5 Classic Songs Reimagined by Classic Rock Legends

The cover song can be more than just an easy way to fill out album space. If enough thought and care are put into it, a cover song can help to not just pay tribute to the original artist, but to also show off the musical chops and inventiveness of the artist attempting the cover. The classic rock genre has always been one that seems ideal for cover songs, and many of the genre’s heavyweight stars have done justice to the music of those they admired. Here are five such instances.

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1. Twist and Shout” by The Beatles (Original artist: The Isley Brothers)

The Isleys weren’t the first to record this R&B classic, but they were the ones who first made it a hit, thanks to the fantastic call-and-response vocals provided Ronald, Rudolph, and O’Kelly Isley. The Beatles’ love of R&B helped infuse their originals, and they paid respect by including covers of many top artists from that genre on their early records.

Their version of “Twist and Shout” stands out in large part because of the circumstances surrounding John Lennon’s legendary lead vocal. The Fab Four were just about to complete a marathon recording session where they pretty much knocked out the entirety of Please Please Me, their first U.K. album. Lennon’s voice was hanging by a thread from singing so much that night when they took on “Twist and Shout,” but the rawness of the performance is what helps make it so memorable.

2. “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” by The Rolling Stones (Original artist: The Temptations)

The Temptations’ version of the song rode largely on the thrilling vocal performance of lead singer David Ruffin. To get a little more grit out of him, producer Norman Whitfield had the song rearranged into a higher key. It worked, and The Temps enjoyed one of their biggest hits because of it.

The Stones were massive fans of soul and R&B music, as originals of theirs like “I Got the Blues” can attest. Still, they weren’t known as a big cover band during their run of success in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s—at least not in terms of their singles. It’s possible that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had some songwriting fatigue by their 1974 album It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll, which could be how “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” ended up a single, and a successful one at that.

3. “Oh, Pretty Woman” by Van Halen (Original artist: Roy Orbison)

Many people might wonder why “You Really Got Me,” VH’s searing cover of The Kinks’ fuzzed-out masterpiece, didn’t get the nod here. As great as they were on that track, it was much more in their wheelhouse. By contrast, “Oh, Pretty Woman” was made famous by Roy Orbison, who wasn’t known for a hard rock edge.

The band also had to concern themselves with being compared to Orbison’s acrobatic vocals. Yet Van Halen put an outstanding spin on the song, staying faithful to the melody while also giving it some extra rhythmic oomph. It gets even better if you listen to the song in the context of the full Diver Down album, where it emerges seamlessly and triumphantly out of the moody instrumental “Intruder.”

4. “Susie Q” by Creedence Clearwater Revival (Original artist: Dale Hawkins)

When we think of CCR, we think of their winning originals, penned by lead singer John Fogerty. But it took Fogerty a bit of time to develop that songwriting touch, as the band relied on cover songs for some of their earliest singles.

Case in point: “Susie Q,” which was originally recorded by Dale Hawkins in 1957 with a rockabilly feel, accentuated by the killer guitar work of future Elvis Presley collaborator James Burton. Fogerty and company gave it their own swamp-rock spin, with the rhythm section of Stu Cook and Doug Clifford providing the grit and Fogerty belting out the vocals like a man possessed. CCR then added an extended instrumental jam to the proceedings, although that was edited out for the band’s 1968 hit single version.

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5. “Something in the Air” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (Original version: Thunderclap Newman)

Thunderclap Newman were a short-lived band, but they had some fascinating trivia attached to them, in addition to churning out one killer single. The band name came from piano player Andy Newman, but their driving musical force was Speedy Keen, the drummer and lead singer who once wrote a song for The Who after serving as Pete Townshend’s driver. In addition, guitarist Jimmy McCulloch was all of 16 years old when he played on “Something in the Air”; he would later join Paul McCartney in Wings for a brief stretch in the ‘70s.

In any case, “Something in the Air” managed to marry psychedelic and baroque rock on the music side, while espousing Flower Power positivity in the lyrics. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers did an extremely faithful cover in 1993, with Keen’s high-pitched vocals in the ideal range for Petty to tackle.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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