Tag Archives: bruce springsteen

You Can’t Judge A Song By Its Cover….

Paul Fitzpatrick: London, July 2021

From the Beatles to Bowie every great artist has recorded a cover version of someone else’s songs.

In many cases you won’t even know it’s a cover, it usually depends on your musical knowledge and whether you’ve heard the original before.

For instance, until recently I had no idea that Adele’s ‘Make You Feel My Love’ was a Bob Dylan track and had previously been released by Billy Joel and Garth Brooks, well before Adele’s version attained over 200 million hits on streaming services.

Dylan’s song is now deemed to be a ‘Modern Standard’ and has been recorded by over 460 different artists, and all the while I thought it was an Adele original.

Nowadays of course I want to know every detail about the music I’m invested in, but when I was younger I couldn’t tell you if a song was a cover version or an original and to be honest it didn’t matter.
I loved Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da by the Marmalade and cared not that it was a cover and the Beatles version had come before it.

In the early 70s, Bowie with Pinups and Bryan Ferry with Those Foolish Things brought credibility to the concept of ‘cover albums’, sharing their musical influences and displaying their penchant for covers like a badge of honour.

The topic of cover versions came into my mind recently when I was listening to ‘California Dreaming’ by Bobby Womack.
I wondered how many people knew about this version and it got me thinking about my favourite ‘cover versions’ and how I categorise them.

So here’s a ‘not so deep-dive’ into the concept….

When you think the cover is the original:

I think the first time I was caught out like this was with Rod Stewart’s ‘Reason to Believe’, the B side to Maggie May.

It was one of those singles where the B side got almost as much needle-time as the A side (in fact as you can see from the image, it was the original A side, and Maggie May was the B side), but I had no idea that it was a cover version that had been released previously by Tim Hardin.

Rod went on to become quite the cover specialist…. Cat Steven’s ‘The First Cut is the Deepest’, Hendrix’s ‘Angel’ the Sutherland Bros ‘Sailing’ and Carole King’s ‘Oh No not my Baby’ were all big hits for Rod with most of his legion of fans unaware of the original versions.

Similarly, for several years I had no idea that ‘All Along the Watchtower’ by Hendrix was a Dylan song or that ‘Whiskey in the Jar’ was a traditional Irish folk song recorded by The Dubliners before Thin Lizzy made it their own.
Ditto the Isley Bros ‘Summer Breeze’, a Seals & Croft recording and Nilsson’s ‘Without You’, a Badfinger track.

The common thread here is that from Hendrix to Adele there are always tracks that I’m shocked to discover are covers. I’m not suggesting the fact that they’re covers devalues them in any way, indeed, you can argue that there’s a great skill in identifying a ‘hit’ that nobody knows about and making it your own.

When the cover is better than the original:

This is a subjective point and totally in the ear of the beholder.
There’s obviously lots of examples where a cover version is more popular than the original (see Adele above), but I wanted to shine a light on a select band of elite songwriters who are great performers in their own right but for some reason or another there’s a pattern of other artists consistently improving upon some their material….

Bob Dylan: All Along the Watchtower by Hendrix, A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall by Bryan Ferry, George Harrison’s version of ‘If Not For you’ and The Byrds classic, “Mr Tambourine Man’,
just a small selection of tracks that other artists have borrowed and updated from Dylan.

Bruce Springsteen: Patti Smith’s ‘Because the Night’, Manfred Mann’s ‘Blinded by the Light’ and ‘Fire’ by the Pointer Sisters. Three tracks buried beneath Boss anthems that became defining tracks for the artists who covered them

Leon Russell: Donny Hathaway’s ‘A Song for You’, George Benson’s ‘This Masquerade’, Joe Cocker’s ‘Delta Lady’ and The Carpenter’s ‘Superstar’.
Not one of these tracks charted for Leon but they were huge hits for the acts who covered them.

These are all great songs, written by iconic artists so it’s strange that the definitive versions of all of these classics are by other acts and not the original artist.

In some cases it seems that artists can come along, pick up a gem, give it a polish and make it shine even brighter.

Artists who make covers their own:

When Mick Jagger was asked about his favourite Stones cover he said it was Otis Redding’s version of ‘Satisfaction’, which is not a surprise as artists tend to compliment acts that reinterpret their music with a different take on the original… and this is what Otis Redding did, utilising Booker T and the MG’s and the Memphis Horns to give ‘Satisfaction’ the full Stax treatment.

Otherwise, it’s just karaoke….


It’s logical then to be able to love two divergent versions of the same song, particularly if the act covering does it in a manner that breathes new life into it.

Joe Cocker’s ‘With a Little Help from my Friends’ would be a prime example but to be fair there’s lots of candidates…

For instance, Elton John’s ‘Your Song’ is a classic but Billy Paul’s jazzy, Philly-infused rendition completely updates it and takes it to a different level.
It’s well worth a listen if you haven’t heard it before….

