Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning,” originally recorded in 1956, is considered one of his signature songs and indeed is regarded as one of the greatest blues songs of all time.  The ingredients are well-known:  an instantly-recognizable guitar riff, supplied by prolific collaborator Hubert Sumlin; anguished, disjointed lyrics delivered in the Wolf’s gravelly voice; and a wordlessly expressive falsetto punctuating each verse.

“Smokestack Lightning” has been widely covered, especially by other blues artists, by various ’60s bands, and by George “Bad to the Bone” Thorogood.  I’m posting the two below covers because I think they’re particularly unique and interesting renditions of the song.

First, on the Electric Prunes’ live album Stockholm ’67, the California band offered a psychedelic garage rock version of “Smokestack Lightning.”  If you think you’d like to hear a performance of the song which fuses the Doors’ and the Stooges’ sounds… well, then you’ll probably like this cover.

Second, Soundgarden covered the song on their 1988 debut album, Ultramega OK.  Even though this was in the band’s early years (and indeed the quality of the music is not up to their later standards), they’re already experimenting with time signatures; as part of that experimentation, Kim Thayil turns Sumlin’s concise guitar vamp into a very long, undulating riff.  And the whole band tries to make “Smokestack Lightning” into as much of a heavy metal song as possible, complete with an abundance of wailing from Chris Cornell — wailing of a sort that he would wisely abandon by the ’90s.

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