My Favorite Band

17Apr12

Easy answer: probably* the Rolling Stones.

Other, more-qualified answer: definitely the Rolling Stones when they cover Chuck Berry.

I have always had an affinity for a great cover song.  I feel it tells you more about a band than anything they could write themselves.  Cover songs are less self-conscious and more about just playing a kick-ass song, and it is in the selection of that kick-ass song that tells you where the band’s heart lies.  A grade schooler with one bad eye could probably have guessed the Stones were into Chuck Berry, but he might not have guessed that some of their most exciting playing — just plain playing — has come when they dust off one of the Master’s tunes and jam on it. I have finally collected what I believe to be every properly-released cover of Berry the Stones ever did and, as per your request**, I will now list them and decide whether I prefer the original version or the Stones’ version.

In alphabetical order:

1. “Around and Around.” This song rocks more in my mind than it does on the record.  By design, the starts and stops impede maximum rockitude, but when it gets going during the chorus and especially the bridges, the joint actually does start rocking. The “Love You Live” version is pretty good, but the one on “12 X 5″ is killer.  PREFERRED VERSION: Stones.

2. “Bye Bye Johnny.” Tough choice here, because I do love the original version of this.  But I still have to side with the Stones’ version, if for no other reason than when I first heard it I thought, “There is no more rock ‘n’ roll song than this one.”  Still, it had a good template to follow.  And it’s worth noting how the Stones have always stayed away from the most obvious choices in Berry’s catalog.  For all the times I’ve heard Richards talk about how he was first floored by “Johnny B. Goode,” you’d think they would have tackled that one.  Either they never could get a suitable version together, or they so revered the original that they didn’t even try.  Either way, PV: Stones again, but it’s close.

3. “Carol” (Studio and live versions). No contest here, since I’ve never really liked the Berry version that much.  His always felt pretty standard, whereas the Stones’ version found something deep in the song’s DNA that maybe only true fans of Berry could see.  It accomplishes what great cover songs should by taking the best parts of a song and doing them better than they’ve ever been done (see also most of the Ramones covers).  PV: Stones, and it’s not close.

4. “Come On.” Meh.  I never cared for the original OR this version.  The best thing you could say about it is that, since it was one of the Stones’ first songs, they had nowhere to go but up.  PV: Neither.  It’s a tie for bottom.

5. “Confessin’ the Blues.” Maybe not my least favorite Berry cover, but surely the most disappointing.  I really dig the Berry version, but this one is trying a little too hard to do something that isn’t there.  It feels a little over-cooked or something. Maybe they thought they couldn’t outdo the Berry version.  If so, they were right. PV: Berry.

6. “Don’t Lie To Me.” I’ve gotten mixed reports on this.  I always thought this was a Berry cover, though I’ve never heard his version.  Some say it is, others don’t seem to know.  It certainly SOUNDS like a cover of Chuck Berry.  Mathematically speaking, I have to go with what I know.  PV: Stones by technical knock-out.

7. “Down the Road Apiece.” This one grew on me.  On my Chess Box Set of Berry’s songs, it has the unfortunate placement of being #16 out of 25 on the second disc of three… and the later two discs are basically less essential than the first.  The first has almost every hit you can ever imagine Berry recording, so it’s hard not to lose track of what comes after, and that’s sort of what happened with “Down.” I’ve heard it.  It’s okay.  But the Stones’ version really kicks it, and it may be by virtue of not being a lesser-known song among slightly lesser-known songs after a really well-known disc, but who cares?  This one feels like wax fun. PV: Stones.

8. “Let It Rock.” Like “Bye Bye Johnny,” a tight race, but still going to the Stones. This may be a result of being performed live (see our next entry), but that’s all we have to go by, and I’ll take this one over almost any song in this line-up.  It’s basically another “Johnny B. Goode” without a chorus, so the Stones get a chance to flex their muscles during the bridges.  PV: Stones.

9. “Little Queenie.” Same as above.  This was the song that helped me first fall in love with cover songs because it felt like seeing into the past with the band.  It may sound crazy, but I felt like you could so easily imagine these guys in a garage just picking up their instruments and thinking, “Y’know what would be fun to play?” and then punching out this one. During my first Stones concert in 1997, I was probably most excited to hear this one for that exact reason.  For a band who has rarely been spontaneous about anything (especially in recent years), this felt the most organic. That, and I don’t really care for the Berry version at all, which means PV: Stones.

10. “Route 66.” While not a Berry-written song, he did perform it and the Stones cover Berry’s version, so it’ll count.  And like “Don’t Lie To Me,” it really sounds like a Chuck Berry song anyway, so who cares.  While I can’t say the Stones add much to this version, they do an admirable job.  And in the second Stones concert I saw, I was one of the few people very excited to see them play this. It was during their middle-stage section, and I was in the way-back of the behind-the-main-stage seating… which sounds worse than it is, because when you’re that removed you can enjoy the show and sit down without missing anything. Everyone had sat down for the 2 Keith songs and they stayed sitting when “Route 66″ popped up on the little stage even farther away from us. But I jumped up, and semi-screamed, “Guys, this is from their FIRST FREAKIN’ ALBUM!” I also remember my then-girlfriend/now-wife saying, “I’ll stand and dance with you if you want.”  PV: Tie, but my memories probably lead to the Stones.  This isn’t a Chuck Berry/Star Wars/Batman blog.

11. “Talkin’ About You.” Almost another meh on all accounts from the Stones’ end.  It’s all right.  I don’t think I actively skip it like I often do for “Come On,” but I also can’t think of a single time I’ve ever cued it up or repeated the play.  And since I do like the Berry version, I’m going PV: Berry.

12. “You Can’t Catch Me.” The most wonderful tie there is.  I love, love, love the Berry version — one of his earliest and greatest songs.  But the Stones’ version snuck up on me and has not released it’s shuffling grip.  Coupled with “Down the Road Apiece,” this makes “Now” the winner for “Best Berry Representation on a Stones Album.”  Most notable in the Stones’ version is the rockin’ bass track.  I can think of only two other Stones songs about which I could say the same, and one of those (“Sympathy for the Devil”) has Richards playing bass instead of Wyman.  But in this version, you can feel the band being a Band with a capital B.  And it may sound naive or poetic or romantic or whatever, but I feel like all parts are equal on this one, which makes it a kind of perfect band song.  And I don’t think the parts would be as equal if all the parts didn’t love the song being performed.  That being said, the Berry version is really great, too.  I’ll play the hell out of both for the rest of my life.  PV: Both.

*I sometimes get on a major Ramones bend.

**Nobody requested anything. If you’d like to, by all means…

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