Best Cover Artist Ever? Rod vs Stevie

(Groovyshark links – alas no youtube)

13) Humble Pie – 99 Pounds

14) Humble Pie – I Walk on Guilded Splinters

I seem to be in a classic rock kinda mood today, so i figured it was as good a time as any to have a look at these 2 guys as cover artists. Lotta similarities here – both have (arguably i suppose) some of the finest pipes ever bestowed upon mortals and their voices often (inexplicablty to me) get confused. They shared a band – Stevie Marriott was with the Small Faces until he quit to form the Pie, and Rod Stewart took his place on pipes and Ronnie Wood took over his axework and they morphed into the Faces. They both wrote songs, and some damn good ones too, but covered more than their share. Many of the same artists. Small Faces was one of the most original and inventive bands going, and yet Stevie left to do a few great original tunes (30 Days in the Hole, Thunderbox, Hot and Nasty) and a slew of covers with the Pie. Rod went solo and did a few great original songs (Every Picture Tells a Story, Maggie May, You Wear It Well, Mandolin Wind), some ok ones, some shit ones, and a buttload of covers of varying quality.

My thesis here – it takes a lot more than great pipes to make a great cover. You have to pick your songs properly. You can’t just fucking mail it in because your voice is great. If you can try to blame it on the drugs for Stevie, you probably can’t for Rod, he seems relatively issues free. The Blessed Stevie had a lot less time with us so we’ll never know, Rod has had quite a bit more. (Supposedly Keef wanted Stevie to take over for second guitar when Mick Taylor left, Mick Jagger is not stupid and nixed it as there was no way he was going to let those glorious pipes anywhere near his own.) His voice has gotten even better with age. And he sucks more. And seems to be a great guy and loves his audience. Way too much i reckon, he panders. Shoud spit beer at them and turn his back like John Lydon.

My take below – feel free to disagree / argue / add 2p. Or ignore if it’s not your bag (i reckon i’m probably nearly alone here.)

1) Faces – Angel (Hendrix cover) – What’s to hate. Great tune, easy enough to cover. Don’t think it touches Jimi’s though.

2) Faces – (I Know) I’m Losing You (Temptations cover) – I think this is a bang up cover. Kenney Jones doesn’t suck either.

3) Rod Stewart – Handbags and Gladrags (Mike D’Abo cover) – Have your Stereophonics, i think this is the best version going. Just gorgeous. I think Sakura’s dad got Mike D’Abo’s zedded though. Beauty of a tune.

4) Rod Stewart – REason to Believe (Tim Hardin cover) Beauty of a cover.

5) Rod Stewart – Country Comforts (Elton John cover) Nice tune. I’ll take Rod’s over Elton’s, but no beef with the original either. Except the song itself a bit twee.

6) Rod Stewart – The First Cut is the Deepest (Cat Stevens cover) – Again, best version going for my money. Better than Cat’s even.

7) Rod Stewart – Bring it on Home to Me / You Send Me (Sam Cooke covers) – Ah. Sam Cooke is Rod’s favorite singer hands down. And sorry, for me he’s not a patch on the originals here. He does a pretty decent Twisting The Night Away, but that’s a bit lighter of a tune too.

8) Rod Stewart – Have You Ever Seen the Rain (CCR cover) Nothing to hate here. He did an album of classic rock covers, this ain’t bad. But i don’t really know what he adds to it either.

9) Rod Stewart / Jeff Beck – People Get Ready (Curtis Mayfield cover) – I don’t really mind this cover either.

10) Small Faces – If I Were a Carpenter (Tim Hardin cover) I still don’t think there has been a definitive version for this gorgeous song done yet. Or if there is, i haven’t heard it. Small Faces do as good a job as anyone. Except for Robert Plant, whose version i like best so far. More low key interpretation than Stevie’s, and i think ultimately a bit more heartfelt. Could do without the strings though. Unnecessary saccharine.

11) Humble Pie – I Don’t Need No Doctor (Ray Charles cover) – This kicks ass.

12) Humble Pie – Anna (Beatles cover) – I actually love this cover, i think Stevie gets some real longing in there. But Stevie does some pretty shit Beatles covers too, there are 3 of them on another Pie album. I have no idea why they bothered, but they split up after that album.

13) Humble Pie – 99 Pounds (Ann Peebles cover) – This is a pretty decent cover, but i think the original is still better. For that matter, the Black Crowes do a bang up cover too. The Pie also covered Ann’s I Can’t Stand the Rain on the same album, it’s ok.

