Original v. Cover — #51 in a Series

Flip Flops Pictures, Images and Photos

Are you convinced that the best rock music ever was produced in the 1960s and possibly the early 1970s as well?  Ever wonder why?  

The 1999 film “The Straight Story”, resulting from a rather unlikely collaboration between David Lynch and Disney, recounts the true story of a real life Iowa septuagenarian Alvin Straight. In 1994, his own health declining, he receives word that his estranged brother in Mt. Zion, Wisconsin has suffered a stroke and is seriously ill. Unable to drive because his legs and eyes are too impaired, and unwilling to allow anyone else take him there, he sets out on a 240-mile, six week journey on his garden tractor (top speed = 5 mph), hopeful that he can reach his ailing brother and possibly heal a long-standing rift between the two before it’s too late.  

At one point during that journey, while camping near the roadside with a group of young bicyclists, one young man asked him, “What’s the worst part about being old, Alvin?” After thinking for a brief moment, Straight replies, “The worst part about being old is remembering when you was young.” If you ever watch this film, as you become older, you will recall Alvin’s words time and time again. To view that scene from this beautiful and touching film, look for the conversation that begins at about the 4:35 mark.  

Richard Farnsworth was terminally ill with bone cancer during the shooting of the film, which had caused the paralysis of his legs as shown in the film. He actually took the role out of admiration for Alvin Straight, and astonished his co-workers with his tenacity during production. Because of the pain of his disease, Farnsworth committed suicide the following year, at the age of 80.

The Straight Story was generally praised, with critics lauding Lynch’s uncharacteristic subject matter. Years after its premier it held a 95% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Straight Story was the recipient of twelve awards and twenty-nine nominations.

The film was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival. Freddie Francis was nominated for the Golden Frog. Richard Farnsworth earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his portrayal of Alvin Straight, the oldest person ever to be nominated for a Best Actor Oscar.

Although Alvin’s words were/are undoubtedly true, perhaps music from long ago also transports us back to a time when the world seemed so much larger, so filled with hope and possibility. For all but the most jaded, the message that “the sky is the limit”, which was standard fare during commencement ceremony addresses was believed without question. It was likely a time for most of us (all too brief, in retrospect) when the infirmities and indignities that accompany advancing “maturity” begin to crash our party, as we hurtle ever more quickly toward those fabled, but most likely mythical Golden Years.  

Yes, maybe the music of an earlier time allows us to pretend that we are young again.

Perhaps the music helps us to recall friends and family who were such a large part of our lives then, wistfully recalling those distant magical times. Many of us subconsciously and happily celebrated our youth, innocently convinced that this blissful state would never end.

Quite possibly, our reason or reasons may be something entirely different. Please feel free to weigh in with your thoughts.


The feature song this week was written by Mars Bonfire, and was performed by a well-known Canadian-American rock band in 1968.  It has been described as the very first heavy metal song, a concept further reinforced by the first mention of the term “heavy metal thunder” during the second verse.  

This song was the third single release from the group’s debut album, and was their biggest hit, peaking at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles charts.  In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked the song at #129 on their list of  The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. In 2009, it was named the 53rd best hard rock song of all time by VH1.  

The group has sold more than 25 million units to date worldwide, with eight gold albums and twelve Billboard Hot 100 singles (six of which were Top 40 hits), to its credit. Three of these songs made it to the Top 10.  

Having now provided several clues as to the identity of the song and group, without further ado, this week’s selection is the #2 hit from 1968, Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild.”  

Here is the original version of “Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf, which was prominently featured in the 1969 film, “Easy Rider”, starring Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and the as yet little known Jack Nicholson.  Although Nicholson had played various roles in films dating back to 1958, “Easy Rider” represented his first big break, which materialized after the original actor, Rip Torn, became involved in an argument with actor/director Dennis Hopper during which the two nearly came to blows.  

Remarkably, Peter Fonda had wanted Crosby, Stills and Nash to record the soundtrack for the film. They are a wonderfully talented group, but the soundtrack for “Easy Rider”?

