One Song

Playlists dedicated to one really awesome song at a time, including studio versions, alternate takes, live performances and particularly good covers.

7 Chinese Bros.

7 Chinese Bros. was the second track on R.E.M.'s second album, Reckoning, which was released in April 1984. The song may have been influenced by the book The Five Chinese Brothers, which was published in 1938 and tells the story of Chinese siblings with extraordinary powers.

All of the performances in this playlist features are by R.E.M., including several live versions before the song was recorded. It also features one interesting variation, Voices of Harold, which has Michael Stipe singing the liner notes from a gospel album (The Joy of Knowing Jesus by the Revelaires) to the music of 7 Chinese Bros. Supposedly, looking for inspiration before he had to record the actual lyrics, he picked up the record, which was left in the North Carolina studio where Reckoning was being recorded, and proceeded to sing all of the liner notes. After that, the recording was done with the real lyrics and the rest was R.E.M history.

Into the Mystic

Into the Mystic was recorded by Van Morrison in the fall of 1969 and first released on Moondance the following year. It’s one of his most famous and well-received songs, as evidenced by its presence on many top-songs-of-all-time lists. It’s also so soothing that it’s a popular choice among surgeons to play while operating.

Van Morrison has performed the song live many times, several performances of which are included in this playlist. It’s also a popular song to cover and here you’ll find performances by, among others, The Wallflowers, Joe Cocker and The Allman Brothers.

But my favorite cover version is done by Lavelle White, a blues and soul singer born in 1929 who didn’t release her first album until 1994. I’ve included her studio version of it here (from 2003) and the playlist ends wither performing the song live. Great stuff.

 

I Shall Be Released

One of Bob Dylan's greatest - and most covered - songs, I Shall Be Released was first officially released by The Band in 1968 on Music from Big Pink. Bob himself released a recording of it in 1971, but a version of him performing it with The Band in 1967 was eventually released on The Basement Tapes, which is the version which leads off this playlist.

The song, inspired by other songs about being in a prison of some sort, has been covered by a large number, and real variety, of musicians through the years. This playlist presents versions by, among others, Sting, Bette Midler and Nina Simone

Some of the best versions, though, in my opinion, are the partial, off the cuff ones done by The Flying Burrito BrothersElvis and The Beatles.

Me and Bobby McGee

Me and Bobby McGee - a great song, best known as a Janis Joplin tune, which she recorded shortly before her death in 1970 and went to number one (and became her only number one single) posthumously.

But it’s easy to forget, or not know, that it was actually written by Kris Kristofferson and that Bobby was a girl. 

The song has been recorded or performed by quite a range of artists over the years. This playlist includes versions by Johnny Cash, The Grateful Dead and Pink.

But my favorite version isn’t on this playlist; it’s Kris Kristofferson performing it at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970 - well, performing part of it. Go watch here.

Dark Globe

Arriving at college in the fall of 1987, I was already a big Pink Floyd fan. But, among the many things I was soon introduced to was Syd Barrett's small but amazing solo catalog. Dark Globe is one example, recorded in 1969 and released early in 1970 on Syd’s first solo album The Madcap LaughsThe song is all Syd; weird, nonsensical - and mesmerizing.

Here’s the original, an alternate take and a bunch of great covers by a diverse group of artists.

Green is the Colour

My favorite Pink Floyd song, Green is the Colour was recorded and released in 1969 on The Soundtrack from the Film More.

The original studio version is good. But on stage the band, and David Gilmour in particular, turned it into a whole different experience, with a slower tempo. Rick Wright's mesmerizing organ work, along with Gilmour's guitar and vocals make this, I think, their most underrated song.

It was a regular part of their live sets from 1969 to 1971, during which it often preceded Careful with that Axe, Eugene. All of the recordings in this playlist were made in those years. 

It Makes No Difference

Recorded by The Band in 1975 and first released on the Northern Lights-Southern Cross album that same year, It Makes No Difference was written by Robbie Robertson, but this song is all Rick Danko.

This playlist includes eight live performances spanning 20+ years, with The Band disintegrating along the way, for various reasons, ending with a heart wrenching solo performance two years before Danko’s death

No covers included here; just watch and enjoy the brilliant Rick Danko.

Ripple

I was never a huge Dead Head, but in the summer of 1990, just before my senior year of college, American Beauty was in heavy rotation on my CD player. Ripple was my favorite cut on the album and is still my favorite Grateful Dead tune.

Written by Robert Hunter, the lyrics have been likened to (among other things) the 23rd Psalm, the Tao Te Ching and Walt Whitman's Song of Myself.

It was recorded by the Dead in 1970 and has been performed live by them many times over the years since.

This playlist includes a tribute cover by Jane’s Addiction.