14) Humble Pie – I Walk on Guilded Splinters (Dr John Cover) – This is what a cover should be. Dr. John’s magnificent and classic original would seem to be untouchable, and there are some seriously shit ill-advised attempts out there. (Hi Paul Weller, wtf were you thinking.) The Pie does a 25 minute wank – free version (ok, arguably) on Rockin the Fillmore with some great axework (from both Stevie and Peter Frampton), harp, and Stevie’s pipes dialed down low creating their own brand of bluesy voodoo.

So what’s the problem here. Well, i left out the shit ill-advised covers. Both did crappy Stones covers (of songs i’m not particularly attached to), Rod did meh to crappy Dylan covers, and we don’t really need to get into Rod’s American songbook. Jeebus, my mom likes him now. Rod’s rock classics album has some lameass choices. I like Kim Wylde’s Supremes cover better than his. I would have love to hear both of them sing some more blues. Sadly Stevie isn’t with us, but maybe he’s been saved some indignity. As Rod’s still here, sing it like you mean it, dude.

14 thoughts on “Best Cover Artist Ever? Rod vs Stevie

  1. For me it is Steve Marriott. A great English rock singer with bags of soul and attitude.

    Rod lost the plot in about 1973 and it has been downhill all the way since then. His best stuff was all recorded before he became famous.Success did for Rod’s credibility.

  2. Totally agree with Carole about Rod losing it after 73. A friend of mine had all the early Rod Stewart/Faces albums and they were pretty good. Not really so familiar with Steve Marriot so I’d go with Rodney as I’ve always liked his voice.

  3. I agree with both of you about 1973 – I had Sing It Again Rod (compiliation) from that year, and it was all crap after that, with a rare gem here and there. What to blame – disco, coke, and LA maybe. Blondes Have More Fun was probably the coffin nail. And to hear tripe like Hot Legs after Every Picture Tells a Story could make you weep.

    Dunno Fuel, you might like a lot of the Small Faces stuff. You actually probably already know it, even if you might not realize that you do.

    • I know some of their stuff (the big hits) from the radio but they were a name that were swept away by punk, though they were referenced by a few bands I like. Rod survived in my head due to the Stone’s connection, my friend and because my dad liked him. It’s daft that I don’t really know much them and yet know more about some obscure 1960s pysch bands or never-made-it soul artists.

      • At least the Stones came out of the disco phase with some dignity intact. Miss You is still a great tune. Do You Think I’m Sexy is just awful though. I think that’s when people stopped taking him seriously. The Stones did great tunes about NYC and Rod hooked up with Hollywood wives in LA.

  4. Although a doc I saw recently made me feel a bit kinder towards Rod, I totally agree that Stevie was the bee’s knees, from Itchycoo Park on. Couldn’t stand Maggie May; detested Sailing (and all the anthemic lighter-aloft arm-waving it engendered); tried to ignore everything after that.

    • Sailing is horrible, isn’t it.

      I’m not sure Stevie would have ended up in a much better place if he kept it going though. Latter Pie was down to Beatles covers and Small Faces rehashes, and some originals i admit i never bothered to check out, they lost me after Thunderbox. Which was an album that pissed off fans as it had so many covers on it, but i thought they were some pretty righteous covers. I think i got worse after that.

  5. Hi Amy. Pretty much echoing the comments above. Rod Stewart I think of with some nostalgia as 40 years ago my best friend had his picture in her hymnbook at school (she also had one of Kevin Keegan, a footballer) – this livened up morning assembly, slightly. I liked the original “Sailing” (The Sutherland Brothers) and was really peed off when Rod Stewart did that awful cover. I have Mandolin Wind in ITunes, but that’s it. Steve Marriott I never followed but I very much like “I Don’t Need No Doctor”, above. Maybe Rod just chose the more anthemic tunes and was thus more successful. I think Steve has the better voice.

    • Hiya Ali. I think Steve had the better rock voice for sure. And he was probably certifiably batshit, and Rod always seemed to be a reasonably sane guy. Rod probably just got comfortable and lazy, and Steve probably just went off the rails.

  6. When i have occasion to think about this sort of thing, i kind of end up separating artists into geniuses and workmen. I figure guys like Stevie and Brian Jones and Kurt Cobain and Hendrix fit into the genius category and unfortunately don’t seem to stick around too long. Peter Frampton said that he will never find anyone as talented as Steve to work with again. Good as they are, guys like Mick and Keith and Rod are the workmen type. Charlie Watts said that even when Keith was shooting up, he was always in control and allocated himself x amount for the night, and never went beyond that. Bowie seems to have started out a genius but got ahold of himself. Music got a bit more boring too. Or else like the others still around just grew up, shit happens.

