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10 John Mayer Covers To Revisit

Check out the American singer-songwriter’s covers of iconic artists like Jimi Hendrix, The Police, Bruce Springsteen and more

Rolling Stone India Oct 16, 2015
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Covers are tricky business; they are invariably compared to their originals and sometimes receive harsh criticism from fans of the original artist. Here is Mayer repeatedly taking on this challenge, bringing his own voice and sound to songs by some of the most influential artist of the century

Beyoncé ”“ XO

Mayer performed a live cover of “XO” [from the 2013 album Beyoncé] shortly after its release. While the orginal song was a mid-tempo contemporary pop offering, Mayer’s version was more simple and soothing, with his vocals accompanied only by acoutic guitar and piano.


Stevie Ray Vaughan ”“ Lenny

Spanning a short career of only seven years, Vaughan is considered one of the forerunners in reviving electronic sounds in blues and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year. “Lenny” is an instrumental track from Vaughan’s 1983 album Texas Flood, and it features smooth electric blues that the American musician is best known for. Mayer released his cover on his 2002 album Any Given Thursday, which was the first time he featured any covers on a record. His prodigy on the guitar on his track brought him to critics’ notice, stabilising his image as a serious, talented musician.


Jimi Hendrix ”“ Bold as Love

The title track on the 1967 Jimi Hendrix Experience album Axis: Bold as Love, this instrumental song is a classic psychedelic rock composition. Mayer’s cover released on his 2006 album Continuum. With this album focusing more on blues rock and soft rock and leaning toward soul, he takes a new view on the Hendrix instrumental song by adding his trademark blues rock elements. His 2008 album Where the Light Is: John Mayer Live in Los Angeles features his live performance of the song, played by the John Mayer Trio. Although the original can’t be challenged or imitated, this cover has a most comforting sound, with exceptional drumming by Steve Jordan.

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[Also check his cover of The Wind Cries Mary]


Guns N’ Roses ”“ Patience

This single was released on the American rock band’s 1988 album G N’ R Lies. With soft whistling complementing the start and end of the song, and lyrics like “All we need is just a little patience,” this song strays from the signature GN’R style and explores gentle folk blues. The Mayer cover features The Voice coach Adam Levine of Maroon 5, whose joint association started when the band opened for Mayer on his 2003 tour. The cover is slower, calmer and features a prominent acoustic guitar. Although stylistically similar to his other music, the highlight of Mayer’s cover isn’t how he covers it, but how comfortably he makes it his own, tailoring it to his style.


The Police ”“ Message in a Bottle

Part of English rock icons The Police’s 1979 album Reggatta de Blanc, “Message in a Bottle” is written by the band’s lead singer Sting, and captures their early sound which eloquently combined reggae rock and punk. The song has lyrics like “I’m sending out an SOS” but is a lively number with a cinching optimistic outlook in the third verse. Mayer’s cover displays a respectful sensitivity to the original theme of the song, even when altered to fit his style.


Radiohead ”“ Kid A

This is the title track of the English rock band’s fourth album, where they revamp their sounds to shocking extents. Moving away from their rock roots, they use synthesizers, electronic sounds and random bursts of husky and distorted vocals, creating an overall atmosphere that is amiably indefinable. This is experimentation at its best. Mayer’s cover, while doing justice to himself, is a slight let down to the song’s originality.


Tom Petty ”“ Free Fallin’

The opening track to Petty’s 1989 debut album Full Moon Fever, “Free Fallin’” is one of his most famous songs, dedicated to young love. Mayer’s live 2008 album Where the Light Is includes a cover of this song ”“ a soulful rendering that is made even sweeter with his iconic acoustic guitar.

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Michael Jackson ”“ Beat It

Part of Jackson’s 1982 album Thriller, the song showcases the King of Pop’s signature dance and music with Eddie Van Halen performing the distinctive guitar solo. Fall Out Boy released a cover of this single on their 2008 live album Live in Phoenix. It features John Mayer doing Van Halen’s guitar solo, which is an exceptionally well played rendition, fitting the cover perfectly.


Bruce Springsteen ”“ I’m On Fire

Released on Springsteen’s 1985 album Born in the U.S.A., this song does away with all the heavy playing; it’s an intimate song full of feeling, expressing love and sexual tension with calm. Mayer’s cover released on his 2009 album Battle Studies. It has the same warmth and feel with the acoustic guitar and on first listen feels like a song just waiting to be covered by him.


Marvin Gaye ”“ Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)

This single is on his 1971 album What’s Going On, which used an easy-going tone and compact instrumentals to convey the emotional upheaval and instability of the time. “Inner City Blues” is the final track of the album, nicely summing up the tone of the album, with drums and multiple vocals. Mayer’s cover released on his 2004 live album As/Is. It’s a livelier, upbeat version featuring Mayer on guitar and vocals and DJ Logic doing a turntable solo.


Other covers worth mention:

Bob Marley ”“ No Woman No Cry

Ray Charles ”“ I Don’t Need No Doctor

Dave Matthews Band ”“ Lovers Lay Down

Pearl Jam ”“ Yellow Ledbetter

Jackson C. Frank ”“ Blues Run the Game


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