At first glance, it may seem unlikely that Squidbillies, the animated series that airs as part of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming, is currently running in its tenth season. No one really thought that a plotline involving, as Wikipedia so succinctly summarizes, “an impoverished family of anthropomorphic hillbilly mud squids living in the Georgia region of the Blue Ridge Mountains” would stay fresh well into a decade.
The show, which is the brainchild of veteran Adult Swim gurus Dave Willis and Jim Fortier, mines for the same absurd, comic gold as that of associated productions Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Space Ghost Coast to Coast, and The Brak Show. They repeatedly find that gold not only through the exploits of resident squids Early, Rusty, Granny, and Lil Cuyler, but also in guest appearances from the likes of everyone from David Allen Coe and the Drive-By Truckers, to one 2010 episode featuring Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, Lucinda Williams, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Hayes Carll, Todd Snider, and Rhett Miller.
Best of all, the Squidbillies theme, performed by grizzled country outlaw Billy Joe Shaver, regularly gets the cover treatment. The bleak and shuffling honky tonk original, grunted out from the original Squids’ intro master, is often imitated but rarely improved (though we think our number one pick gives it a run for its money). “Squidbillies Theme” actually contains multiple stanzas, though its iconic four lines are excerpted and covered the most. Shaver was a natural choice to tap for the theme; his renegade antics—including a barroom brawl settled with the famous words, “Where do you want it?” after which he shot a man in the face (and was later acquitted for it)—are the stuff of legend. So without further ado, here are the 9 best cover versions of the Squidbillies theme song.
In his trademark autotune, T-Pain, who also collaborates with Early (voiced by Unknown Hinson, aka Stuart Daniel Baker) on the fifth season vignette, “(I Like) Driving In My Truck,” takes a soulful turn at the theme, transforming this guns a’blazing outlaw anthem into a soulful, piano ballad. Soliciting Pain’s participation was easy. As Willis told MTV: “T-Pain is a huge Adult Swim fan and he lives down the road a piece. No, he lives up in Cobb County or something. But he’s going to be in an episode this season and it was one of those things where someone knew him in the building and he’s a huge Adult Swim fan. So we just called his people and were like, ‘Yeah, alright, come on in!’”
In this cut for the eighth season, Case delivers a spooky take—full of haunting reverb and snarled lyrics you’d be excused for thinking she lifted from her own notebook. She actually does, in fact, churning out the tune’s first three lines faithfully, “My dreams are all dead and buried / Sometimes I wish the sun would just explode / When God comes and takes me to his kingdom,” while swapping the final lyric, “I’ll take all you sons of bitches when I go!” for “I’ll burn all you sons of bitches on the stone!” Let ‘er blow, indeed!
In 2012, a year before he passed away, country legend George Jones won the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and also recorded this full cover of this song. At 45 seconds into the song, he adds the line, “I’m fixing to stop loving you today,” a clear nod to one of his most famous hits, “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” This cover finds his voice weary and strained, but light-hearted and still twinkling with mischief. Plus, this particular track was produced by Dave Cobb (Shooter Jennings, Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell) and features notable session cats Hargus “Pig” Robbins, Jim “Moose” Brown, and Robby Turner, among others.
Also in 2012, this country crooner took this crack at a cover, delivering this driving, easy rolling, Skynyrd-esque extended cut with his then-band the 400 Unit. (Spoiler alert: The Grammy-winning Isbell voices a tattooed pastor, Kyle Nubbins, in the current season’s series finale.)
With her longtime guitarist David Rawlings, Americana queen Gillian Welch nails “Squidbillies Theme” with this mournful rendition. Like Case, Welch’s typically brooding and introspective style is well-fitted to the song, and she weaves her languid lyrics around Rawlings’ resonant, tender chimes. It’s a lovely way to the bottom (and hearing Welch, an enduring sweetheart of the roots music scene, get authentic as she huffs out “sons of bitches,” is cathartic, too).
King Khan is an offbeat dude, and encountering the psychedelic, neo-soul showman in unexpected venues is always refreshing. Here he gives viewers and listeners the typical King Khan treatment—with horns aplenty, soul for days, and that raging blues howl—but it’s a welcome change from the theme’s typically countrified adaptations.
In a creative twist, reggae master Jimmy Cliff brightens things up with a ray of Jamaican sunshine, exchanging the doom of lyrics like “My dreams are all dead and buried” to “My dreams are alive / Even if the sun should explode.” He goes on to “invite you sons of God” to get in on his vision, all amidst a bumping, jubilant ragga score. At 68 years-old, Cliff is still the original rude boy, even if he finds himself in Dougal County, Ga.
Van Etten effectively ups the ante and makes “Squidbillies Theme” all her own. Dreamy, lived-in, and unhurried, the artist recorded the version at her home studio in Brooklyn, playing all instruments—guitars, tambourine, drums—herself, adding her own gorgeously layered vocals on top. Taking the time to settle in and really feel the song, Van Etten owns the song in ways few other artists have; this is perhaps because she sounds both serious and offhanded at once, distilling the show’s absurdity into a finely rendered 30-second clip.
When you tap the reigning king of the Bakersfield sound to give “Squidbillies Theme” a workover, you either get one of two things: Dwight Yoakam laughing in your face, or the best damn cover of the song out there yet. That twang, that yodel, that flinty guitar: this is the song Shaver might have made if he stayed away from drugs, booze, bars, women, and most of all, Dougal County. Let ‘er blow, Dwight. You give Squidbillies everywhere something to strive for.