  7. I’m not sure about Rod. There’s obviously something appealing about that rasp, but he almost ALWAYS sounds as if he’s straining his voice. I tend to think that sound is more effective if used more sparingly – at moments of heightened emotion, perhaps. (Or just on the high notes!) Over the course of entire song after entire song, it starts to sound a bit painful to me. Also, I think the ‘lad’ in him tends to hold sway too often, so he can prefer to lark about in tartan rather than actually deliver the emotion of a song with vulnerability/empathy. Maybe it’s what you’re saying about the line between genius and workman. Or between (evidently) painfully dysfunctional and more or less sorted. Rod’s voice as an instrument can deliver a simulacrum of pain, but is he really feeling it or is it just a happy accident of those vocal cords?

    That said, his First Cut is the Deepest is my favourite too – the vocal hurt works beautifully with the lyric/melody here (although there is the odd unnecessary/inappropriate “woo!” in there). And his Handbags and Gladrags is really tender and heartfelt. So he can do it (obviously)! And a propos of nothing, in that opening video I can almost for the first time see why he was considered a heartthrob. He did have *something*.

    As for the other tunes, nice vocal on Reason to Believe but I think the Hammond organ (?) is overused. Never heard the Elton tune before – again, that voice is too sore-sounding backed only by a piano (before the backing beefs up). Not so keen on the chugga-chugga backing on Bring it on Home to Me, but the vocal is fine. The You Send Me bit doesn’t remotely match up to the original – ludicrously overblown, but I suppose the song has been building up to that. But it’s a bit kitchen-sinky. Sam Cooke’s version is so simple and beautiful. Is the CCR cover more a more recent Rod? The production sounds quite 80s/90s to me – bit over-lush. Superficially appealing but swiftly treacly. Lovely tune though. I don’t think I can get past Jeff Beck ‘feeling it’ on the Curtis Mayfield either. There is something to be said for letting the song speak for itself…

    Onto Steve… who I obviously am less familiar with. I’m guessing it’s him on If I Were A Carpenter, yes? Bit overblown – why start at such fever pitch? Where does it give you to go? And do the lyrics demand that level of angst? That said, obviously a great voice. I’d just like to hear it turned down a few notches to begin with. It’s like walking in on the middle of someone else’s breakdown – a bit alienating/off-putting rather than something I can identify with. The Ray Charles is too heavy metal for me. Sorry. I don’t know the Beatles original, but I REALLY appreciate the gentle start to this – and am therefore prepared for it to get somewhere more painful. (I’ll stop making that point now!) Don’t know the Ann Peebles, but not got a problem with this – it’s pretty good. I’m not sure I can make it through 16 minutes of live Dr John cover, sorry!

    Not sure I can really choose between the two of them because I’m so unfamiliar with Steve’s stuff. Rod may have the more distinctive voice (but again, that may be because I’m already tuned into it), but maybe Steve’s is more versatile? But both of them are pretty impressive anyway! Thanks for sharing, Amy!

    • Thanks so much for listening Bish, and i admit i find myself more than relieved that you didn’t feel obligated to listen through the whole Walk on Gulided Splinters – that’s a treat for some of us blues rock lovers but probably pretty painful, or at least boring, to those who aren’t fans.

      I agree with you totally on If I Were a Carpenter – I think Steve oversang it on that one, which is why i prefer Robert Plant’s. ( I have some vague notion that he might have done it as a duet with Alison Krauss too but maybe i’m wrong.)

      Yeah, i think Rod mailed it in big time in later years because he could, the pipes were a gift. Watch Steve live, the guy always gave 200%.

      For anyone unfamiliar – here’s a playlist of more Small Faces, Humble Pie, and Rod stuff. Small Faces started out 60’s groovy and psych and lotta drug tunes in there too, both on and off the list. It’s Ronnie Lane, not Steve, on lead vocals on Song of the Baker. My 2 favorite Pie tunes – probably not up your alley, Bish. But first rate sleazy white blues rock. I think on the mothership it’s me, Gordon, and maybe Webby for fans. Tacked a few of Rod’s best on the end – Blues Deluxe with Jeff Beck proved he could sing some blues. Stay With Me and Every Picture Tells a Story showed he could rock with the best when he made the effort. Shame he didn’t feel the need to later on down the road. Maybe he just needs a kick in the ass too which he didn’t get when he went solo, he seemed to work best with others.

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