First released January 11, 1971, Janis Joplin's "Me and Bobby McGee" redefined the limits of cover song success. Here, we celebrate Janis' classic version and other artistic interpretations gone right.
'Me and Bobby McGee' — Janis Joplin
Kris Kristofferson's vagabond road song was first recorded in 1969 by, appropriately enough, "King of the Road" Roger Miller. But Joplin's only No. 1 hit, completed days before her death on October 4, 1970, is the ultimate trip down memory lane—a soulful, cinematic look back at love gone by.
'I Shot the Sheriff' — Eric Clapton
Slowhand played fast and loose with Bob Marley's sly profession of guilt and innocence—hey, he didn't shoot no deputy—propelling this reggae groove to No. 1 in September 1974.
'Twist and Shout' — The Beatles
The Fab Four didn't just shake it up, baby, they incited a dance riot in 1963, a year after the Isley Brothers got the party started with their first Top 20 hit. (Bonus points if you knew the song was introduced in 1961 by the Top Notes.)
'You're No Good' — Linda Ronstadt
Texas songwriter Clint Ballard Jr.'s anti-love song was recorded weeks apart in 1963 by Dee Dee Warwick and Betty Everett. But 12 years later Linda Ronstadt's chilly "Get lost" went to No. 1, transforming the country rocker into one of the hottest female popstars of the '70s.
'Jersey Girl' — Bruce Springsteen
The Boss invoked eminent domain on an uncharacteristically sweet Tom Waits song, introducing his sha-la-la cover as an encore when opening his homestate's Meadowlands arena in 1981. An instant crowd favorite, it still pops up occasionally on tour.
'House of the Rising Sun' — The Animals
A folk ballad with roots in 16th century England was reset in New Orleans in the 1930s and later covered by folkies like Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, as well as singers as diverse as Lead Belly and Andy Griffith. But Eric Burdon's growling, howling vocals gave this 1964 hit its sinister edge and sense of foreboding.
'Respect' — Aretha Franklin
Otis Redding wrote, recorded and cracked the Top 40 with his self-assured hit in 1965. Two years later, however, the Queen of Soul transformed the strut into an anthem of feminism and the civil rights movement. Even Redding was awestruck. "This girl," he said, "she just took [my] song!"
'Hallelujah' — Jeff Buckley
Leonard Cohen wrote more than 80 verses for his 1984 ode to life's many hallelujah moments, but everyone now sings the praises of 28-year-old Buckley's sorrowful "hallelujah to the orgasm" in 1994. Amen.
'Dazed and Confused' — Led Zeppelin
Singer-songwriter Jake Holmes scoffed at speculation that his lovelorn song from 1967 is actually about a bad acid trip. But he's forever grateful for what he once called "the infamous moment of my life when 'Dazed and Confused' fell into the loving arms" of guitarist Jimmy Page, who added lyrics, altered the melody and played his Fender Telecaster with a violin bow.
Photo: Atlantic Records
'Nothing Compares 2 U' — Sinead O'Connor
From the opening creak of her clarion voice, everyone's favorite bald Irishwoman turned Prince's coy come-on into a profession of true love and devotion in 1990.
'You've Got a Friend' — James Taylor
Ain't it good to know that Carole King's pick-me-up was inspired by a line in Taylor's 1970 hit "Fire and Rain" ("I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend"). Fittingly, Sweet Baby James delivered this soothing message to the masses, reaching the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in July 1971 for the first—and only—time.
Photo: PBS/"American Masters"
'All Along the Watchtower' — Jimi Hendrix
"Electrifying" doesn't begin to describe the fireworks that fly in Hendrix's pyrotechnic approach to a 1967 Bob Dylan folk song. "He found things that other people wouldn't think of finding in there," Dylan said years later. "I took license with the song from his version, actually, and continue to do it to this day."
'Mr. Tambourine Man' — The Byrds
Fifty years ago, the Byrds soared to No. 1 with the first single from their debut album, adding a distinctive jingle jangle to Bob Dylan's acoustic song—and ushering in the genre now known as folk rock.
'Woodstock' — Crosby, Stills Nash & Young
Joni Mitchell's intimate reflection on a moment in time became an upbeat rallying cry of a generation, thanks to CSN&Y's rocking interpretation on 1970's landmark "Déjà Vu" album.
'(They Long to Be) Close to You' — The Carpenters
This sugary-sweet nugget of ear candy by Burt Bacharach and Hal David was supposed to launch the singing career of TV's "Dr. Kildare," Richard Chamberlain, in 1963. Instead, seven years later, it introduced the world to the brother-sister duo whose No. 1 hit was the first of 16 consecutive Top 40 singles.
'Do You Wanna Dance' — The Ramones
Some might prefer the innocence of the Beach Boys' 1965 cover of Bobby Freeman's formal "Do You Want to Dance" or Bette Midler's sultry slow dance, but the Ramones' exuberant invitation is the one that makes you want to cut loose with reckless abandon.
'Black Magic Woman' — Santana
A year after scoring his first Top 10 hit with "Evil Ways" in 1969, guitar wizard Carlos Santana and lead vocalist Gregg Rolie cast their spell on a 1968 song by Fleetwood Mac founder Peter Green. Hmmm—maybe this is the song that inspired Stevie Nicks' floating gypsy shtick.
'I Will Always Love You' — Whitney Houston
What sounds like a tearful goodbye in Dolly Parton's sweet 1974 original became a powerhouse testament to eternal love in 1992, thanks to Houston's diva-like performance in "The Bodyguard." One of the best-selling singles of all time, it reigned atop the Billboard Hot 100 for an astounding 14 weeks, from November 1992 to February 1993.
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The Backwoods Barbie who became a country-pop icon
Major stars whose performances landed on the cutting room floor
Long-running shows that went out with a bang
The best of the blues-rock legend who gave up a piece of her heart with every song