Top 10 Pete Seeger Cover Songs
Folk legend Pete Seeger’s music of faith, protest and justice helped launch the Byrds and Simon & Garfunkel, created touchstone moments for Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen and found its way into the repertoires of countless others — like Jackson Browne and the Beach Boys — over the years. His influence spans more than half a century and at least a dozen different music genres. These are classic rock’s Top 10 Pete Seeger Cover Songs.
‘Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream’
Simon & Garfunkel’s 1964 debut album, ‘Wednesday Morning, 3 AM,’ is best known for the original version of ‘The Sound of Silence,’ but it also includes this stirring antiwar protest song. Written in 1950 by Ed McCurdy, ‘Last Night’ came to be associated with Seeger following a series of concerts held a decade after Seeger was targeted by the House Un-American Activities Committee.
‘Who Killed Davey Moore’
This cover song’s circuitous trip actually begins, oddly enough, with Bob Dylan, who wrote ‘Davey Moore’ — dedicated to a late-’50s-era boxer — in 1963 but never officially released the song. That same year, Seeger covered it during a Carnegie Hall performance now known as the We Shall Overcome Concert. Dylan’s original take eventually appeared on 1991’s ‘The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3,’ but by then, many fans had come to associate the song with Seeger.
‘If I Had a Hammer’
This take on Seeger’s Weavers-era song features the Beach Boys’ Al Jardine collaborating with Richard Barone, a member of veteran power-pop band the Bongos. Recorded in 2013 for Bono‘s ONE Protest Song campaign project, the pair’s version of ‘If I Had a Hammer’ gives new life to a composition first publicly performed by Seeger in 1949 (and made a hit in 1963 by Peter, Paul and Mary).
Bruce Springsteen updated Seeger’s version of this age-old Irish folk tale, about a woman whose son loses both legs fighting Napoleon for the British Army, on his 2006 album inspired by Seeger, ‘We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions.’ In Seeger’s original, the mother asserts that she’d rather her son returned “as he used to be” than as a member of the British military. Springsteen altered the lyrics to reflect conflicts in the Middle East.
‘Bells of Rhymney’
The Byrds’ cover of this Seeger tune, which features lyrics by Welsh poet Idris Davies about a mining disaster, would help establish the band’s signature sound on its debut album in 1965. Marked by layered vocals and ringing Rickenbacker riffs, the Byrds’ version of ‘Bells of Rhymney’ clearly influenced peers like the Beatles, whose ‘If I Needed Someone’ from later the same year is built on similar structures. Jimmy Page has also covered ‘Bells of Rhymney.’
‘Kisses Sweeter Than Wine’
‘Kisses Sweeter Than Wine’ was originally recorded by Seeger as a member of the Weavers in 1951. Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt covered it on the 1988 various-artist compilation ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone: The Songs of Pete Seeger,’ finding new romanticism through the song’s reggae-style lilt. Jefferson Starship also covered ‘Kisses’ on their 2008 LP ‘Jefferson’s Tree of Liberty.’
One of 13 songs made popular by Seeger to appear on Bruce Springsteen’s 2006 album ‘We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions,’ this traditional sea shanty goes so far back that it’s actually of unknown origin, even though it was Virginia’s state song at one point. Springsteen’s contemplative take helped earn his album a Grammy.
‘Water Is Wide’
Another Seeger track with origins stretching deep into history, ‘Water Is Wide’ is a British folk song dating back in part to the 1600s. Dylan recorded his version with Joan Baez for the movie ‘Renaldo and Clara.’ Mark Knopfler, Neil Young and the Byrds’ Roger McGuinn have all covered ‘Water Is Wide’ too.
‘We Shall Overcome’
‘We Shall Overcome’ was written by Zilphia Horton and was often invoked by Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil-rights era. But it was Seeger who helped turn the song into a soundtrack for the movement. Bruce Springsteen reminded music fans of its significance with a stirring take featured on his ‘Seeger Sessions’ project. Roger Waters has also covered the song.
‘Turn, Turn, Turn’
Seeger originally adapted ‘Turn, Turn, Turn”s lyrics from the Bible (they’re found in Ecclesiastes) in 1962. Three years later, the Byrds took the song to the top of the chart by adding adding a samba beat and their familiar 12-string jangle. ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’ turned out to be the group’s second and final No. 1.