Friday Five: Covering Otis

Who’s the man? Otis Redding is the man.

Proof of this truth lies in the fact that when other musicians listen to Otis they are so moved by what they hear that they become infected with his soul. The only thing they want to do is what Otis does. But most of them also know that they can’t do what Otis does. They’re simply not as good, or as soulful, and so they translate what they felt into something that is true to them.

Here are five great covers of great Otis Redding songs. Each one tries to harness something from the master, but most do so in ways unique to themselves.

5. “Hard to Handle” (Black Crowes)
Chris Robinson and the Black Crowes were young and stupid in 1990, when they released their debut album, Shake Your Money Maker. Lucky they were massively talented, too. The album’s first single “Hard to Handle” and, in some ways, Robinson tries to one-up Otis. Wrapped up in the bluesy, rock style of the band, what could have been a failed impersonation turns into something fantastic.

4. “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” (Ike & Tina Turner)
If there’s a duo who could give Otis a run for his money when it comes to soul it just might be Ike and Tina Turner. In this cover (and in many ways some of their greatest performances were covers), both Tina and Ike change it up to convert a sweet ballad into something gritty and pained.

3. “Security” (Mavis Staples)
Mavis Staples knows what she can do. Here she takes the original and turns it into something more. Part of that is the guitar lick that drives the cover (and gives us the feel of times) but the rest is Ms. Staples’ powerful vocals elevating us to new heights.

2. “Try A Little Tenderness” (Frank Sinatra)
There are many covers of this song–perhaps the greatest performance Otis ever gave us–but most try to do what Otis did and, in so doing, they fall short. Sinatra takes romantic lyrics and a sweet melody and makes it all his.

1. “Respect” (Aretha Franklin)
Let’s not beat around the bush–this is the greatest cover of all time and one of the greatest things ever recorded. Aretha is the exception to the rule in that she can do what Otis can do…and then some. Here she gives us some of that, converting a song about an upset man into a Muscle Shoals infused feminist and civil rights anthem. It’s nothing short of greatness!

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Friday Five: 1978

5. Warren Zevon, “Werewolves of London” (January 1978)
The older I get the more I enjoy and respect the body of work Warren Zevon left behind. For the longest time this was the only song of his I knew, his biggest hit from his best-selling album.

4. Van Halen, “Running with the Devil” (May 1978)
The debut album from the LA-area rockers. Van Halen are an okay band with an extraordinary guitarist. He’s what makes every song into something novel, although by now it seems common. This is the leadoff track, and a standard for their live shows.

3. The Who, “Who Are You” (August 1978)
It’s one of their biggest US hits, and arguably the most recognized song by the band because of its use as the theme song to CSI. From the album of the same name, their last release before the death of Keith Moon.

2. Chic, “Le Freak” (September 1978)
From the second studio album of these disco/R&B/funk legends, the song was their first chart topper and remains among the most memorable of era.

1. The Rolling Stones, “Beast of Burden” (September 1978)
The greatest rock and roll band put out another great album in 1978 and on it, one of their greatest songs.

Friday Five: Eighteen

Happy New Year! We’re 18 years into the 21st century. I guess that means we’re all grown up.

5. “I’ve Lived My Life” (Dolly Parton, 1967)
“I’ve lived my life and I’m only eighteen / Only eighteen but its all over / I ruined my life to please my lover / I made him happy, he made me cry / Then said goodbye”

4. “School Days” (The Runaways, 1977)
“Used to be the trouble maker / Hated homework, was a sweet heart breaker / But now I have my dream / I’m so rowdy for eighteen”

3. “Like a Rock” (Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band, 1986)
“I was eighteen / Didn’t have a care / Working for peanuts / Not a dime to spare / But I was lean / And solid everywhere / Like a rock”

2. “Mama Kin” (Aerosmith, 1973)
“Said you’re as bald as an egg at eighteen / And workin’ for you dad is just a drag / He still stuffs your mouth with your dreams / You better check it out / Or someday soon you’ll have to climb back on the wagon”

1. “I’m Eighteen” (Alice Cooper, 1970)
“Eighteen / I get confused every day / Eighteen / I just don’t know what to say”