“Smile” – The Jayhawks


Here’s something that would not have been out of place on an early 1970s Badfinger, Harry Nilsson, or John Lennon-solo album. “Smile” is the title track from their 2000 album, produced by the legendary Bob Ezrin (who produced most of Alice Cooper’s early classic albums, KISS’s “Destroyer,” Lou Reed’s “Berlin,” … and a little something by Pink Floyd called “The Wall”). This is far removed from the alt-country that initially made the Jayhawks famous, but I think this got unfairly ignored. A really lovely pop ballad.

“Watching the Wheels” – John Lennon


I am not one of those people who buy into the myth of Lennon’s “Double Fantasy” album, that Lennon was this contented househusband between the years of 1975 and 1980. However, I don’t completely buy into Albert Goldman’s contradictory picture of Lennon being a pathetic drug addict during this same time frame. I’m fairly certain the truth is somewhere between Lennon’s rosy picture and Goldman’s ugly one. However, whatever the case, “Watching the Wheels” is such a great song that it makes me want to believe Lennon’s rosier portrayal, that his withdrawal during those years was one of choice.

“Gimme Some Truth” – John Lennon

From the 1971 album “Imagine,” here’s John Lennon’s “Gimme Some Truth,” a residual track from Lennon’s Phil Spector / primal scream era.  A wonderfully angry, self-righteous song about the quest for truth and authenticity.  Yes, you can blast 10 million holes in this by a mere fart, but it’s still a great song.

I would also present the equally awesome cover by Billy Idol’s punk band Generation X, but allegedly those clips have been blocked by YouTube due to “copyright” reasons.   Funny, I can show you John Lennon, but not the band that Billy Idol was involved with before he became famous.  So it goes, so it goes…

“Don’t Forget Me” – Marianne Faithfull


From her 1997 album “20th Century Blues,” Marianne Faithfull performs a moving cover of one of Harry Nilsson’s best (and least-known) songs. Faithfull gives a nice tribute to Nilsson at the beginning of this.  I can’t think of any one better to cover this song, except (maybe) for Tom Waits.

Nilsson’s original version is from his album “Pussy Cats,” credited to both Nilsson and John Lennon and recorded during Lennon’s infamous “lost weekend” period in the early-mid 1970s. You can find Nilsson’s original version of this elsewhere on Dave’s Strange World.

“Magical Misery Tour” – National Lampoon


One of the best pop cultural satires of all time, from the 1972 album “Radio Dinner.”  When National Lampoon decided to record an audio album in the early 1970s, John Lennon was the ultimate sacred cow and they wondered how could they ultimately savage something that most people believed was above comedy. The answer was simple. Take statements he had made in various interviews over the last few years (remember, this was during Lennon’s “primal scream” days) and lay his exact words over a driving “Imagine”-style piano solo. The result is totally brilliant and hilarious. By the way, Lennon is played by Tony Hendra, the best-selling author of “Father Joe,” who eventually found himself in more than a spot of trouble over some allegations by his daughter that painted him in a less than flattering light. Again, not safe for work, because of a lot of profanity.

“Cold Turkey” – The Godfathers


The Godfathers do an explosive cover of John Lennon’s wrenching late 1960s hit about heroin withdrawal. It really says something about the Beatles’ popularity that Lennon’s original (which is really raw stuff) made the Top 40 back in 1969. As good as Lennon’s original is, I like this version better than Lennon’s, as sacrilegious as that may sound.  While the minimalism of Lennon’s original has its merits, I like the way the Godfathers fleshed it out.