Now entering their incredible 51st year together, The Rolling Stones started out their iconic career back in 1962 as a virtual covers band. They performed renditions of classic R&B and rock n’ roll tracks by the likes of Chuck Berry (“Come On”), Howlin Wolf (“Little Red Rooster”) and Buddy Holly (“Not Fade Away”), not to mention the odd early Beatles number (“I Wanna Be Your Man”). But their own back catalog has also been the subject of much re-interpretation too, with artists as eclectic as Joan Baez, Inspiral Carpets and Samantha Fox tackling their biggest hits over the years. Here’s a look at six of the best cover versions of Rolling Stones standards to have emerged over the last 20 years.
The Sundays – “Wild Horses”
Possibly one of the greatest hits in their discography, “Wild Horses” only reached #28 in the US when released as the second single from 1971’s seminal Sticky Fingers but has since gone onto become both a live favorite and a hugely popular choice to cover for artists as diverse as Alicia Keys, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and of course, most recently, Susan Boyle, whose surprisingly understated rendition was miles apart from the usual karaoke fodder foisted upon the Cowell alumni. However, it’s the hugely under-rated outfit The Sundays who are responsible for the version which is arguably greater than the original. Recorded as a B-side to their 1992 single “Goodbye,” and also later appearing in 1996 Mark Wahlberg thriller, Fear, David Gavurin’s echo-laden jangly guitar adds a melancholic Britpop vibe to proceedings, but it’s Harriet Wheeler’s stunning vocal that elevates it to near-classic status.
Tori Amos – “Angie”
The subject of much speculation, the only US chart-topper from 1972’s Goats’ Head Soup has been rumored to be about David Bowie’s first wife, Keith Richards’ daughter and even heroin. Whatever its inspiration, it’s widely recognized as one of the Stones’ best ballads. However, recorded for her 1992 Crucify E.P. at the peak of her banshee success, Tori Amos’ predictably intense piano-led treatment of the song is an equally compelling alternative which proves she hasn’t always been the self-indulgent and pretentious figure she is today.
Natalie Merchant – “Sympathy For The Devil”
Appearing on 1968’s Beggars Banquet, “Sympathy For The Devil” did little to dispel rumors that the Stones were Satan-worshippers as Jagger relives the atrocities of mankind through the eyes of Lucifer himself. As one of the most ambitious numbers in their repertoire, many artists have struggled to replicate its devilish quality, most notably Guns N’ Roses, whose 1995 version was described by guitarist Slash as “the sound of the band breaking up.” Released a year later as a bonus track on her “Jealousy” single and later on the 1999 reissue of Tigerlily, former 10,000 Maniacs frontwoman Natalie Merchant’s country-blues take is easily the warmest, tasteful and most respectful.
Antony & The Johnsons – “As Tears Go By”
One of the first songs to emerge from one of the most successful song-writing partnerships in history, the Jagger/Richards-penned baroque pop number was first given to Marianne Faithfull, who scored a UK Top 10 hit with it in 1964, before the Stones recorded their own string-soaked version a year later for December’s Children (And Everybody’s). Possibly one of their most under-rated compositions, only a handful of artists (Nancy Sinatra, The Primitives) have touched it. But fresh from winning the Mercury Prize, one-off troubadour Antony Hegarty gave it a new lease of life with a typically haunting and achingly fragile live rendition (not yet available in studio form) that only further confirmed his reputation as one of today’s most powerful storytellers.
Musiq Soulchild – “Miss You”
Their last ever Billboard number one, the disco-tinged lead single from 1978’s Some Girls suggested that the Stones could pretty much turn their hands to anything. Etta James, Weird Al Yankovic and Black Eyed Peas have all had a stab at it since, but it’s neo-soul veteran Musiq Soulchild who can lay claim to producing by far the smoothest, slinkiest and most sensual cover thanks to his deliciously funky reworking on 2003’s Soulstar.