Metallica, Nirvana, Hozier, and Ed Sheeran Keeping It Traditional

Everyone loves hearing a nice old cover song at a concert, but while the basic next to you might be screaming out STAIRWAY or FREE BIRD, those tunes are merely 50 years old.

Practically new.

If you want to impress your friends, your date, and the guy recording the entire show on his phone while trying to dance, yell out [TRADITIONAL] at your next show and see what happens. Don't laugh - next to The Beatles and Pink Floyd, the most popular tunes bands cover are those from way back in the day.

How far back are we talking?

So far back that if you told them that one day you could summon the entirety of recorded music simply by first saying "Hey Siri play...," they'd stone you until you ran away. Many of your favorite bands are digging into the neverending songbook of yore. Let's follow them there.

Metallica "Whiskey in the Jar"

Since 1998 the metal gods have been faithfully delivering this 17th century Irish classic with its triumphant guitar riff. They placed it on their Garage Inc. covers album and have played it live nearly 100 times, most recently in September in Arizona.

Although many folks walking around today heard it first via the Dubliners or when they re-did it with The Pogues, others may have gotten familiar with it thanks to Thin Lizzy who had a hit with it in '73 after making it a bit harder and adding some new lyrics.

Metallica took that Thin Lizzy/Phil Lynott reworking as a blueprint for their cover that still feels like more of a tribute to the '70s Irish rockers than the poor slob the tune was originally written for.

Ed Sheeran, Hozier "The Parting Glass" & "Amazing Grace"

Often called the greatest Irish folk song, "The Parting Glass" is a 18th century tune people have been singing at the end of the night with friends, at funerals of loved ones, and even at the conclusion of the video game Assassin's Creed.


But maybe the most touching version recently was when Hozier sang it on Ireland's "The Late Late Show," the world's longest running live TV talk show.

In March of 2020, in the early, scarier times of COVID, the host of the show, Ryan Tubridy, had just been tested positive for the deadly virus and an Irish healthcare worker had died.

Filling in for Tubridy was Miriam O'Callaghan, who became the first female host of the popular show. Before Hozier sang the haunting tune, O'Callaghan announced she'd "like to dedicate it to all the people who've lost their lives to this virus, but in particular the health worker who died today."

Hozier doesn't do the song often, but he did it last on his birthday, St. Paddy's Day in NYC this year.

Led Zeppelin, Lead Belly "Gallows Pole"

Robert Plant and Jimmy Page doing the English folk song "Gallows Pole"

If you ever need some cheering up, know that even Led Zeppelin has their critics. After believing some who say Zep "stole" songs from this artist or that one, there were those who called them The World's Greatest Cover Band, because whoever originally wrote the tunes, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and Bonzo magically made it their own.

Look no further than "Gallows Pole" an English folk song originally called "The Maid Freed from the Gallows." As Plant told the audience at the Bizarre Festival when he and Page played there, the song immigrated to the US and made its way into the consciousness of blues legend Leadbelly who recorded it in 1939 as "The Gallis Pole."

Page & Plant heard that record, loved it, and somehow turned it into the rock romp off Led Zeppelin III that hangs right in there with "Immigrant Song."

Zep only played it a few times live, but Page & Plant have performed it over 200 times, while Robert Plant in his solo ventures has sung it nearly 300 times.

Nirvana, Lead Belly, Bill Monroe "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?"

Speaking of Lead Belly, here's another one the bluesman born in 1888 is often credited for popularizing. Both he and bluegrass legend Bill Monroe entertained very different audiences with their equally different renditions of the song that has also gone by the titles "In the Pines", "My Girl", "Hey Girl", and "Black Girl."

It was the last song played on Nirvana's MTV Unplugged session, which was a bit of a surprise because the band had only done it 13 times between 1989 and when they filmed it in 1993.

Surprise may have been replaced with disappointment to Geffen Records who sat through the show probably pulling their hair out that Kurt Cobain and crew had only performed three songs from their recent release, In Utero and only four from Nevermind with its biggest hit missing in action.

But once viewers heard Cobain belt out MY GIRL MY GIRL DON'T LIE TO ME.... with that tortured yet clear yalp it was no longer Lead Belly's or Bill Monroe's. It was also super punk rock.

Nina Simone, Feist "Sea Lion Woman"

Although we are working on it, we don't have a lot of Nina Simone setlists. But of the dozens that are in the database is this interesting fact: her third-most performed tune is the traditional Afrobeat groove "Sea Lion Woman."

You wouldn't think a younger artist like Canadian singer/songwriter Feist would be interested in covering the unusual tune about 19th century prostitutes waiting patiently for ships to dock so they can welcome the sailors.

Where Simone inserted a jazz flute into her studio version, Feist adds an electric guitar, to beautiful results.

Feist has one more show left in her 2023 tour. She'll be back on the road in North America come February, get your tickets on her website.

Hozier has a few more gigs in the US before he heads over to Europe. Many of those shows are sold out so nab them on his site while you can.

Ed Sheeran has two more dates left to play in 2023 then he takes a long vacation until he returns to the stage in June. Get your tickets here.

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Last updated: 21 Feb 2024, 11:30 Etc/UTC