The Original vs. The Cover vs. The Cover – “Rock On”

For this month’s edition of “The Original vs. The Cover”, we are going to take on a third version as we tackle the David Essex song “Rock On”.  We will battle it out between David Essex’s original version vs. covers by both Michael Damian and Def Leppard.

The song was written for a movie that David was starring in called “That’ll Be the Day” which also had Ringo Starr and Kieth Moon.  The song, however, was not used in the movie.  David wrote the song based on his character from the movie and it has a pure old rock & roll rebellious attitude.  The song is actually a tip-of-the-hat to the old time rockers as it mentions “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Summertime Blues” as well as it gives a shout-out to an old Hollywood rebel James Dean.

Since we have three versions, we might as well jump right into it.

DAVID ESSEX

David’s version hit #3 on the UK singles chart in 1973 and didn’t do that great in the US, but doesn’t mean we Americans don’t love it.  The song is very unique in that there are no instruments that play any chords which means there is No Guitar and No Piano on the song at all.  It is all bass, percussion and horns.  It is really stripped down.

You can tell a major influence of the song is Jamaican raggae and the whole dub style.  The song is driven by the bass line which was done by Herbie Flowers.  According to Wikipedia…”(Herbie’s) double-tracked bass guitar was treated with a prominent “slapback” delay effect, creating a complex polyrhythmic backbeat.”

That was really all the song needed musically for it to be so impactful and powerful.  The musical uniqueness is what makes this song standout head & shoulders above anything else.  The absence of the guitar and piano is not missed and actually adds to the beauty of the song.  How many times can you say that no guitar is a good thing.  I didn’t think I would ever say that as I love me some guitar rock.

MICHAEL DAMIAN

In 1989, this soap opera actor did a cover version of “Rock On” for the movie ‘Dream a Little Dream’ starring the Corey’s…Corey Haim and Corey Feldman. The version was significantly different from David’s.  It was full on instrumental and added everything under the sun.  It was a heavier, pop version of the song and it ended up reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 which means it did better than the original.

Michael’s version although great in its own right, completely stripped away any of the heart & soul and removing all the distortion sounds contained in the original.  The magic in the instrumentation (or lack thereof) in the original is also missed and makes the song lacking of any real meaning.  The only cool thing about the song was the deep, vocal styling of the name “James Dean”.

DEF LEPPARD

In 2006, Def Leppard did a cover of Rock On for their all covers album ‘Yeah’.  They did release the song as a single and didn’t even chart so why am I giving it any attention…Well, it is easy.  Def Leppard is my favorite band for one, but two is because they still play this regularly in their live shows.  The band feels they have made the song their own and they feel like they wrote it so let’s compare it to the original.

Def Leppard’s version sticks to the original with the bass line.  Rick Savage nails the bass part and is one of the few times he has been allowed to shine in the band.  Where the original adds horns and more percussion, Leppard throws in the guitar work instead.  Phil and Vivian add some really cool and interesting effects with their guitar to add some punch to the song and Joe does great vocally.

While I do like this version and find it much better than than Michael Damian’s version it still doesn’t hold a candle to the original.  Even though it is the heaviest, most rocking version of the three songs, it still is missing the rebellious attitude of the original.

THE VERDICT

This is an easy verdict for me.  David Essex’s original version is the stand out champion.  It is the most unique version of the song, in fact it is so unique that all other versions are fancy Karaoke versions.  The incredible bass work and overall percussion is the magic behind the song as well as the absence of any chords.  David’s vocals showed more heart and feeling and I believed his version had more heart & soul.  I have to admit, I also like the reggae influence as well.

Now it is your turn.  Let me know which version you like best and why.  Also, let me know if there is a version out there that is better and should be included.  I hope you enjoyed the walk through this month’s song.  Have a great rest of week.

“Rock On”

Ooh

Hey, kid, rock ‘n’ roll, rock on
Ooh, my soul
Hey kid, boogie, too, did ya?
Hey, shout, summertime blues
Jump up and down in my blue suede shoes
Hey, kid, rock ‘n’ roll, rock on

And where do we go from here?
Which is a way that’s clear?
Still looking for that blue jean baby queen
Prettiest girl I’ve ever seen
See her shake on the movie screen, Jimmy Dean
(James Dean)

And where do we go from here?
Which is the way that’s clear?
Still looking for that blue jean baby queen
Prettiest girl I ever seen
See her shake on the movie screen, Jimmy Dean
Jimmy Dean

Rock on
Rock on
Rock on
Hey, kid, rock ‘n’ roll, rock on
Rock on
Hey, kid, rock ‘n’ roll, rock on
Rock on
Hey, kid, rock ‘n’ roll, rock on
Rock on
Hey, kid, rock ‘n’ roll, rock on
Rock on
Hey, kid, rock ‘n’ roll, rock on
Rock on
Hey, kid, rock ‘n’ roll, rock on
Rock on
Hey, kid, rock ‘n’ roll, rock on
Rock on
Hey, kid, rock ‘n’ roll, rock on

Written by David Essex

20 thoughts on “The Original vs. The Cover vs. The Cover – “Rock On”

    1. Thank you Mike! I hated the original David Essex song as a teen, as it was so boring and I felt never went anywhere. I was later perplexed as to why a remake of such a boring song that DOES NOT ROCK would ever be made. Frankly, Def Leppard’s cover is the best of the three in my opinion, as it at least has some rock energy.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. I think at one point you said DL might be your favourite band? Which is great that just because they’re a favourite, doesn’t mean everything they do is therefore the best by default. Sometimes the originals are just superior!

    Liked by 1 person

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