10 Great Who Covers

thewho3I have to think that covering a Who song would generate tension and anxiety in any band. Right off the bat, you’re hanging your drummer and bass player out to dry, because everybody knows they can’t match the playing on the original. Most lead singers would have to be nervous too. Roger Daltrey was once quoted saying just that: there aren’t many Who covers because they are too hard to play and sing.

And yet there have been some artists brave or perhaps foolish enough to give it a go, so here are ten of the better efforts.

10. Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs – The Kids Are Alright (2006)

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We tend to think of The Who in terms of their power and virtuosity, sometimes forgetting their deep pop roots and sensibilities. Sweet and Hoffs polish this nugget up real bright and shiny, just as it should be.


9. Green Day – A Quick One While He’s Away (2009)

It takes balls to try and cover The Who in the first place, but it takes a special kind of huevos to attempt one of their Rock “opera” suites like this one. Green Day somehow manages to convert the oh-so-English love triangle into suburban American Gothic.


8. Anvil w/ Franky Perez – Slip Kid (2009)

It’s like a marriage made in metal heaven, with the long-dormant but never-forgotten Canadian hosers fronted by Slash’s favorite vocalist, covering the Who for a Sons Of Anarchy episode. What’s not to love? These guys nail it.


7. Petra Haden – I Can See For Miles (2005)

You can’t go wrong with Petra Haden’s brilliant, original a capella covers, and this one really brings to the fore the incredible distinctive layered vocals that were an integral part of the Who’s sound.


6. Swervedriver – Magic Bus (1997)

The Who had a few outlier songs like this, songs that deviated from their usual formula, making them, one would think, better candidates to be covered. But surprisingly, this was the only cover of “Magic Bus” or “Happy Jack” I could find. At 9-plus minutes, the Brit alt-rockers squeezed every drop of juice out of this one


5. David Bowie – I Can’t Explain (1973)

For this, the first Who hit, Pete Townshend admitted he lifted the power chord opening from Dave Davies of the Kinks. Bowie’s 1973 cover from the Pin-Ups album went on to deconstruct the song while beknighting it at the same time.


4. Richie Havens – Won’t Get Fooled Again (2008)

I think this is the only way to cover such a distinctive original without embarrassing yourself with comparisons. The lyric is a perfect fit for Richie Havens, and as usual he pulls it off with class and grace and understated power.


3. Pearl Jam – Love Reign O’er Me (2007)

Eddie Vedder is probably the only guy on the planet who can come close to the full-throated Daltrey scream, and although it’s still pretty true to the original, he and the band have the rare chops to give the song the gravitas it demands.


2. Elton John – Pinball Wizard (1974)

Surely the most successful Who cover ever. Elton wasn’t an obvious choice for a Who number, but with the able assistance of long-time bandmate Davey Johnstone, one of the most underrated Rock guitarists ever, he delivered the goods. Elton was the perfect guy to double down on the affected conceit of Townshend’s Tommy concept.


1. Patti Smith – My Generation (1975)

I would have thought this was the last Who song any band ought to try, since the original has such famously distinctive moments of brilliance. You can only fall short if you try to do it like the Who did. And yet some big guns have given it the old college try, including Green Day, Iron Maiden, Oasis, The Sweet, and Alice Cooper. And no matter how much oomph they put into it, you can’t help but wonder what the point was. The only way to survive covering a song like this is to put your own individual spin on it. The Melvins blow it up beyond recognition, which is kind of cool, but this Patti Smith version not only captures the spirit of the original better than any of the others, it also drags the song out of its mid-Sixties diorama and into some timeless, garage rock Valhalla. Now that’s a cover.


Honorable Mentions

Rush “The Seeker” / The Jam “So Sad About Us” / Sex Pistols “Substitute” / Gov’t Mule “Eminence Front” / Fastball “The Real Me” / Ramones “Substitute” / Scorpions “I Can’t Explain” / Tina Turner “I Can See For Miles” / Richard Thompson “A Legal Matter”

Photo credit: By Jim Summaria (Wikipedia:Contact us/Photo submission) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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One comment to “10 Great Who Covers”
  1. Wanted to hate the Green Day cover.

    Realized that Green Day is still a great band.

    Enjoyed cover thoroughly.

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