Likewise in the early 70s Isaac Hayes went through a phase of taking middle of the road classics like ‘Walk on by’ and ‘Close to You’ transforming them into big orchestral masterpieces lasting up to 12 minutes long.
His versions weren’t necessarily better than the originals, but they were just as good in their own way and they were unmistakably Isaac Hayes. Listen to them and you’ll see where Barry White got his schtick.

In a similar vein, Wilson Pickett’s version of Hey Jude, featuring Duane Allman’s first recording session on guitar, is also a bit special and worth checking out on the playlist.

Of course, you can also add Clapton’s version of Bob Marley’s ‘I Shot the Sheriff’ and the Hendrix versions of All Along the Watchtower and Hey Joe to this list.

Nowadays of course we’re awash with tribute albums and cover versions and songs with samples that sound like old songs, so it’s hard to sort the wheat from the chaff, but if you dig deep enough there are always some diamonds.

As is my wont, I have made up a playlist of some classic 70s based covers, many of them mentioned in this piece which you’re welcome to dip into.

It would also be good to hear about some of your favourite covers on the FB page….

The Jean Genius

If you’re a Bowie fan you probably have a selection of his albums, tapes, cd’s and downloads in your music collection…. hit-after-hit stretching across six decades from 1969’s Space Oddity to 2016’s Blackstar.

For a few years though, until his WOW moment on TOTP in 1972, as implausible as it sounds, Bowie was on course to be a one-hit-wonder…. just like Thunderclap Newman with ‘Something in the Air’ or Norman Greenbaum with ‘Spirit in the Sky’

Then along came Ziggy Stardust and the rest as they say is history.
Bowie went on to become arguably the most influential artist of the 70s….. continually reinventing his sound and persona and influencing the tastes of a generation along the way.

As an example of the latter, on October 1974 David Live was released, it was a decent album showcasing Bowie’s transition from Glam to Soul with a great version of Eddie Floyd’s ‘Knock on Wood‘, but what captured my attention as much as the music was the DB suit DB wore on the cover.

Up until this point Bowie’s wardrobe had consisted of elaborate Japanese jumpsuits, kimonos and leotards.

Distinctive, perhaps, but not the kind of thing you could buy in Krazy House and wear to Shuffles on a dreich Saturday night in Glasgow!


A cool, smart suit on the other hand was something we could relate to, so on our next pay-day, a few of us went up to Glasgow to Jackson the tailors on Union St to order our own made to measure* version of the double-breasted tin-flute Bowie sported on the record sleeve.
*Mark Arbuckle covered the made to measure process brilliantly in this piece.
https://onceuponatimeinthe70s.com/2021/04/21/customers-incontinence-and-conga-lines/

After a few weeks the suits were ready and when we went up the town that Saturday night we all felt pretty ‘gallus’ in our high-waisted, loose-fitting trousers, and shorter-length, double breasted jackets, as did half the male population of Glasgow, who all had the same idea!

I was pretty much hooked from the minute I saw Bowie perform Starman on TOTP in 72 and stayed a fan all the way through his career.
I loved his 70s personas and in particular the Thin White Duke period which frustratingly he never talked about much… owing to the fact that he had absolutely no recall of recording the Station to Station album!

In fact he was so bonkers and strung out during this period (75-76) that he reportedly kept his own urine in a fridge.
This in part was due to a falling out with Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page….. Bowie became paranoid that Page (well known for dabbling in the occult) would engage some form of black-magic against him if he got hold of his bodily fluids.

Based in LA and weighing in at a meagre 7 stone, his diet at the time consisted of milk, peppers and heaps of Colombian marching powder.
It’s well documented that Bowie fled this life of excess to regain health and sanity in Europe, specifically Berlin, and by the release of Heroes in 1977 he was in a much better place, both physically and mentally

Bowie 75
Bowie 77

I actually came into The Starman’s orbit very briefly in 1983.

I was working at Levis and we were developing a campaign to promote our 501 Jeans, which at the time, we couldn’t give away in the UK, in fact the only European country who sold them in any volume was Sweden.

UK retailers didn’t want to stock them as they were more expensive than our regular jeans and they reasoned that consumers didn’t like the American fit (low waist, straight leg).

Nonetheless, our chiefs in San Francisco had planned a global strategy around the 501, it was the original jean, which was the main point of difference for the brand in the US, where Levis was coming under threat from designer brands like Calvin Klein…. so we had no choice but to try and make it work.

I was part of a team tasked with coming up with innovative ideas to support the 501 campaign in Europe and as a first step we came up with the simple, but not so innovative idea of getting contemporary icons to wear 501’s the way James Dean & Brando used to, back in the day.

It was a classic ‘seeding’ strategy which more or less consisted of giving product away…. to opinion leaders (musicians, actors, sportsmen, models, etc), in order to get the product seen on the right people.

