Rock Blog: Halloween - Who Wore It Better?

Photo © "Iron" Mike Savoia

October 25, 2016

I used to work with a woman in her late 30s, who loved Halloween. Every year she came to work dressed in full regalia and took on a different personality. A method actor. The best was when she showed up at 8am about 10 Halloweens ago, and there she was - Amy Winehouse. Not “like” Amy, but she truly became Amy. Right down to the arm ink and “Rehab”, blasting on a boombox.

 

Halloween costumes have always made me think cover versions. The artist essentially pays homage, or respect, to the original, with perhaps their own spin. Some own it, and some phone it in. Every band does at least one cover (except Pink Floyd, I think). Some are good, some great. Some define a bands career. Some are simply murder, destroying any sensibility of the original. But very few are better than the original.

 

So if a simple gal from Canada can become Amy Winehouse, can any musician cover "Stairway to Heaven" (Dolly Parton)? You decide. What follows are a handful of the very best known rock cover versions that you know, and the originals to compare them to.

 

The Black Crowes “Hard to Handle”. Sadly, their defining song, because these guys were really a great band. But in every possible way, they owned this song and brought a little known Otis Redding tune back to a healthy, long life.

Winner: Black Crowes, but its close.

 

Nirvana “Where Did You Sleep Last Night”. Leadbelly is a Folk and Blues legend. He is the Big Bang of American music. We wouldn’t be where we are today without him, so to cover a Leadbeally song takes guts. Nirvana not only did it, but really killed it on their MTV Unplugged album.

Winner: Tie

 

Aerosmith “Train Kept A Rollin”. The Yardbirds were one of the first bands inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Original British Invasion stuff, and a band that was home to Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton. Many bands have covered their work over the years, and when Aerosmith were in their prime they did a great job. However…

Winner: Yardbirds

 

Jimi Hendrix “All Along The Watchtower”. Put it this way: Bob Dylan may have written the song, but not only did Jimi own it, Dylan himself said, “Its Jimi’s song now." Truth! While hundreds have covered it, the Hendrix version is the only version that matters.

(Dylan has a lockdown on his original versions on the internet)

 

Winner: Jimi

 

Whitesnake “Here I go Again”. Oh, you didn’t know? It’s like the band said, “Oh we can do better”, or a producer said, “Hey guys, that first version sucked." Yes, Whitesnake covered their own song a mere 5 years after they first released it, and paired it up with the video that made Firebirds and Tawny Kitaen household names.

Winner: The Tawny version

 

The Byrds “Turn Turn Turn”  When Roger McGuinn wasn’t building a career covering Bob Dylan songs, he went to the bible. The lyrics for “Turn Turn Turn” are pretty much taken from the book of Ecclesiastes, found in the King James Version of the Bible.

There is no video of the bible.

Winner: Going with the bible here.

 

Disturbed “Sound of Silence”.  Some songs should never be covered. “Stairway to Heaven”, “Free Bird”, “Billy Jean”. Maybe even “Sound of Silence”. Definitely “The Nookie”. For one, there are songs that can never be improved. Secondly, almost every cover of a Mt Rushmore type of song leaves you wondering why it was covered in the first place. Lastly, said covers will be forgotten. But David Draiman pulls it off. And its Paul Simon approved! Most of the cover versions released each year, like Halloween masks and candy corn will go into the trash. But in 10-15 years, Disturbeds’ “Sound of Silence” will still be on the radio.

Winner: Tie

 

And if you didn’t think I was serious:

Nobody wins.

 

- Dave Richards AKA Sergeant Hairclub