14 Songs Covered by David Lee Roth
It’s David Lee Roth’s birthday today, and to celebrate the occasion, we’ve compiled a playlist featuring the 14 covers sung by Diamond Dave over the course of his time with Van Halen and during his tenure on Warner Brothers as a solo artist. It really can’t be understated just how many young listeners got their first introduction to folks like John D. Loudermilk, Louis Prima, and Roy Rogers and Dale Evans as a result of hearing their tunes. Of course, there are also the less-informed folks who see a clip of Roy Orbison singing “Oh, Pretty Woman” and think it’s weird that some old dude in shades is singing a Van Halen song, but we can’t teach the whole world, we can only provide the information to help them learn, which is hopefully what this piece will accomplish.
P.S. Happy birthday, Dave!
1. The Kinks, “You Really Got Me” (1964) – This Kinks klassik was already a radio staple by the time Van Halen opted to perform their own version for their self-titled debut album, and it wasn’t as though the band changed very much – if anything – about the original arrangement, but the slightly modernized, harder-rocking take clearly struck a chord with listeners nonetheless.
2. John Brim, “Ice Cream Man” (1953) – The date we’ve listed for this track, which Van Halen also recorded for their debut album, is slightly misleading, although it’s not inaccurate: Brim did indeed record the song in 1953, but it didn’t actually see release until 1969. Still, if it hadn’t come out when it did, then it might not have crossed the appropriate person’s radar and ended up being covered by Dave, Eddie, Alex, and Mike, so it clearly all worked out for the best. Well, you know, for Van Halen, at least.
3. Dee Dee Warwick, “You’re No Good” (1963) – When Van Halen kicked off their second album with this song, most listeners still had memories of Linda Ronstadt’s version from only a few years earlier, but the song actually dates back to a decade earlier, when Dionne Warwick’s sister did a version of the Clint Ballard, Jr. tune.
SPOTIFY: Listen Here
4. The Kinks, “Where Have All the Good Times Gone?” (1965) – The sometimes-overlooked second Kinks cover by Van Halen, this song led off the band’s DIVER DOWN album and arrived after two consecutive cover-free LPs, but if you remember the album in question, then you know that they more than made up for spending so much time on original material.
5. Roy Orbison, “Oh, Pretty Woman” (1964) – When Van Halen turned in their version of this all-time rock ‘n’ roll classic, Roy Orbison’s profile was remarkably low for someone who’s now viewed as a music legend. Yes, he’d managed to score a minor hit with “That Lovin’ You Feeling Again,” a duet with Emmylou Harris which hit #55 on the Hot 100 and subsequently earned Orbison and his singing partner a Grammy, but prior to that, he hadn’t had a chart hit since 1967. Although this cover of “Oh, Pretty Woman” definitely helped remind listeners of his existence, it would be another five years before Orbison rightfully regained his rock-legend status amongst members of the mainstream audience.
6. Martha and the Vandellas, “Dancing in the Street” (1964) – Possibly known as well to children of the ‘80s for the version by David Bowie and Mick Jagger – that dancing! – as for the first hit version by Martha and the Vandellas, you’d be surprised how few people realize that the song was co-written by Marvin Gaye.
7. Margaret Young, “Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)” (1924) – Written by Milton Ager (music) and Jack Yellen (lyrics), this track was recorded by Young the same year it was originally composed, but it was subsequently interpreted by a wide variety of other performers, including Ry Cooder, Merle Haggard, Peggy Lee, Leon Redbone, and many others. Long after Van Halen covered it for their DIVER DOWN album, the song was covered by a ukulele-playing Spencer Moses in an episode of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.
8. Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, “Happy Trails” (1952) – By the time Van Halen closed DIVER DOWN with this classic farewell tune, the average teenager had almost certainly never seen anything that married singing-cowboy couple had done in the prime of their careers, but their regular appearances on TV variety shows kept them in the public eye and made this song an entertaining final track. (It would also be the final cover that Roth recorded with Van Halen.)
9. The Edgar Winter Group, “Easy Street” (1974) – It was only a minor hit when Winter released it as a single from his SHOCK TREATMENT album, but it clearly made enough of an impression on Roth for him to cover it and kick off his first solo EP with the track.
10. Louis Prima, “Just a Gigolo / I Ain’t Got Nobody” (1956) – These two tracks weren’t always paired with each other: “Just a Gigolo” was adapted by Irving Caesar from an Austrian song called “Schoner Gigolo, armer Gigolo,” while Roger A. Graham and Spencer Williams wrote “I Ain’t Got Nobody.” It was Louis Prima who first combined the two numbers in his live show in 1945, and the two-for-one special was jazzed up further in the 1950s, You may not realize that the Village People also did a version of the medley in 1978. That’s for the best.
11. The Beach Boys, “California Girls” (1965) – When Roth covered this Beach Boys classic for the CRAZY LIKE THE HEAT EP, he did so with one of the Boys on backup vocals. Also in the mix: Christopher Cross. “[David and producer Ted Templeman] really wanted a stamp of approval and validation on doing ‘California Girls,’” Cross told Popdose. “Truth be told, I think they knew I was close to Carl, and they thought, ‘Well, if we get Christopher, we can get Carl!’’”
12. The Lovin’ Spoonful, “Coconut Grove (1966) – A John Sebastian composition from the Lovin’ Spoonful’s third album (or fourth if you count their soundtrack to What’s Up, Tiger Lily?), this song was likely a revelation for most Roth fans, as the song was never released as a single, but it fits the vibe of the CRAZY LIKE THE HEAT EP perfectly.
13. The Nashville Teens, “Tobacco Road” (1964) – Written by John D. Loudermilk and made into a huge hit by the Nashville Teens, Roth featured his take on the track as the kick-off of Side 2 of his first full-length solo album, EAT ‘EM AND SMILE.
∑ SPOTIFY: Listen Here
14. Marion Montgomery, “That’s Life” (1963) – A perfect closing number if there ever was one, this Dean Kay / Kelly Gordon composition feels like it was written decades earlier, but it only debuted in 1963, when Marion Montgomery recorded it. Of course, it’s best known because Frank Sinatra did a version of it, but his inspiration to cover it came from having heard O.C. Smith’s version in 1966. It proved to be a profound bit of inspiration, too: Sinatra’s version hit #4 on the Billboard Hot 100.