Covering The Rolling Stones is a dubious task. Good covers take the essential elements of an already great song and elevate them to make something even better. If you’re not going big, why even attempt a cover?
Some of the best singers of the 1960s and ’70s built their careers off of covers. Any song reinterpreted through Joe Cocker’s gritty howl was destined for greatness, as was any song taken on by the titan of soul and rock and roll herself, Tina Turner. Another great interpreter is Linda Ronstadt, whose tiny frame and psychedelic hippie chick style hid an absolutely monumental voice.
Ronstadt had a great way of kicking up her voice into gear, riding the line between singing and yelling to create a signature belting sound that could rattle windows and take down buildings with compromised foundations. Her range oscillated between smokey low notes and glass-shattering high notes, but Ronstadt always made sure to incorporate a fair amount of boogie and rock ‘n’ roll into her repertoire to prevent herself from getting pigeonholed as a ballad singer.
A great example is her take on The Rolling Stones song ‘Tumbling Dice’ from 1972’s legendary Exile on Main St. A couple of hurdles to get over in taking on ‘Tumbling Dice’ include the aforementioned difficulty inherent in covering The Stones, but also the fact that it’s one of the band’s best known and most beloved songs. You’re not giving a new shine to ‘I Just Want to See His Face’ or something: this is big time, A-side single, all-time classic Rolling Stones we’re talking about.
Ronstadt’s big change to the song practically reaches out and slaps you in the face during the first line. The original song had the lascivious lyric “women think I’m tasty” as its opener, a line that Mick Jagger would frequently change to “women think I’m crazy” for most live performances. Ronstadt is much more blunt: “People try to rape me.” It’s a disorienting opener, but it ultimately serves to elevate Ronstadt’s take no shit attitude throughout the song, going bigger and bolder than The Stones ever did. In its own way, it’s very punk rock of Ronstadt to be so frank right upfront.
There’s a great story about Mick Jagger telling Ronstadt that she needed to sing more rock and roll songs. This was at a time when Ronstadt’s biggest hits were covers: the Eagles’ ‘Desperado’, Little Feat’s ‘Willin’, and Willie Nelson’s ‘Crazy’ were all pillars of her setlist, but Jagger wanted something more like ‘You’re No Good’ and suggested she take on ‘Tumbling Dice’, even going so far as to write down the lyrics for her. Ronstadt noticed that quite a few lines differed between Jagger’s recollection and the studio version, so she felt no hesitancy to alter the song to fit her perspective, including that head-turning first line.
See the clip, below.