Tenacious D’s Greatest Classic Rock Covers
Jack Black and Kyle Gass met when they were members of the Actors' Gang theater company in Los Angeles. They launched Tenacious D in 1994, and their first show was that same year at Al's Bar in the city. Gigs quickly followed around the country, sometimes with a famous fan in the audience. "We went to Seattle, and Eddie Vedder came to one of our shows before we had a record. He was just fucking there," Black recalled to Rolling Stone in 2021.
Grohl also started following the band. "We were playing, and Dave came between the curtains at the Viper Room and tried to pretend like he was just a nobody, like, 'Hey, guys, I love your stuff, have a good show, no big deal that I'm Dave Grohl giving you props before a show,'" Gass recalled to Kerrang! The witty rockers ended up opening gigs for friends like Beck, Pearl Jam and Foo Fighters, and would later be invited to the Kennedy Center Honors in 2012 to pay homage to Led Zeppelin.
"It's comedy folk-rock. We're two acoustic guitars at our core and singing like Simon & Garfunkel, but then we're most heavily influenced by heavy metal bands of the '80s," Black said in an interview with Fresh Air's Terry Gross in 2013. "And we used to make fun of the devil because the devil's influence on '80s metal is so prevalent, and now it just seems so ridiculous and hilarious."
Tenacious D has covered some of the most iconic songs in classic rock history, in addition to pop-culture standbys like the Fat Albert and Star Trek theme songs. We highlight a bunch of these covers below.
"Flash," written by Queen guitarist Brian May, was the theme song for 1980's Flash Gordon, a gloriously over-the-top science fiction movie starring future James Bond Timothy Dalton. Tenacious D's acoustic guitar-off is equally glorious.
"You Never Give Me Your Money," The Beatles
In a 2013 interview with the group MomsLA, Black was asked "Beatles or Stones?" Black replied, "Oh, Beatles, first. The Stones are a little dark," and then broke into song to drive home his point. After a short rendition of the sweet, uptempo Beatles line, "I wanna hold your hand," Black scrunched up his face and sang the heavy chorus from "Paint It, Black" and said with a sly grin, "You don't start there. You don't start with the devil. No, you start with the angel. Then you go to the devil later on."
"Pinball Wizard," The Who
In 2022, Tenacious D released "The Who Medley," a three-song tribute to the Who's 1969 rock opera Tommy. It features "Pinball Wizard," "There’s a Doctor" and "Go to the Mirror!" Proceeds from the sale of the vinyl were donated to the group Everytown for Gun Safety.
"There's a Doctor," The Who
“Who better to deliver a tribute to the greatest rock opera of all times? Who? The D! That’s who," Tenacious D said in a statement with the release of "The Who Medley." "We’ve been working on this medley for 20 years. It’s finally ready to be unleashed. Crank it. It’s a humdinger. Enjoy.”
"Rock and Roll," Led Zeppelin
"Led Zeppelin, the greatest rock 'n' roll band of all time," Black said as he paid tribute to the band at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2012. "Better than the Beatles, better than the Stones, even better than Tenacious D." The camera panned through the crowd as John Paul Jones, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page looked on, grinning ear to ear and laughing. Black was quick to defend his position: "If you don't agree with me, it's because you never did the Zeppelin marathon," he said. "The Zep-athon is where you sit your ass down and listen to all nine Zep albums in a row, the thing that every true fan must do at least once in their lifetime. [It's] the pilgrimage to heavy metal mecca."
"Gonna Have a Good Time (Fat Albert Theme)," Michael Gray
Tenacious D first played the "Gonna Have a Good Time (Fat Albert Theme)" on Aug. 27, 1999. It has appeared in their set lists more than 50 times.
"Theme From Star Trek," Alexander Courage
Rumors flew in 2009 that Black was talking with director J.J. Abrams about taking on the role of Harry Mudd in a Star Trek movie. Although that didn't happen, Black did leave open the possibility of collaborating with Abrams in the future. Black and Gass have continued to perform the Star Trek theme in typical Tenacious D fashion.
"Chop Suey!" System of a Down
System of a Down and Tenacious D ruled the first week of Guitar Hero Live's 24-hour playable online music video network when it debuted in 2015, gripping the No. 1 and No. 2 spots with their songs "Chop Suey!" and "Tribute," respectively. Tenacious D's version of "Chop Suey!" continues to be one of the duo's most popular covers.
"Good Times Bad Times," Led Zeppelin
"Holy Diver," Dio
“I don’t think Dio wanted to pass us the torch,” Black told The Ringer in 2021. “I think we stole it.” When Ronnie James Dio died in 2010, Black - a huge fan - paid tribute to the onetime Black Sabbath and Rainbow singer by writing the song "Dio." In 2014, Tenacious D won a Best Metal Performance Grammy for their rendition of the 1984 Dio classic “The Last in Line." Black also gave the singer a guest spot in their 2006 movie Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny.
"Crazy Train," Ozzy Osbourne
"Crazy Train" was written by Osbourne, guitarist Randy Rhoads and bassist Bob Daisley, inspired by a popular toy. "Randy was into trains – he used to collect model trains, and so did I," Osbourne told Songfacts. "I've always been a train buff and so was Randy. So I said, 'Randy, that sounds like a train. But it sounds nuts.' And I said, 'A crazy train.'" Released in 1980, "Crazy Train" has appeared in many places, including Mitsubishi car commercials and episodes of The Office and The Simpsons. A midsong somersault is one thing Osbourne has yet to attempt while performing it, but Black pulls it off here.
"(Don't Fear) The Reaper," Blue Oyster Cult
Tenacious D isn't the only group to put a spin on this well-known Blue Oyster Cult song that ponders the afterlife. On April 8, 2000, Saturday Night Live unleashed the classic “More Cowbell” sketch with this song as the backdrop.
