Rock and roll borrowed a lot of influences from a range of genres, including soul and R&B. When seeing classic rock artists in concert, often times they will talk about their influences and maybe play a few covers of their favorite songs; many times during discourses like these, I’ve heard them say how both soul and R&B music have had a huge influence on their sound. Here is a selection of classic rock bands covering soul and R&B classics:
1) “War,” The Jam (1982)
Paul Weller of the Jam is a big fan of soul and R&B. By the early 1980s, the Jam had more of a soul/R&B sound to their music. In 2010, Weller worked on the soundtrack of the film Soulboy, which was about the Northern Soul scene in Stoke-on-Trent in 1974. Weller’s work with his other band from the mid-80s, the Style Council, showed this influence even more. This version of Edwin Starr’s “War” is really cool because it has a bit more of a punk sound.
2) “Leaving Here,” The Who (1965)
The Who didn’t use the term “Maximum R&B” for nothing! Their sound early on (when they had more of a mod look) was very much R&B influenced — more Rolling Stones than Beatles. “Leaving Here” was a Holland-Dozier-Holland composition and the Who make it sound amazing, really making the song their own with Roger Daltrey’s voice, Pete’s guitar playing, and the Moon-Entwistle rhythm section. Pete Townshend, like many other rock stars, was (and still is) a huge fan of Howlin’ Wolf, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and Booker T. and the MG’s.
3) “Shake,” Small Faces (1966)
The Small Faces do a great version of this Sam Cooke song, which appeared on their first album Small Faces. The bassist, Ronnie Lane, sings lead vocals and does a very good job with this, showing that Steve Marriott is not the only member of the band who can sing. Kenney Jones’ drumming is also a real highlight of the song. “Shake” really is a mod anthem by a great mod band.
4) “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” Vanilla Fudge (1967)
Vanilla Fudge’s version of this song is very different from the Supemes original version because it is way longer than any Motown single. Their version starts off with a marching band-like drum and psychedelic organ and guitar. This makes the song unique and shows that Vanilla Fudge had a vision to put their own spin on a classic track. “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” was not the only R&B cover that Vanilla Fudge did on their first album: Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” was also covered. Later on they also covered Junior Walker and the All-Stars’ “Shotgun.”
5) “Together ‘Til The End Of Time,” The Spencer Davis Group (1966)
The Spencer Davis Group were greatly inspired by R&B music; in fact, multi-instrumentalist and lead singer Steve Winwood was compared to Ray Charles because of his soulful voice. A 15-year-old Winwood first heard Ray Charles sing in 1963, and his music changed radically since because of it. This song was written by Frank Wilson, singer of the Northern Soul classic “Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)” and performed by Brenda Holloway. Autumn ’66 is a great album to listen to if you’re just getting into the Spencer Davis Group, and this is one of their often overlooked songs.
6) “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” Humble Pie (1971)
Steve Marriott had a great voice and he was a big fan of soul and R&B music. Humble Pie, his band after the Small Faces, loved playing this song live and it’s a favorite of many fans. This is one of many good songs on the live album Performance: Rockin’ The Fillmore. I love the blues rock spin on this Ashford & Simpson song, best known for being performed by Ray Charles. One of my favorite things about this song is how good Steve Marriott’s lead vocals sound with Peter Frampton’s backing vocals. You should definitely give this 9-minute version of “I Don’t Need No Doctor” a try!
7) “Baby, I Love You,” The Ramones (1980)
Now this track is a bit of a departure from their punk sound, but still the Ramones do a great job. The Ramones loved all kinds of music, and they showcased that with covers such as this great version of a Ronettes song. Joey Ramone’s unique voice makes this song sound more modernized. This was already one of my favorite love songs, but this version has an extra kick.
8) “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” Blood, Sweat, and Tears (1968)
Blood, Sweat & Tears were notorious for having a brass section play a major part in their songs, and this tune is no exception. This, along with David Clayton-Thomas’ vocals, puts a new spin on the song, giving it more of a jazz-rock sound. Brenda Holloway co-wrote the song with her sister Patrice, Berry Gordy, and Frank Wilson, and originally performed it in 1967.
9) “Tell It Like It Is,” Heart (1980)
Heart are just not a hard rock band: Ann Wilson, besides singing her own original songs and Led Zeppelin covers, loves to sing blues, soul, and R&B songs. Right now, actually, she is doing a few solo shows where she just sings covers of songs that she loves, and some of those songs are soul and R&B covers. This song is from the Bebe le Strange era of Heart. (If you want to hear underrated and overlooked Heart songs, this album is a great place to start.)
10) “Out Of Sight,” Them (1966)
Them were an Irish rock band who were heavily influenced by R&B. “Out of Sight” is a James Brown cover from their overlooked second album Them Again. This tune is a great way to start the second side of the album — awesome drum break too! “Gloria” and “Baby Please Don’t Go” were not their only good songs; this one is worth listening to, as well.