If you were a regular listener to my weekend shows, you know that I became obsessed with the Grateful Dead over the past year or so. The Dead played a lot of songs of their own, and a lot of songs by other people. As I’ve been exploring their covers, I’ve been thinking about cover songs in general. Here are a few of my favorites.
“All Through The Night” by Jules Shear
I adore Cyndi Lauper, and I’ve always liked her song “All Through The Night.” Well, I say “her song,” but I found out last year that it’s actually a song by singer-songwriter Jules Shear. I’d never heard of him until I learned that fact, but it turns out I’d heard his songs. In addition to “All Through The Night,” he also wrote “If She Knew What She Wants” (a hit for the Bangles), “(Believed You Were) Lucky” (co-written with Aimee Mann for Til Tuesday), and the Alison Moyet hit “Whispering Your Name.” Shear’s version of “All Through The Night” comes from his first solo album, Watch Dog. It’s a real gem and the whole album is worth your time.
“Turn! Turn! Turn!” by the Byrds
Talk about a classic and instantly recognizable performance. From the first notes of “Turn! Turn! Turn!” you know you’re listening to the Byrds. Their 1965 recording of the song shot to #1 on the charts, but did you know the song had been written and recorded several years before by American folk giant Pete Seeger? And even Pete’s version is a cover in a way, because he reworked the words from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. So this song probably wins the award for oldest lyrics to top the Billboard charts.
“Grazing In The Grass” by The Friends Of Distinction
It might be my own jazz bias, but I feel like many people know this one is a cover, because the original by South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela also got played on the radio. The Friends Of Distinction started in Los Angeles. They grew out of another vocal group that ended up leading to the Friends and to The Fifth Dimension. Not bad, right? Weirdly, the Friends were discovered by football legend Jim Brown. Hugh Masekela, the writer of the song, lived much of his life in exile from his home because of the apartheid regime. Despite the hardships of his youth and the difficulties in making a name for himself elsewhere in the world, he managed to become a major figure of both jazz and what is often called “world music.” I was lucky enough to interview him. You can listen to that interview here.
“On Broadway” by George Benson
A stone classic by one of the greatest guitarists of the 20th century, “On Broadway” was written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill, and then reworked in collaboration with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller for a recording session by the Drifters. Their version of the song hit #9 on the charts in 1963. (Fun fact: Phil Spector played the guitar solo.) George Benson covered it for his live album Weekend In L.A. It has a long and fabulous guitar solo which is often cut down for radio play, but it’s definitely worth hearing the full version if you haven’t yet. Just hit play on the video above. Benson is a fascinating character. He started as a jazz guitarist and was exceptional. Then it turned out he could also sing and he was able to cross over in the soul/R&B world with an equal amount of success. Reminds me of Nat “King” Cole, who started life as a pianist before his singing career emerged almost by accident.
Got a favorite cover? Let me know at email@example.com.