Five From the Archive: Elliott Smith’s Best Covers

Elliott Smith always picked interesting songs to cover. Some that were well known, some that were more obscure. But they were all good. They certainly hit my musical sweet spot. These five selections are just a sampling — he was a serial covererist — and you can find more just browsing through the shows available on the Internet Music Archive.

1. Elliott Smith – “Harvest Moon”. I’ll be honest. I’m a huge Neil fan, but not that big a fan of this song. Or the album it comes from. But this is a really tender cover of the song, and I think Elliott brings out the best in the song. I think I prefer this version over Neil’s. Full show:  April 5, 1999 – Ludlow’s, Columbus, OH

2. Elliott Smith – “Jealous Guy”. He played this a lot in 1998. His whistling is a little weak in this version — which is why he usually asked the audience to whistle with him — but the sound quality is outstanding. Soundboard recording. Full show: April 17, 1998 – Black Cat, Washington, DC

3. Elliott Smith – “Ballad of a Thin Man”. “Something is happening, but you don’t know what it is… do you, Mr. Jones?” When it starts, just Elliott playing his guitar, you can hear the telltale rustle of the snare as he strums. It’s about to get loud in there. Full show: October 11, 1998 – 400 Club, Minneapolis, MN

4. Elliott Smith – “Isn’t It a Pity”. “Isn’t it a pity? Isn’t it a shame? How we break each other’s hearts, and cause each other pain?” Lyrically, it’s a perfect cover choice for Elliott. Heartbreaking vocals accompanied only by his acoustic guitar. A soundboard recording. Full show: August 12, 1998 – Maxwell’s, Hoboken, NJ

5. Elliott Smith – “Out on the Weekend”. This is the poorest quality recording of the bunch. It’s still going to blow your mind. It wraps up with about two minutes of mumbling into the microphone, but I can’t understand what he’s saying… From: December 21, 2001 – Showbox, Seattle, WA

5 thoughts on “Five From the Archive: Elliott Smith’s Best Covers”

  1. I wouldn’t say I forget it, I just didn’t include it here… That’s actually one of my least favorite covers of his, only because I’m not a huge Big Star fan. It’s a good song, he does it well, but it doesn’t do anything personally for me. I’d put his “When I paint my masterpiece” ahead of his “Thirteen” cover any day.

    But I know a lot of people (Jake included) who think Big Star is great, and love Elliott Smith’s “Thirteen” cover, so your point is well taken, Kevin. Thanks for the comment.

  2. I love Big Star and I love Elliott Smith and I love the song “Thirteen” but I don’t think I’ve ever heard a cover that song by any artist that really does anything with it. I’d rather listen to the original.

    He’s recorded lots of covers in the studio that are awesome, but studio recordings are not included in the Live Music Archive and therefore out of the scope of this column.

    My personal favorite is his version of the Schoolhouse Rock song, “Figure 8” (originally performed by Blossom Dearie). Here’s a snippet of video of him recording it:

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