue Eyes least favourite song and I think it’s great. They also do a nice cover of ‘I Will Survive’, which I might dig out when that particular record make #1…

I hope you enjoyed this interlude of #1s through different lenses. Normal service will resume next week, with chart-topper #251…

2nd Anniversary Special! Cover Versions of #1s Part IV – Wanda Jackson & Marianne Faithful

It’s two years since I started this blog and I’m exactly 250 number ones in! To celebrate, I am doing a week-long special: cover versions of #1 singles! Whenever I write a post, I not only discover and enjoy the #1 singles, I also often discover and enjoy other recordings of these hit songs.

Our penultimate pair of covers are from two ladies, with two unique interpretations of two very well-known number ones…

‘Shakin’ All Over’, by Wanda Jackson (2011)

(Originally reached #1 in 1960, with Johnny Kidd & the Pirates)

A late career flourish for an artist who had been around since the fifties, when she released sparky rockabilly hits like ‘Fujiyama Mama’ and ‘Funnel of Love’. Like Mae West in yesterday’s post, Jackson was well into her seventies when she recorded this, but the voice is still there. And on guitar…? One Jack White.

‘Mack the Knife’, by Marianne Faithfull (1997)

(Originally hit #1 in 1959, with Bobby Darin)

Speaking of voices, how about Marianne Faithfull’s rasp on this version of the bloodiest #1. Bobby Darin’s version is canon, but it is quite jazzy and uplifting. This one is much more menacing, especially when Faithfull starts delivering the lines like a pantomime villain. The lyrics here are far more explicit and, apparently, much more faithful – pardon the pun – to the German original.

Last two tomorrow!

2nd Anniversary Special! Cover Versions of #1s Part III – Mae West

It’s two years since I started this blog and I’m exactly 250 number ones in! To celebrate, I am doing a week-long special: cover versions of #1 singles! Whenever I write a post, I not only discover and enjoy the #1 singles, I also often discover and enjoy other recordings of these hit songs.

Our next two covers come from a lady not best known for her recording career… the one and only Mae West. (Is that a pistol in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see her…?)


‘Day Tripper’, by Mae West (1966)

(Originally reached #1 in 1965, with The Beatles.)

After spending decades scandalising and chucking saucy bon-mots around like confetti, the Queen of Camp turned to rock ‘n’ roll. Bear in mind that she was seventy-three when she recorded this… I love that she is now the ‘big teaser’, the one who only does one-night stands. And check out the scuzzy solo mid-way through, accompanied by some lascivious moans…

‘Great Balls of Fire’ by Mae West (1972)

(Originally reached #1 in 1958, with Jerry Lee Lewis.)

A few years later, she repeated the trick. This one isn’t so much a cover version as a re-imagining, with some ridiculous new lyrics: My bells they ring when you shake that thing… Sung by a woman born in 1893. Both this album, and ‘Way Out West’ are surprisingly good, and not completely tongue in cheek. She also does a rocking version of ‘Shakin’ All Over’, and an outrageous re-write of ‘Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen’. I’ve gone for ‘Great Balls of Fire’, though…

All together now: You shake my nerves and you rattle my brain, I just adore your sensational frame…

Phew. I’ll give you time to recover, and see you tomorrow for two more…

2nd Anniversary Special! Cover Versions of #1s Part II – Elvis & Little Richard

It’s two years since I started this blog and I’m exactly 250 number ones in! To celebrate, I am doing a week-long special: cover versions of #1 singles! Whenever I write a post, I not only discover and enjoy the #1 singles, I also often discover and enjoy other recordings of these hit songs.

Our next two covers are by two of the founding pillars of rock ‘n’ roll…

‘Such a Night’, by Elvis Presley (1960)

(Originally hit #1 in 1954, with Johnnie Ray)

I adore Johnnie Ray’s version of this, but Elvis’s version hits the spot just as nicely. Both singers get how sensual and sexy a song this is meant to be. Recorded for his ‘Elvis Is Back!’ album, ‘Such a Night’ is proof that Elvis could still kick it after being in the army. His voice is superb here, but just as brilliant is DJ Fontana on drums. It reached #13 in the UK when finally released in 1964.

‘Memories Are Made of This’, by Little Richard (1964)

(Originally hit #1 in 1956, with Dean Martin)

Deano crooned the life out of this, his only number one hit. Little Richard does not croon. He gives it the full treatment – it’s an experience similar, I’d imagine, to standing behind a 777 as it revs up. I’ve already covered how criminal it is that Little Richard never scored his own #1 single, and will take any chance going to bring him up! Enjoy…

Two more tomorrow…

2nd Anniversary Special! Cover Versions of #1s Part I – Joni Mitchell & Telex

It’s two years since I started this blog and I’m exactly 250 number ones in! To celebrate, I am doing a week-long special: cover versions of #1 singles! Whenever I write a post, I not only discover and enjoy the #1 singles, I also often discover and enjoy other recordings of these hit songs.

I’ve picked ten covers – two a day – of songs that have topped the charts earlier in our countdown. Some are brilliant, some are weird, some are by artists that we have met already in this countdown, others are by artists that will never get anywhere near the top the charts… Enjoy!

First up: two #1s from the 1950s, re-imagined two decades later.

‘Why Do Fools Fall in Love’, by Joni Mitchell and The Persuasions (1980)

(Originally hit #1 in 1956, with Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers)

I have to admit I struggle with Joni Mitchell – to my shame – but this is lovely. It’s a live recording too, which adds something extra. The music is tight and upbeat, but Mitchell’s vocals show the heartache behind the lyrics. It got to #102 in the US, and didn’t chart in the UK.

‘Rock Around the Clock’, by Telex (1979)

(Originally hit #1 in 1955, with Bill Haley & His Comets)

Telex were a Belgian synth-pop group who deconstructed the single that some say kicked the whole rock ‘n’ roll shebang off. Is this amazing, or is it terrible? Or does it straddle perfectly the fine line between the two…? It’s worth a watch simply for the lead-singer reading the paper mid-performance. This cover reached #34 in the UK, and Telex went on to represent their country at the Eurovision Song Contest, with a song titled ‘Eurovision’, and finished in 19th place.

Two more #1 cover versions tomorrow…