The five strangest covers of The Rolling Stones

Far Out Magazine
The five strangest covers of The Rolling Stones
by Lucy Harbron
21 March 2024

Mick Jagger Bette Midler Beast Of Burden

As the fathers of modern rock, all roads seem to lead back to The Rolling Stones. Sure, there was The Beatles’ vital contribution to rock through their experimentation. And yes, they had peers like The Who and Led Zeppelin, who pushed the genre to new places. But The Stones led the way when mixing blues, rock, and pop into the perfect recipe we know today.

Across their decades, the band has gifted the world with no end in hits. They’ve written themselves into the global songbook time and time again as hits like ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ and ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ are some of the best-loved rock songs ever made. Thanks to their catchy riffs, hi-octane licks, and anthemic lyrics, Stones songs are beloved for their timelessness.

In many ways, The Stones have created rock standards. In the tradition of jazz, the same songs are played time and time again by different artists. It’s a rite of passage to take on tracks that legends before you have also tried, passing tracks down through generations. When it comes to the British band’s hits and the thousands of covers done for them, their songs seem to have the same universal appeal and impact that spans generations, countries, and genres.

Some Stones covers are so good they might rival the original as Bowie took on ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together,’ or ‘Gimme Shelter’ vocalist Merry Clayton shared her full version. But on the flip side, some covers are downright odd. As a band, they expanded beyond rock as artists across all styles seemed to adopt and adapt the tracks. This has led to some combos no one could predict, and some real left-field covers have been shared over the years.

Whether strange in a significant way or weird in a terrible way, these five Rolling Stones covers stand out as something special.

Five weird covers of The Rolling Stones:

Bette Midler – ‘Beast Of Burden’

Your grandmother would love this cover. Typically, mumsy singer Bette Midler is more likely to be found singing show tunes or acting in a feel-good comedy than raging through a rock song. But in 1983, she turned her voice to something a little heavier.

On her cover of ‘Beast Of Burden’, her powerful stage vocals reveal a gruffness. It feels like hearing what it would sound like if Janis Joplin had taken on the track as Midler sings all-out, all the way through, without letting up on the wailing. Before hitting play, I steeled myself for something painfully lacking in rock spirit, ready to hear a cover set to soundtrack an old person’s home. Instead, Midler pulls it off with a cover and genuine gumption. Good on her.

Etta James – ‘Miss You’

Another strange duo comes from the meeting of Jagger and R&B legend Etta James. With a voice universally held up as one of the best there ever was, her songs like ‘At Last’ and ‘Sunday Kinda Love’ are standards in their own right. As she takes on the Stones track, she also seems to crown it.

Her take on ‘Miss You’ totally tears it apart and rebuilds it. With its unrelenting rock foundation and guitar line, the seedy original is reshaped into something slow and seductive. As James croons her way through the track, not even shying away from Jagger’s strange spoken additions to the song, she makes it her own. Complete with horns and a big band, the song is perfectly translated from stadium stages into something more fitting for a jazz bar. It’s an unlikely meeting of parts, but it works.

Alfie Boe – ‘Angie’

If you’re looking for a cover that doesn’t work in any way, shape, or form, it’s this one. Classical singer Alfie Boe’s attempt to tackle Keith Richards’ dark rock ballad feels like a desperate attempt to appear ‘cool.’ From start to finish, as Boe’s all too well-trained voice attempts to go along with an electric guitar, the cover drips with a kind of pathetic air that comes from merging the superiority of classic forms with the imposter syndrome of someone trying to break into a place they know they don’t belong.

It’s a strange song choice as well. It’s one of the band’s slower and more sincere numbers, but why not pick ‘Wild Horses’ or a ballad with universal appeal than one so specific to the group’s history as it refers to Richards’ daughter and Jagger’s split from Marianne Faithfull? The original is an impassioned and emotional cut, full of genuine and personal feelings. Boe’s misplaced cover polishes all that away until it’s a smooth lump of nothingness.

DEVO – ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’

What are the Stones most beloved for? Their tight, easy-to-follow rhythms? Their catchy riffs? Imagine a cover where both things are wiped out, and you get DEVO’s take on ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’.

Giving it the strange treatment that the New Wave scene loved, their cover feels deliberately obtuse. Gerald Casale deliberately avoids the melody, regularly coming in a beat early or a beat late. Refusing to fall into a routine or follow Jagger’s dynamic vocal performance, his take is monotone and chugging. For Stones purists, this cover would be their worst nightmare. But for fans of oddness and uniqueness, it’s a fresh take on the rock and roll anthem.

The Who – ‘Under My Thumb’

There’s nothing too odd about The Who’s take on this 1966 track. It’s a good enough cover, with additional almost Beach Boys-inspired harmonies. The strangeness comes from the context of the cover.

Despite coming up simultaneously and in the same London scene, The Stones especially never had much to say about The Who. “I always thought the Who were a crazy band,” Richards once said, ripping into their technicality and Keith Moon’s unique playing and adding, “It was a disaster.” He’s been open about not liking them.

However, The Who seemed keen to stay attached to the band. In the late 1960s, both bands were targeted by the police’s intense crackdown on drugs in the music scene. After The Stones’ Redlands base was raided and the band was arrested, The Who tried to come to their musical rescue by releasing this cover, with the intention being “to keep their work before the public until they are again free to record themselves.” Who knows if the Stones appreciated the move, but Richards likely rolled his eyes.

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