Top 10 Covers of ‘Beggars Banquet’ Songs
Let’s raise a glass to the hard-working people who’ve paid homage to the Rolling Stones with a list of the Top 10 Covers of ‘Beggars Banquet’ Songs. The band’s classic 1968 album has inspired musicians in many genres to bend Stones classics to their style, whether it’s Johnny Cash’s bluegrass version of ‘No Expectations’ or Bettye LaVette’s soulful rendition of ‘Salt of the Earth.’ But we’re focusing on the rockers who’ve shaped these classic songs into exciting new devils.
When the Stones played ‘Sympathy’ at Altamont, a fight broke out and Mick Jagger commented, “Something very funny happens when we start that number.” Something less funny happened after Guns N’ Roses completed their cover of ‘Sympathy for the Devil.’ The band’s contribution to the ‘Interview With the Vampire’ soundtrack turned out to be the nail in the coffin for the band’s original lineup. In his autobiography, Slash called the track “the sound of the band breaking up.” One of the reasons for the friction: Slash recorded a guitar solo that didn’t mimic Keith Richards’, so Axl Rose overdubbed a solo by Paul Tobias that hewed much closer to the Stones’ version. Rose might have had sympathy for the devil, but not for his lead guitarist.
The Gallagher brothers often drew comparisons to the Beatles, but their roughed-out brand of rock ‘n’ roll always seemed to have more in common with the Fab Four’s main rivals. They play ‘Street Fighting Man’ (released as a B-side in 1998) pretty straight while updating the song to become a full-bodied arena rocker with mile-high vocals and walls of guitars. If some of the raw edges get rubbed out of the transition, at least the cover packs plenty of power.
Guns N’ Roses, or at least members of the band, are responsible for two of the entries on our list of the Top 10 Covers of ‘Beggars Banquet’ Songs (see No. 10). That shouldn’t surprise fans, because GNR owe plenty to the Stones. (Axl Rose and Izzy Stradlin even performed ‘Salt of the Earth’ onstage with the Stones.) Slash and Eric Dover were bandmates in Slash’s Snakepit when they played ‘Jigsaw Puzzle’ in 1995. The Stones’ version has been called filler and a Bob Dylan pastiche, but the understated tune is the perfect fit for a laid-back, unplugged jam session. Dover overdoes it a bit, but it’s a treat to hear Slash play some boozy and bluesy acoustic guitar.
Rod Stewart’s take on ‘Street Fighting Man’ is notable for featuring the guitar and bass work of Ronnie Wood – years before he’d become an official Rolling Stone. Stewart’s version was released a year after the original, becoming his first single and the lead track on his debut solo album. Three-fifths of the Faces show up on this extended take (keyboardist Ian MacLagan joins Stewart and Wood), which trades the marching, charging rhythm of the Stones’ version for a loose-limbed, almost chaotic energy that sounds like it could sputter and die at any moment. But it makes the song that more powerful, as Stewart finds his own cadence and Wood shines on both greasy slide guitar and melodic bass.
While touring to promote the beautiful and depressing ‘Sea Change’ album in 2002-03, Beck included a cover of ‘No Expectations’ in his sets, and the alt-rocker somehow discovered new depths of despair and weariness in the ‘Beggars Banquet’ ballad. The lyrics barely escape his lips as they form a picture of sleep-deprived listlessness. Acoustic plucking picks at his wounds while a slide guitar provides a temporary salve to his rock-bottom misery.
For 2000’s ‘Renegades’ covers album – which found the rap-rockers tackling everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Cypress Hill – Rage Against the Machine spit out a version of ‘Street Fighting Man’ that obliterated the original’s inextricable ties to the 1968 riots. Tom Morello’s red-alert guitar and Zack de la Rocha’s yip-yap yelling erase all stock footage of hippies and Chicago cops from your brain. The sonically brutal cover conjures images of modern warfare throughout. This is the sound of drone strikes, tracers in grainy night vision and hollowed-out Middle Eastern cities.
Johnny Winter lends his blues-rock wail to the Stones’ tribute to underage sex. Winter included ‘Stray Cat Blues’ on his 1974 album ‘Saints and Sinners,’ and he wisely slowed the tempo down a notch to give the song the proper ambiance of a midnight creep. Between Winter’s blazing guitar talents and the pummeling rhythm section, this version is sort of like the Jimi Hendrix Experience meet the Rolling Stones.
‘Sympathy for the Devil’
If there was a showdown among Satan impersonators, there’d be a stormy battle between wily Mick Jagger and nervy Bryan Ferry. The Roxy Music frontman took on the Stones’ classic ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ on his debut covers collection, 1973’s ‘These Foolish Things.’ Ferry’s ‘Sympathy’ preserves the original’s samba rhythm, but adds plenty of flash to the proceedings. With blurting horns, squealing organ and fawning female backing singers, Ferry becomes the Vegas incarnation of Beelzebub. All of which enhances his performance, sung with an acid tongue and punctuated by cackling laughter at the end.
Detroit garage rockers the Dirtbombs transform ‘No Expectations’ by setting it to a ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ samba. The mini-epic (found on the 2005 singles and B-sides collection ‘If You Don’t Already Have a Look’) grows from fuzzy bits of desolate guitar to an undulating rock ‘n’ roll freak-out. And then, just to show off, a backing chorus sings the “na-na-na-na” part from ‘Hey Jude,’ but replacing “Ron Wood” for the title. It’s goofy, ridiculous and as wonderful a celebration of the Stones’ legacy (and 1968 in general) as any cover version out there.
Our entire list of the Top 10 Covers of ‘Beggars Banquet’ Songs could have been made up of different versions of ‘Sympathy for the Devil.’ But the most impressive one comes from Jane’s Addiction. They included it on their 1987 live debut, but we prefer their dusty and steady-rolling travelogue for the fifth-season finale of ‘Sons of Anarchy’ (found on the second volume of the series’ soundtrack). This ‘Sympathy’ is a dramatic revision, galloping along with gnarly guitars as Perry Farrell whelps his woo-woos down a dead-end highway. He doesn’t sound like a gleeful orchestrator of such nasty business so much as someone who’s resigned to follow every evil impulse that pops into his head.