This one is a bit of a surprise from an unlikely cover artist. Wilson Pickett recorded this version in 1969, complete with brass…

Here is a black and blue live version from New York in 1980, combining the talents of Black Sabbath and Blue Oyster Cult…

Overcome with an urge to dance?  This one’s for you.  Jo Carol performs with Modern Rocketry in this  disco/synth pop version from 1987, beginning with “Born to Be Wild”, then morphing into “Into the Future.”  Tragically, Jo Carol died from a cerebral aneurysm in San Francisco in 2003, at the age of 47…

Kansas performs live on February 14, 1989 at the Tower Theater in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This was part of their “In the Spirit of Things Tour” and was played as an encore. This show was featured on the weekly radio program “The King Biscuit Flower Hour.”

This version by INX in 1993 was published to launch Virgin Radio in the UK.

Bruce Springsteen performs live from Valle Hovin in Oslo, Norway on June 1, 1993. The band originally started playing this on USO tours and had wanted to end each show with everyone on stage playing at the same time. They decided to use it as an encore on the US leg of their ITSOT tour.

Kim Wilde changes it up a little with female lead vocals, in a version that has subtle shades of a dance version (2002)…

Slayer performed with vocal heavy version on May 21, 2002…

Hinder recorded this interpretation in 2007 for use by TNT for their NASCAR on the TNT Summer Series broadcasts of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2007 and 2008. It was also included on the CD of their 2007 re-release album “Extreme Behavior” along with a non NSCS version of the music video.

The Warriors change up the tempo in this version, posted on February 13, 2008…

Ready for an Japanese acoustic version? On the slide guitar? Keisuke Kuwata performs live on February 27, 2008…

Another acoustic? The Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain displays some fine instrumental work as well as multi-part vocal harmonies in this version from 2008…

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 9 from San Francisco, California. This one also stakes out some new territory. From October 4, 2009…

Do you think that relying almost exclusively on bowed string instruments might be an impediment? Well, maybe not. OAYS with The Mark Wood Experience from October, 2009…

Is the Pony/Pie/Hide rating system too cutsie?

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  1. Anyone remember the Gong Show?  Any thoughts as to how this performance would have fared?  Joe Barris, where are you?  

    A few more from the cutting room floor…

    The English rock band Slade performed this guitar-dominated interpretation of “Born to Be Wild” in 1969…

    Ebba Gron performed this interpretation sometime in the late 1970s…

    Riot recorded this high-speed version in 1979…

  2. …. cringe!

    RIP, Richard Farnsworth.  

    • RUKind on November 13, 2010 at 5:55 am

    Never heard of this festival. What a freakin’ line up!!!

    Jorma, Little Feat, John Prine, Emmylou Harris, Lyle Lovett – too many to mention. Three days on six stages.

    And of course, Bob Weir, of the Dead, playing rhythm on that version shown. Way cool.

    Steppenwolf obviously pwns this song. The vocals and the guitars are such a perfect match for the lyrics. I remember listening to this going cross-country on surf trips to Laguna and Huntington Beach. Old Route 66 two lane black top no speed limits – until you hit a one gas station town (25 mph). Windows down, Momnument Valley whipping by…  ‘Twas a time.

    Some songs have a way of defining the times. This one is up there with Truckin’.

    Thanks for another great collection. I really appreciate all the work you put into this.


  3. “Remembering when you was young”

    I had  guests in from Canada & we were going over some our adventures from the past, at lunch today.

    It was quite obvious I was born to be wild, & I knew it from an early age.

    I don`t think I disappoint.(at least not myself)

    I shall soon answer an email I received, that deserves much more time than I`ve had lately.

    I will be reviewing your covers of a great Toronto based band from the time I was there, but only tomorrow since I`m going to a showing of my Toronto guests at a gallery showing of their artwork tomorrow & need some rest.

    I will be back, fear not.

  4. Me & my 46 Knucklehead in 1971.

    (I`ve had my name for a while.)

