From undisputed classics through interesting reinventions to downright abominations, Silent Versions looks at half a dozen different imaginings of the same song.

Smoking gun in hand, Joe is off to Mexico. His starting point, however, is a little more complicated. Originally registered for copyright by folk singer Billy Roberts, there have been numerous disputes of author since, including Niela Miller, an ex-lover of Roberts, Dino Valenti, a friend who received royalties during the mid-sixties and fellow folkster Tim Rose, offering the notion that it was a traditional folk song with no singular author. Interesting as all the he-said-she-said is, Roberts is widely credited with writing Hey Joe and that’s good enough for us. What is undeniable is that as a template it’s an absolute marvel – one which lends itself to multiple genres, tempos and languages. We’ve picked out six here, and could have easily picked six more, each as unique as the last.

Jimi Hendrix Experience

It may not be the inaugural recording, but it is the Jimi Hendrix Experience version from which all others are judged. That unmistakable opening lick is one of the most recognisable in rock. Popular culture has aided the notoriety of this as the classic, featuring in several film scores including Forest Gump and Wayne’s World 2. Hendrix yelp of “I gave her the gun/I shot her!” leading into the solo is one of the finest moments of his tragically short career. Even to those who only know of this version, it would be hard to feel short-changed.

The Leaves

Justifiably regarded as a Hendrix song, but it is The Leaves who receive credit for getting into the studio first. Much like the authorship of the song this is disputed by The Surfaris, but little evidence supports their claim. As for the music, due to the strummed intro it is only the familiar opening line which links this and the ubiquitous Hendrix version. Even the title is a variant, going with the lengthened ‘Hey Joe Where You Gonna Go’. This became the basis for many garage rock versions in the 60s with Love and The Standells among those who recorded it.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

Did someone mention murder? Step forward everyone’s favourite musical assassin Nick Cave. Cave has more songs about killing than Kasabian have about nothing. Taken from 1986 covers album ‘Kicking Against The Pricks’, the song’s content is perfect for the Bad Seeds, who create a dense and claustrophobic backing track, with just enough room for Cave’s authoritative narration. It’s as sinister as you’d expect, borne out of the sort of grandiose, theatrical rock from which The Bad Seeds reputation is formed. If Hey Joe were ever to be made into a film, look no further than this for a soundtrack.

Patti Smith

It’s 1977, the daughter of media mogul Randolph Hearst is kidnapped and brainwashed by a violent, left-wing revolutionary group and in response the godmother of Punk Patti Smith releases a cover of Hey Joe, complete with bracing social commentary. The opening monologue is powerful, but is nothing compared to the close, which sees Smith at her fiercely literate best. These brilliant ad-libs bookend an enjoyable cover, which would not be out of place on her masterpiece ‘Horses’.

Charlotte Gainsbourg

When you first hear that beautiful hushed vocal, it’s impossible not to imagine Charlotte Gainsbourg lying in bed. Has Joe himself taken another lover? He wouldn’t be the first bloke to revel in a moment of ‘do as I say, not as I do’. Arranged by Beck for the soundtrack of Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, the pair produce an airy blues number perfectly befitting the art-house film. A punchy rhythm section ensures the song isn’t without menace; in fact the only thing missing here is an emphatic climax – something you would expect a Gainsbourg to excel in.

Soft Cell

When Hendrix, The Leaves and countless others were mastering Hey Joe free love was in the air. By the time Soft Cell had got their grubby mitts on it, sexual liberation had evolved into sleaze. Despite plundering the 60s for their biggest hit, the likelihood of recording a Hendrix medley must have been slim. The centrepiece is an implausibly catchy keyboard riff which Calvin Harris would kill for. The throbbing beat further sets this apart from other versions while Marc Almond’s pride in shooting his lover helps to conjure images of a seedy X Rated underworld. Pretty much like everything else in Soft Cell’s arsenal.

Joseph Curran

Features Editor and gig reviewer