‘Hey Joe’ is one of the most iconic rock standards of the 1960s. Performed by artists of every genre under the sun, hailing from each corner of the planet, renditions have been undertaken by everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Cher. French rocker Johnny Hallyday released a version in 196, and, shortly after, the 1968 track by Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention, ‘Flower Punk’, was released as a parody of the hippie lifestyle that Zappa so famously loathed. The song has been so far-reaching that even New York goth-metallers Type O Negative recorded ‘Hey Pete’ in 1992.
Like with any rock standard, the authorship of the song has been hotly contested over the years. However, many recordings credit it to either Billy Roberts, Dino Valenti, or as a traditional piece. However, it was the California-based folk musician Roberts who, in 1962, became the first person to register the song for copyright.
Scottish folk musician Len Partridge has also claimed that he helped Roberts to write the song as the two played in Edinburgh’s clubs in 1956. It has been suggested that Roberts may also have drawn inspiration from a trio of earlier pieces. The first is ‘Baby, Please Don’t Go to Town’, which was written by his girlfriend and musician Niela Horn, Carl Smith’s 1953 country hit ‘Hey Joe!’, and the early 20th-century ballad ‘Little Sadie’, which also describes a man on the run after shooting his wife.
In 1965, famed Los Angeles based garage rockers The Leaves recorded the earliest known mainstream version of the song when they released it as a single. The band then re-recorded it and released it as a follow-up, which became a hit in America. Shortly afterwards, in 1966, guitar icon Jimi Hendrix sent the song stratospheric with his rendition with The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
After the Hendrix version, the song would become iconic, with many not realising that it was, in fact, a cover. This got us thinking, what are the best versions of the song out there? We feel that some of them come from contemporaries of Hendrix, with some of his peers putting a riveting twist on the rock standard.
This is just our opinion but should be used as a starter for healthy debate for all you rock ‘n’ roll lovers out there.
The five best versions of ‘Hey Joe’
Taken from Love’s eponymous debut album, which was released in 1966, this is one of the most captivating versions of the song out there. Ramped up and speedy, it sounds more like Firehose had a baby with The Byrds than it does the stripped back original.
Much quicker than Hendrix’s version, it’s upbeat and funky, and Ken Forssi’s busy bass work drives the whole thing. Featuring Love’s first iteration, make sure to play it loud.
The Byrds (1966)
How strange that The Byrds should crop up here. Another pacey version, Roger McGuinn’s quick 12-string licks in the background are classic. Drummer Michael Clarke pushes the song along with his consistent use of the cowbell, and it’s a psychedelic freakout stemming from the period when The Byrds fully embraced the counterculture.
The effort ‘Eight Miles High’ mixed with more garage oriented rock ‘n’ roll such as The Kingsmen, and it’s brilliant. David Crosby’s vocals are attitude-laden and ice-cool.
Jimi Hendrix (1966)
No list of ‘Hey Joe’ versions would be complete without Hendrix‘s; it effectively made the song. Funky, soulful and featuring Hendrix’s incredible guitar licks, I think it’s safe to say that this is the definitive version of the song.
Hendrix’s iconic guitar intro just cannot be beaten. The first single by The Jimi Hendrix Experience is a significant recording because of the way it first announced the guitar hero to the world. Additionally, his version at Monterey in 1967 was one of the best moments in his whole career.
The Creation (1967)
It is said that English rock heroes The Creation inspired Hendrix’s version after manager Chas Chandler and Hendrix watched them play a show shortly after the guitarist had moved to London. However, The Creation’s take was not released until after Hendrix’s, so the claim is contested.
A slow, psychedelic version, evoking all the sentiments of ‘The Swinging Sixties’ and London at the time, this is just another track that confirms The Creation as one of the most underrated bands of all time. That key change halfway through is genius.
Patti Smith (1974)
Patti Smith loves a cover or two. Her feminist poem at the start inverts the meaning of the song, and it’s pure genius. Her first single from 1974 was the first time the world was introduced to the cerebral brilliance of Patti Smith.
The song is mellow and country-esque, and Smiths’s vocals are captivating. The tension builds, and Smith’s poem augments the original story and takes it down a much darker route. It becomes a ballad about kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst and features guitar from none other than Television’s Tom Verlaine.