    You might notice there`s only one cable from the bars, a throttle cable.

    There`s no front brake, & no clutch cable, since I ride “suicide” shift.

    (Foot clutch, hand shift)

    The later version, the ’37’ has a front brake cable, but it`s a simple mechanical drum brake. (very Flintstone)

     TONY`S 46 KNUCKLEHEAD circa; 1974 sc001a771d

    Here you can see the pot leaves painted into the tank.


    And here is my present 37 Knuckle.

    My 37 DSCN0961


  5. I don`t want to take anymore away from your excellent choice, but for more of my Knucklehead life, see here.

    I really think I was born to be wild.


  6. This might be the first image in the set I tried to link.


  7. yeah, that would be the version of plutocratic uprising I can see happening.  Except they’ll all be Cheney’s cyborg zombies with a machine pumping their blood.

    I want my epic Boss Battle…

  8. because I’m a dork like that.

  9. …or is that The Hulk on a …on a …, excuse me, I can barely say it, but, no, it’s not a moped, but oh so close, …

    Is that Hulk Hogan on a motor scooter?

    No, no.  Tell me it’s Jesse Ventura!

  10. I was somewhat rushed earlier, but wanted to comment further on the photo image at the beginning of the essay.  Yes, it is possible to tool around on a Vespa and wear flip flops, and still look like a tough guy while doing it…that is, if you’re Hulk Hogan. On the other hand…

    Here are a couple of other photo images that were considered, but didn’t quite make the final cut…

    vespa Pictures, Images and Photos

    vespa Pictures, Images and Photos

    Vespa Pictures, Images and Photos

    motorcycle art Pictures, Images and Photos

    Here are three more cover versions of “Born to Be Wild.” These are all pretty high energy, and tend to be more guitar driven…

    Raven — This cover was published on 7″EP and Picture-EP Born to Be Wild, and it was one of the bonus tracks on the reissues of this album.  From 1983…

    The heavy metal band Lizzy Borden performed this version in 1988.  This clip is derived from the documentary film called “The Decline Of Western Civilization Part II: Metal Years from 1988.”

    EXS (2010) — Taken from the first EP “Open Your Wings” (2010)

  11. They’ve been around since 1985 and play various classic rock standards, adapting them to be played by a string quartet. The group has recorded “Born to Be Wild”, but I can’t seem to find a video version anywhere.  

    Here is a medley of some of their other work — a great opportunity to play name that tune…

  12. “A Girl I Knew” was their very first release from their debut album. If 1000 people were blindfolded and were to listen to this song, how many would guess that it’s Steppenwolf? Possibly a handful who had purchased the first album? The song did not chart…

    “Magic Carpet Ride” can be found on their second album, creatively entitled, “The Second”, and would become their second most successful hit, following on the heels of “Born to Be Wild” and peaking at #3 in 1968…

    “Rock Me” can be found on their third album, entitled “At Your Birthday Party”, and topped out at #10 in 1969 (their very last Top 10 hit)…

    “Move Over” from their “Monster” album, rose to #31 in 1969…

    Although the title track from the “Monster” album may have been the most important song ever performed by Steppenwolf, it never received its due recognition, rising only to a #39 ranking. While “Born to Be Wild” has received more than 1,000,000 views, this song is currently at 5,732 views.  Go figure.

    As a bonus, “Monster” provides some important history lessons, but don’t look for it to become part of our curriculum at your local public schools. I suppose we can all rest easy knowing that the concerns of 1969 no longer apply…or do they?

    “Hey Lawdy Mama” in 1970 was Steppenwolf’s fifth single to reach the Top 40, peaking at #35…

    Fast forward to 1974 for Steppenwolf’s final Top 40 hit, with some added brass, possibly their tribute to Annie Oakley, “Straight Shootin’ Woman”, rose to a #29 ranking. The song represents a definite departure (not unpleasant by any means, however) from their earlier music.  Strap yourself in and enjoy!

  13. This might go well in your archives.

    Be sure to look at the offerings on the right also.


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