Best Soul Covers of Classic Rock Songs
Rhythm and blues was essential to the development of rock and roll as we know it today. The work of earlier blues, gospel and soul artists paved the way for some of rock’s most important acts. After rock and roll broke, the tables turned. Many notable soul and R&B acts took to covering rock songs, putting their own unique spin on classic songs. Here we present a selection of great classic rock songs as covered by legendary soul singers.
“Proud Mary” (Creedance Clearwater Revival)
There’s sometimes a chicken and egg issue with this song— nobody is quite sure which version came first. Ike and Tina turned out what may be considered the definitive version of this classic. When their relationship turned abusive, the song took on a more significant meaning for Tina, who went on to a legendary solo career after her separation from Ike. Creedance Clearwater Revival were themselves known for their strong connection to soul and R&B. The band has recorded noted covers of soul standards like Wilson Pickett’s “Ninety-nine and a Half” and “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.
“Ohio/Machine Gun” (Neil Young/Jimi Hendrix)
This two-for-one epic pushes nine minutes in length and features stirring renditions of classic songs by two of classic rocks greatest icons. This cut comes from the group’s 1971 album Givin’ It Back. Accustomed to having their songs covered by rock groups (The Beatles had a hit with their “Twist and Shout”) the Ohio natives decided to “give it back” by recording an album consisting entirely of rock covers including cuts by Bob Dylan, James Taylor and Stephen Stills.
“The Weight” (The Band)
The Queen of Soul put an up-tempo spin on The Band’s signature song in 1969. This cut features Allman Brothers guitarist Duane Allman laying down some very soulful slide guitar. When The Band eventually dissolved in 1976, they performed a final concert appropriately titled “The Last Waltz.” The concert was filmed by Martin Scorcese for a documentary of the same name. The Band was joined by another iconic soul group, The Staples Singers, for a performance of “The Weight” used in the film.
“Down by the River” (Neil Young)
Though he got his start playing for soul musicians like Wilson Pickett and The Delfonics, Buddy Miles was no stranger to classic rock. The drummer was a member of Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsies and has played alongside many rock and roll giants. His version of Neil Young’s “Down by the River” is faithful in tempo, but adds soulful backing vocals and sweet, soaring organ. The song appeared on his 1970 album Them Changes. A fun fact: Miles was the voice behind The California Raisins cover of “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.”
“Hey Jude” (The Beatles)
A powerful presence in soul music for decades, Pickett put a new spin on The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” in 1969. The track features a young Duane Allman on guitar and a massive horn section. During the Fame Studio recording session that yielded this cover, Pickett also cut a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe.” The backing band here, The Swampers, would go on to be name-dropped in Lynyrd Skynyrd’s song “Sweet Home Alabama.”
“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” (The Rolling Stones)
Otis Redding was 25 years old when he released this version of The Rolling Stones song that is widely considered the greatest song in rock and roll history. Redding had never heard the Stones version of the song, which had come out only two months prior to his. Keith Richards and Mick Jagger wrote the song in tribute to the Stax/Volt style of soul that Redding helped define. The Rolling Stones had originally intended for their recording of the song to include a horn section— which Redding’s does. Redding died at 26, but not before solidifying his status as a musical icon. His songs have often been covered by rock acts. The Black Crowes had a hit with Redding’s “Hard to Handle.”