The Band – ‘Baby Don’t You Do It’ (Originally by Marvin Gaye)
Groovy, bluesy and impossibly catchy, The Band’s souped up version of the Holland-Dozier-Holland song hits you square in the guts. The Band recorded it multiple times (it most notably opened The Last Waltz) but this recording snatched from a 1972 show at the Academy of Music, NY for me is the most powerful. Levon Helm’s barking vocals are at their most desperate, Robbie Robertson’s guitar solos are at their most searing and the dramatic break before the band come back in full unison showcases an iconic band at the height of their powers.
The Nighthawks – ‘Sixteen Tons’ (Originally by Merle Travis)
While the most famous version of this song is arguably Tennesee Ernie Ford’s version, this full pelt rendition by Washington, D.C. bluesters The Nighthawks has had a wide circulation due to its appearance in The Wire. While the slight swing vibe and slightly cheerful clarinet motif in Ford’s version might seem a bit disingenuous given it’s subject matter, this version bristles with rage. Rattling drums, harmonica honks and blistering guitar make for one hell of a ride.
Nina Simone – ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ (Originally by Blind Willie Johnson/Traditional)
Appearing on 1969’s Nina Simone and Piano, this earthy spiritual emphasises just how powerful a performer Nina Simone was in isolation. Each note in her raw vocals bleeds emotion and her bold piano playing echoes the conviction of one who has sensed the devil breathing down their neck. A spine-tingling song from a force of nature who could make any song her own.