Lately I’ve felt like the Rolling Stones are becoming a soundtrack to my rough days, and I’m hearing them on half the records I play. Why do so many people cover the Stones? I think the answer is in some of today’s tracks and I’m just starting to really understand it.
There’s not a lot of fancy word play in the hundreds of songs Mick Jagger and Keith Richards have written together. There’s really not a lot of clever pop hooks, either. They cut right to the bone. It makes them universal and, when done well, intense. Nobody but Jagger & Richards could write a song like “Connection” (That first track, by the way, was Montrose’s 1974 cover. Yep, Montrose).
The best Rolling Stones covers are by country singers – Not surprising, as some of the best Stones albums have a strong country influence (Beggar’s Banquet, Let It Bleed, Exile on Main Street).
Here’s a rockin’, cold-hearted cover of the Stones’ cold-hearted rocker “Dead Flowers” by the New Riders of the Purple Sage, from their Jerry Garcia-produced live album Home, Home on the Range.
Garcia’s own old time side project, Old and in the Way, included “Wild Horses” on its eponymous album. Famously, the Stones allowed the Flying Burrito Brothers to release their cover of the song before Sticky Fingers hit the shelves, making the Burritos’ extra-country take on the track the grandfather of hundreds of covers. “Wild Horses” is has got to be one of the most-performed Stones songs. Here’s that original recording from Burrito Deluxe.
Gram Parsons also recorded a “Honky Tonk Woman” that incorporated elements of both Stones versions (The single we all love that starts with the cowbell and “Country Tonk” from Let It Bleed). “Honky Tonk Woman” is a country/rock standard, seemingly essential to the survival of mediocre live albums like Elton John’s 17-11-71 and Humble Pie’s Eat It.
After Parsons’ posthumous “Honky Tonk Woman” you heard a cover of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by Sandra Rhodes, from an interesting album on Fantasy Records called Where’s Your Love Been?
“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” is a tough song to cover, its original being so epic. This version takes a simpler, Kristofferson-influenced country soul approach I find appealing. Either way its tough because its the little details (“My favorite flavor, cherry red”) that make this song compelling, not the big things, and another singer can’t really replicate that just the same as you can’t replicate the way you feel on a bad day.
Even on a track like “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” the Stones are accessible. You can identify with the emotions. I really wanted to find a cover of “Let It Bleed” for this post (Anyone know of one?) because I feel like Mick is singing to us, the listeners, when he sings “We all need someone we can lean on / And if you want to you can lean on me.”
This is not really a country record, but its a solid cover of a really good Stones song that gets right to the heart. Here “Out of Time” is done by Chris Farlowe from a 45 here in the shop on the MGM label. Farlowe was a favorite of Stones producer Andrew Loog Oldham (Who was not, as previously reported here, affectionately known as “Loogie”), and he recorded several Jagger/Richards songs, this being the most successful.
Hopefully Bloodshot Records will reissue Alejandro Escoveda’s awesome live album, More Miles than Money, on which he recorded the Stones’ “Sway”. They have already put out a nice vinyl reissue of A Man Under the Influence that we have carried here at Hymie’s, so there’s hope. Escoveda himself is a great songwriter, but the covers he records are great. Here he is singing “Evening Gown” from Mick Jagger’s third solo album, Wandering Spirit (By far the best Stones solo project). Unlike all the other tracks in this post, it wasn’t written by Jagger & Richards, but by Jagger alone
Although it came from a solo album, “Evening Gown” is a great example of the Stones’ confidence and tenacity, and as a straightforward love song its relatively uncommon in their catalog. I wish that I could feel as confident as Mick does in this song.
I really like Ry Cooder’s recording of “Its All Over Now” (Its on Paradise and Lunch). But you’re right – Its not a Jagger/Richards song. “Its All Over Now” was a hit for the Valentinos in 1964, introducing a great singer and guitarist named Bobby Womack – The Stones’ cover gave them their first #1 hit later that year.
Another song that really couldn’t have been written by anyone else is the often-recorded “No Expectations”.
This long version of it is by the Yonder Mountain String Band. “No Expectation”, from Beggar’s Banquet, was issued only as a B-side but has gone on to become a favorite Stones track. Its been recorded by a variety of country singers, including Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash, folk singers like Joan Baez, and the awesome banjo-playing riverboat captain John Hartford.
“No Expectation” seems like it took off where “Connection” ended, presumably stranded in an airport and presumably without a destination. I haven’t spent a whole lot of time in airports but I still feel like I can identify.
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