HAPPY (late) International Women’s Day! I’ll just go on a wee bit of a rant here and say that although we (here in the U.S.) have made a lot of gender equality progress over time, it’s 2017 and women are, remarkably, still facing discrimination and bias in many areas, especially when it comes to our work and various skill sets. Getting hired for jobs that were (and still are, in many cases) male-dominated is often a difficult feat – particularly jobs and careers in areas such as construction, engineering, mechanics, not to mention countless others. If a woman is fully capable of performing the same task as a man, it is beyond me why she shouldn’t be considered as seriously as a man is for the same job.
You’d think various spheres of art – the vast worlds of music, acting (in both theater and film), writing, painting, etc. – would be an ideal escape from our sexist world. While artistic environments tend to be more inclusive than others, this presumption – ashamedly – is not entirely true. In Carrie Brownstein’s book Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl, she writes about her experience of being in Sleater-Kinney – a three-piece indie/punk rock group:
Because of the lingering sexist doubt and bias towards women playing music in originally male-dominated genres, I compiled a list of ten female artists doing covers of songs that were written and recorded by men – many of which I find to be better than the originals.
1) My Generation
Written by: Pete Townshend of The Who // Covered by: Patti Smith
To start off, we are gifted with this punk tune (so not worthy!!!) – an absolute banger, covered so brilliantly by the powerhouse herself. I never thought anything could top the original, which I’ve always been a massive fan of. But yet…
2) Dear Prudence
Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney of The Beatles // Covered by: Siouxie and the Banshees
The Beatles were my first band love and as much as I love the serenity and context of the original – which was written by Lennon while living in India and studying under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi – this cover might take the cake. I can never listen to Siouxsie Sioux and not picture her totally ruling the world in her post-punk/gothic glory.
3) Born on the Bayou
Written by: John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival // Covered by: Betty Davis
One hell of a soulful cover by Betty Davis – an extremely underrated artist and funk pioneer who also happened to serve as a massive musical/stylistic inspiration for her husband, Miles Davis. A true force of nature.
4) Ashes to Ashes
Written by: David Bowie // Covered by: Warpaint
The grooviness of the Scary Monsters classic and this dreamy pop cover don’t really compare in terms of which one I prefer over the other. As a massive Ziggy/Aladdin Sane/Thin White Duke/et. al. fanatic, I find myself to be quite critical of Bowie covers, but this one earns an A from me.
Side note: Another great Ashes to Ashes cover is one performed by REM’s Michael Stipe and Karen Elson at a David Bowie tribute concert last April.
Written by: Paul Simon of Simon & Garfunkel // Covered by: First Aid Kit
One of the first concerts I ever attended was seeing First Aid Kit on their Lion’s Roar tour. Consisting of two sisters, Klara and Johanna Söderberg from Stockholm, Sweden, they gave a completely electrifying performance exuding so much emotion that went far beyond their studio recordings. That show has stuck with me for years. Here’s a video of their live performance at the Polar Music Prize, singing one of my favorite Simon & Garfunkel songs, “America” – which earns a standing ovation from the man himself!
6) These Days
Written by: Jackson Browne // Covered by: Nico
I was introduced to Nico’s material through her contributions on The Velvet Underground and Nico. A German model, actress, singer-songwriter, and Warhol Superstar, Chelsea Girl was Nico’s first of two solo albums and included three Jackson Browne covers – one of which is “These Days.” The lyrics to this melancholy tune are already emotional, but add into account that he so methodically penned them at age fifteen, and… (I’M not crying, YOU’RE CRYING)!
7) Highway ’61 Revisited
Written by: Bob Dylan // Covered by: PJ Harvey
Without a doubt, this rework of “Highway ’61 Revisited” tops Bob Dylan’s original for me. PJ Harvey is another alternative rock musician I find to be quite underrated, and I definitely recommend giving the rest of this album – Rid of Me, PJ’s 1993 sophomore album – a listen.
8) Gimme Shelter
Written by: Mick Jagger & Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones // Covered by: Merry Clayton
While this is technically considered a cover, Merry Clayton is famous for providing the striking, chill-inciting backup vocals on the original Rolling Stones’ version – the best backup vocals on a song. Ever. Period (don’t even try to debate me on this). She was notably featured in the excellent 2013 documentary 20 Feet From Stardom, and can be seen discussing her contribution on the original track with Mick Jagger here. Her own cover of it is wonderful in itself, of course.
9) Top of the World
Written by: Richard Carpenter (of The Carpenters) & John Bettis // Covered by: Shonen Knife
Originally performed by The Carpenters – a group which included “Lead Sister” Karen Carpenter (arguably one of the most swoon-worthy female vocalists of all time) on vocals and drums and her brother, Richard, on the keys – this particular song was written by Richard and famous lyricist, John Bettis, in 1973. Japanese pop-punk band, Shonen Knife, contributed this fantastic cover to the 1994 Carpenters tribute album, If I Were a Carpenter. Shonen Knife are also famous for their Ramones covers, which they dedicated an entire album to.
10) Stairway to Heaven
Written by: Jimmy Page & Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin // Covered by: Heart
Last but most certainly not least, we have Ann & Nancy Wilson – perhaps rock’s most famous sister duo (and rightfully so) – covering Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” which certainly reawakens the emotions of my [mostly] former classic rock-infatuated self (“real music, peasants, take note” – you know, it was that sort of thing *criiinge*). I saw Heart this past August and for their encore, they played “Immigrant Song” and “Stairway to Heaven,” which, having never heard ^this wild performance prior to that, initially caught me off guard but then made me realize “…DUH, of course this makes sense!!!” Overall, this is just brilliant.