It’s a concept that can work pretty well if all the planets align.
As an example…

In early 1983 we sent some Levis denim jackets to an up and coming band coming out of Dublin called U2, Bono cut the sleeves off his jacket and wore it relentlessly.
The band released the albums War and Under a Blood Red Sky in 83 and it became U2’s big breakout year, Bono was everywhere… wearing his self-customised, sleeveless Levis jacket

To show how this filters down…
I met Charlie Nicholas in the Holiday Inn Glasgow around this time as we had a mutual friend, as soon as Charlie heard I worked for Levis he asked me if I could get him a Levis denim jacket “to cut the sleeves off… just like Bono”.

Within months, retailers started selling out of our denim jackets, sales tripled and we eventually had to increase our jacket production and develop our own sleeveless version.

The other avenue we explored was official sponsorship… ‘let’s get the coolest rock stars and bands to wear and promote Levis by sponsoring their tours’.
Everyone does this now but it was a new concept back then.

This was trickier than you’d think… some people in the room actually thought it would be a good idea to approach the gods of double-denim, Status Quo and there were a couple of Gary Numan fans in there as well… however to most of us it was clear we needed someone with gravitas, credibility and a wide appeal.

After some debate and research we discovered that Bowie was scheduled to tour (Serious Moonlight tour) in support of his new album – Let’s Dance, so he became the prime candidate.

To be honest we weren’t very optimistic that he’d go for it but he liked the brand and a few zero’s on a cheque later… the mighty DB was on board.

The concept worked so well that we repeated it over the next few years with tours and one-off events, but the tipping point for the brand in Europe came when we launched the famous 501 Laundrette ad with Nick Kamen in 1985, which also propelled ‘I Heard it Through the Grapevine’ to number one in the charts.

Ironically, the same retailers who claimed they couldn’t sell 501’s in 1983 were now begging for as much stock as they could get their hands on….

Bruce Springsteen and the E street band – Wembley 4th July 1985

Sting’s first solo tour 1985

Ultravox’s Lament tour 1984

Of course, guys like Bowie and The Boss were never going to do meet and greets no matter how much money they were paid, but Sting and the Ultravox guys were contracted to come and meet customers and prize winners after the gigs, which they mostly did although Sting’s face was usually tripping him, unlike Midge Ure who was always accommodating.

My brief Bowie moment came when he popped into our London office, he looked incredibly healthy and was extremely friendly and charming, he happily signed a few bits and pieces for some of us including a tour programme and the Let’s Dance album sleeve (pics of both below ) and before we knew it he was whisked away.

In truth, I struggled a bit with the 90’s Bowie, particularly the Tin Machine period but I got back on board in the noughties…. a return to form, spring-boarded by his stellar Glastonbury performance in 2000 when he decided to give the people what they wanted…. a set-list made up of his best songs.

Although I’d been a big fan in the 70s I had never seen Bowie live and the first time I saw him perform was when we took some customers to see his Serious Moonlight gig at Murrayfield in Edinburgh in June 83.

The next time I saw him perform live was the most memorable.
It was at the Hammersmith Odeon in October 2002, his first return to that venue since the shock July 1974 retirement announcement when he ‘broke up the band’ live on stage…. to their complete bemusement.

“Not only is it the last show of the tour, but it’s the last show that we’ll ever do. Thank you.”

It helped that we had fantastic tickets for that show, centre stage, six rows from the front.
I’ve no idea how long Bowie performed for but it must have been close to 3 hours… he played 33 songs starting with Life on Mars, finishing with Ziggy Stardust and included a song he’d only ever played live once before… the majestic Bewlay Brothers from Hunky Dory.

I also saw Bowie the following year at Wembley arena on his last live date in London.
He seemed so fit and healthy at 56 but six months later whilst still on the same gruelling ‘Reality’ tour he had a heart attack on stage in Hamburg and that proved to be his last ever gig.

He released an album in 2013, The Last Day, which raised hopes that he was fit and well but it all went quiet again, and then out of nowhere a new album – Blackstar dropped 3 years later on his 69th birthday, this was the encouraging news we’d all been waiting for… maybe we would even see him play live again?

He died two days after its release on the 10th of January.

There was much outpouring of grief when the news broke, he meant so much to so many people and it’s probably the only celebrity that I’ve ever felt sustained grief over.
I had grown up with Bowie from age 13, my kids had grown up listening to him, he’d been a fixture in my life for 45 years, and suddenly he wasn’t there any more.

But even in the end Bowie did the most Bowie thing ever, bowing out on his own terms with an innovative, out-of-the-blue, jazz-based album that nobody knew anything about until the day of its release.

If you listen to the lyrics it’s an album made by a man who wasn’t ready to leave us but knew he wasn’t going to be with us for long.
To this day I still find it hard to listen to that album…….

‘Something happened on the day he died
Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside
Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried’
“I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar”

All hail the Starman…..

My top 12 Bowie songs change all the time, this weeks selection is….