Top 10 Classic Rock Covers of Soul Songs
For years, rockers have recorded their own versions of blues and soul songs as a way of paying tribute to their influences. While the number of great blues covers in classic rock is too large to boil down, we’ve found enough renditions of soul classics that stand up well alongside the originals from Motown, Stax and smaller labels to present a challenge. Here is our list of the Top 10 Classic Rock Covers of Soul Songs.
‘Take Me To The River’
While the Talking Heads may have been a bunch of art school students playing New Wave, they were unabashed and unironic lovers of soul and funk. Their first top 40 hit was a remake of Al Green’s 1974 classic. It added a layer of downtown New York cool to the original’s southern grit, narrowly beating out the Rolling Stones’ take on the Temptations’ ‘Ain’t Too Proud To Beg’ for the bottom slot on our list of the Top 10 Classic Rock Covers of Soul Songs.
‘I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down’
‘Get Happy’ featured Elvis Costello and the Attractions tearing through 20 soul-influenced tracks in slightly more than 48 minutes. It spawned a U.K. hit single with this cover of a Sam & Dave B-side. While the original was a waltz ballad, Costello’s version was an amphetamine-fueled rave-up, with Steve Nieve’s keyboards and Pete Thomas’ drums leading the charge.
‘Bring It on Home to Me’
Sam Cooke was one of the pioneers of soul when he melded pop, gospel and R&B in the late-1950s. The Animals, who, of the first wave of British Invasion bands, were probably the best interpreters of African American music, took Cooke’s honey-dipped ballad and added their trademark rough-and-tumble intensity.
‘The Dark End of the Street’
Written by Chips Moman and Dan Penn, ‘The Dark End of the Street’ has been covered dozens of times since James Carr’s 1967 original in a variety of arrangements. On their 1969 debut, ‘The Gilded Palace of Sin,’ the Flying Burrito Brothers gave it some twang, blurring the lines between rock, soul and country to create what lead singer Gram Parsons called “Cosmic American Music.”
‘Baby Don’t You Do It’
The Who and the Small Faces each took their shot at this 1964 Marvin Gaye song, but it’s the Band who did the best remake of it. Originally appearing on their 1972 live album, ‘Rock of Ages,’ their rendition featured a horn chart by legendary New Orleans musician Allen Toussaint. The song was also used during the opening credits of their 1976 Martin Scorcese-directed concert film, ‘The Last Waltz,’ even though it was performed during the encores.
‘Hard to Handle’
Good southern boys that they are, the Black Crowes struck big on their debut album with a smash cover of this hit by fellow Georgian Otis Redding. The Crowes replace the Stax classic’s funky horns with some amped-up guitars without sacrificing the original’s grit as we begin the second half of our list of the Top 10 Classic Rock Covers of Soul Songs.
‘I Want You Back (Alive)’
The Jackson 5 may have made music for kids, but nobody told that to Graham Parker. Always influenced by soul, Parker and his band, the Rumour, added a degree of menace to the Jackson 5’s debut single when they performed it live in 1979 in support of their classic, ‘Squeezing Out Sparks.’ Renamed ‘I Want You Back (Alive),’ it was included in ‘Live Sparks’ a promo album of live tracks of the studio album, and a b-side of ‘Local Girls.’
‘Quarter to Three’
Throughout his career, Bruce Springsteen has often peppered his set lists with soul covers. His take on Gary “U.S.” Bonds’ 1961 smash was a regular part of his encores from 1975-78, and a spotlight for Clarence Clemons’ saxophone and the doo-wop inspired vocals of the E Street Band. Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt would deepen their relationship with Bonds by co-producing his 1981 comeback album, ‘Dedication,’ which had a big hit with the Springsteen-penned, ‘This Little Girl.’
‘You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me’
Smokey Robinson, whom Bob Dylan once called “America’s Greatest Living Poet,” crooned his way to the Top Ten in 1962 with this gorgeous song. But John Lennon heard the torment that Smokey only hinted at and delivered one of the best vocals of the early Beatles days. To put it in ironic terms, Smokey sang it like a pop song, but Lennon turned it into a soul song.
‘(I Know) I’m Losing You’
Rod Stewart tops the list of the Top 10 Classic Rock Covers of Soul Songs with his full-throated, rip-roaring version of the Temptations’ 1966 hit. Although it was released on his solo breakthrough, 1971’s ‘Every Picture Tells a Story,’ the other members of the Faces appear, but couldn’t be credited due to record company politics.