No one would ever believe me if I said the Black Crowes recorded the most popular song of all time. I am writing to stand by this radical claim not because I am some crazed Black Crowes fan that thinks the band deserves a higher place in the hierarchy of rock n’ roll. In fact, I think the Robinson brothers and crew have received more than enough accolades since “Shake Your Money Maker” was released in 1990. Rather, my claim is backed by the simple fact that their version of “Hard to Handle” is the most widely played song ever by cover bands during the last 20+ years.
Every wedding band, bar band, and party band in the United States and beyond has this damn song on their set list. Why? Perhaps it is due to the fact that it is quite easy to play (But remember! The last chorus goes through the final progression 4 times before the post-chorus!). It could also be because this mid-tempo rocker resides somewhere between straight rock and a rock n’ roll shuffle; satisfying both the “bad-ass” standard of the typical bar bro and the lowered dance standard of the typical bar party-girl. There are so many songs more “popular” than “Hard to Handle”, including, but of course not limited to “Brown Eyed Girl”, “Free Bird”, and “Come Together”. However, none of these songs are played in a bar setting more than “Hard to Handle”. That’s right everyone, not even the countless heckles for “Free Bird” can launch this rock classic past the millions of times “Hard to Handle” has been played in front of a live audience by a band other than the Black Crowes.
When thinking back to all the cover gigs I have played since 2002 (far more than I like to admit), I can honestly say I have played “Hard to Handle” roughly 200 times. I recently asked several of my best friends who are seasoned rock musicians how many times they think they have played “Hard to Handle”, and here are the results:
Guitar Player 1: 200.
Guitar Player 2: 200.
Bass Player 1: 200.
Bass Player 2: 50+.
Drummer 1: 100.
Drummer 2: 150.
Singer 1: 150.
Singer 2: 150.
As I used to say in my old cover band, “Make it stop”! And as Tim Hardaway always said, “You gotta stop the bleed.”
Variety is undoubtedly the spice of life, so my advice to all cover bands is to stop playing “Hard to Handle”. Perhaps replace it with a different song by the Black Crowes, or play a song from the 21st century like “Pleasure Dome (February 26th, 1981)”. It’s hard to change; I mean, look at me: I’m a man from the 70’s mysteriously placed in the modern age. That being said, I think change is inevitable, and it is important for all artists and performers to be original and try new things. Obviously, cover bands are by their very definition unoriginal. But as The Who said, “The music must change.” So be “original” in your song selection, and keep your audiences guessing. And if your audience consists of musicians like me, spare us the headache and please never play “Hard to Handle” again. Please!