“I’m Down” – The Beastie Boys

After giving high praise to the Beatles’ original, here’s the lost, molar-rattling, rude, and punk-as-hell Beastie Boys cover that was supposed to be included on their legendary Rick Rubin-produced 1986 masterpiece “Licensed to Ill,” but was left off for legal reasons.   Rumor has it that Michael Jackson, by then the copyright owner, put the kabosh on it.  He felt fine licensing the Beatles’ most political song “Revolution” to Nike but … well … that’s another story.   All I can say is … thank God for YouTube.

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“She’s On It” – The Beastie Boys

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This is a post-hardcore, but pre-“Licensed to Ill” Beastie Boys from 1985. Produced by Rick Rubin, “She’s On It” provides a nice blueprint of what that landmark album released in 1986 would be, with Rubin’s trademark metal-rap fusion that would explode into the mainstream with the Run DMC/Aerosmith collaboration “Walk this Way” the following year. The video is quite the artifact from the mid-1980s.

“Bird on a Wire” (Live at Montreux 1994) – Johnny Cash

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Cash’s beautiful cover of one of Leonard Cohen’s best and most famous songs. I like this even better than Cohen’s original, mainly because that voice of Cash’s sounds like he really lived these lyrics. This is a live version that’s not too different than the studio version he recorded with Rick Rubin in 1994 for “American Recordings.”

“Not Ready to Make Nice” – The Dixie Chicks

OK, it’s been several years since the controversial remarks about Bush Jr., the recorded response about said remarks, and the Grammies awarded for said recorded response. How does this song hold up once we’ve been removed from the early-mid-2000s? My answer: Brilliantly. Beautifully. Magnificently. This song is a classic and another example of producer Rick Rubin’s genius of being able to capture the true essence of whatever artist he works with (from Run DMC to L.L. Cool J to the Beastie Boys to the Cult to Danzig to Slayer to the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Johnny Cash to Neil Diamond) and helping them sound like the artist they believe they are in their hearts and minds. The middle break where Natalie sings about threats and “Shut up and sing or your life will be over” still puts chills up my spine.

“Borstal Boys” – The Faces

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Once upon a time, there was a vocalist from England who was probably the greatest rock singer of his time (the late 1960s/early 1970s).  He achieved some critical respect as lead singer of The Jeff Beck Group and The Faces and a couple of decent solo albums.  However, he decided that critical acclaim and minor commercial success wasn’t enough … he needed greater fame.  So my theory is that he went to the same crossroads that Robert Johnson went to many years ago and made a deal with Satan for commercial success.  Satan’s deal was that this singer would record one legendary, phenomenal album (“Every Picture Tells a Story”) and then with each progressive album, the quality would go down slightly … and then keep going down.  So, the next solo album (“Never a Dull Moment”) was pretty good, but not as good as the previous endeavor … and then, this once great vocalist would progressively get worse (1978’s “D’ya Think I’m Sexy?”) … and then hitting the bottom of the barrel with sub-Tom Jones / Broadway garbage during the 1990s and 2000s that paradoxically was ridiculously successful commercially.  Rick Rubin, if you’re out there, another terrific singer on the artistic skids needs your help!!!!!

“Oh Mary” – Neil Diamond

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Here’s one that may come as a shock to most of you.  A simple, beautiful, soulful ballad by one of the most popular … and underrated … singer / songwriters of all time.   Neil Diamond is a great singer / songwriter undone many times over the years by his bad taste in arrangements and Vegas-y style.  If you want to hear the most comically awful cover of all time, check out Diamond’s Vegas-y cover of “I Dreamed a Dream” from “Les Miserables” … a song that should not only never be sung by a man, let alone in studly Sinatra-style fashion, but when you change the devastating last line of the song into something more “positive,” you’ve completely destroyed it.

Yes, I do enjoy Diamond’s bad taste stuff on one level (as do millions of others, ironically and non-ironically, who are devout fans).  But Diamond’s album “12 Songs,” that he recorded with legendary producer Rick Rubin in 2005, makes me hate the fact that he ever put a sequined shirt.  The arrangements are subtle and dignified.This is a beautiful, heartfelt, moving album of songs that highlights Diamond’s amazing voice,   Just as he did with Johnny Cash, the Dixie Chicks, and many others too numerous to mention, Rubin has a knack for distilling what’s great about a performer, cutting out the bulls–t, and allowing people to be their best.  Rubin’s collaboration with Diamond is an out-and-out masterpiece.