"Heaven and Hell," Black Sabbath
The song was recorded at a time when Black Sabbath was replacing original singer Ozzy Osbourne with Ronnie James Dio. Black Sabbath released the classic Heaven and Hell album in April 1980, self-funding much of the album. Tenacious D had that in common with Black Sabbath, showing equal tenacity in recording their debut album. "$30,000 a minute," Black said to Variety about the band's process. "I don’t remember how much it was, but it was like, this is not free. It’s actually really expensive."
"Keep on Loving You," REO Speedwagon
The familiar lyric, "You should have seen by the look in my eyes, baby," applies more to Black's famous wild-eyed scowl than it does to a couple of awestruck lovebirds seated next to a romantic sunset. Black's impossible-to-duplicate vocal delivery in this clip offers what sounds like a glorious mash-up of an electric guitar and a shrieking macaw.
"And Your Bird Can Sing," The Beatles
While Tenacious D may have made a name for themselves by combining jokey takes and lyrical twists on classic songs, they can play, too. Gass and Tenacious D guitarist John Konesky provide a soaring guitar riff from the Beatles' "And Your Bird Can Sing."
"Sweet Child O' Mine," Guns N’ Roses
“In the immortal words of Axl Rose," Black said as he got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2018, "‘Where do we go now?'” And then he broke into Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine." Black has shared a stage several times with guitarist Slash.
"The Mob Rules," Black Sabbath
Mob Rules, Black Sabbath's 10th album, was released in November 1981 and was their second with singer Ronnie James Dio. Tenacious D delivers a faithful version of the title track.
"Find the Cost of Freedom," Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Tenacious D made a guest appearance onstage with the band they were paying tribute to: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Ten years later, the two acts would get back together for the Light Up the Blues benefit at L.A.'s Dolby Theater to raise autism awareness.
"Sunshine of Your Love," Cream
Eric Clapton often includes this famous Cream song in his solo shows. When the '60s band played a handful of reunion concerts in 2005, "Sunshine of Your Love" was an encore. Tenacious D's version allows Black to display his vocal range.
"Lose Yourself," Eminem
Tenacious D has performed Eminem's classic song live just a handful of times, but it's popped up elsewhere over the years. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Black encouraged his fans on social media to get vaccinated by posting a post-vaccination video of himself transforming into different members of the Avengers, with Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” playing in the background. After the video was released and went viral, the song re-entered the charts.
"Ohio," Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Neil Young's protest song was written following the 1970 Kent State University shootings, which left four people dead. Tenacious D performed the song at a Get Out & Vote concert in Milwaukee in the fall of 2008 when they shared the bill with David Crosby and Graham Nash. Black stops midsong because he thinks they are "butchering a classic."
"Barracuda" was written by Heart's Ann and Nancy Wilson, guitarist Roger Fisher and drummer Michael Derosier, and was the lead single from their 1977 album, Little Queen. The Tenacious D version provides a rare take without its signature guitar riff ... for about a minute anyway.
"Sunday Bloody Sunday," U2
In 2009, Black attended President Barack Obama's inaugural celebration at the Lincoln Memorial, where U2 performed. Black's path crossed with Bono again, in a completely different way, as he switched up the lyrics to "Sunday Bloody D-day."
"Taxman," The Beatles
"Oh My Golly!" Pixies
Pixies are one of Black's favorite bands. "Frank Black is a hero, and he is like the Kung Fu Panda of rock because he is big and fat, but he’s also very relaxed and he’s very talented,” Jack Black, who provided the voice of the main character in the 2008 movie Kung Fu Panda, said to the Observer in 2016. Frank Black, aka Black Francis, performed with Tenacious D in 2009 at the Winston Calling benefit show.
Black has expressed his admiration for Nirvana several times over the years. "When you think about rock at its origin, and you think of the Beatles and millions of kids screaming as loud as they can and running as fast as they can towards the Beatles, there's no one who is that kind of lightning rod, who commands that kind of power and has that kind of creative magma," Black told Rolling Stone in 2012. "I contend that the last band to really have that kind of power, I'm gonna say, was Nirvana. Who since Nirvana has been as big as Nirvana in that way?"
"Smells Like Teen Spirit," Nirvana
"I personally hold no one in higher esteem in the world of rock. Kurt Cobain for me is at the top of the pyramid," Black said to E! in 2012. "He was the king. …When he died, it was sort of the end of rock." The comments came after Cobain's widow, Courtney Love, said that the G-rated cover of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" from The Muppets movie "raped" the memory of the Nirvana frontman. Black, who appears in the scene where the song is covered, told E!, "I beg to differ. That's absurd, absurd, absurd."
"Squeeze Box," The Who
Written by Pete Townshend and released in 1975, "Squeeze Box" peaked at No. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and has become one of the Who's most instantly recognizable songs. Tenacious D performed the song at the 2008 VH1 Rock Honors, which paid tribute to bands that influenced the history of rock 'n' roll.
"The Heart of Rock & Roll," Huey Lewis & the News
Huey Lewis once said on Twitter: "Tenacity. With the music business, you have to be more tenacious than ever. It’s just tougher than ever." Enter Tenacious D, covering one of Huey Lewis & the News' biggest hits.
"War Pigs," Black Sabbath
Tenacious D covered Black Sabbath's immortal "War Pigs" on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno on May 19, 2011.
"Working for the Weekend," Loverboy
Since its release in 1981, Loverboy's "Working for the Weekend" has been covered by artists like the Brown Derbies, Jet Motor Crash, the Recliners and Habitual Sex Offenders. But only Jack Black can mimic guitar sounds like they're part of the vocals.