This week I’ve been delving into the world of cover songs. When one musician covers another musicians work, generally the results fall into 3 categories:
a.) They are riding off the back of someone else’s success and either fail to honour the original or just manage to make it similar enough that its not offensive to the creator. A bit harsh I guess, I don’t mean to belittle cover bands, I’ve seen some great ones and a live performance of your favourite tune is always welcome if done well. But in a sweeping generalisation (we like those here.. :-)) you are left wishing they sounded more like the original.
b.) In the second category a musician manages to pull off a ‘creative re-imagining’ of someone’s work which makes you like both versions equally but for different reasons. I think a lot of the great covers including the ones I’ve listed here fall into that category and its a pretty special achievement.
c.) The final category is the pinnacle. In some rare examples the covering musician blows the original work to pieces and makes everyone forget that the song was actually penned and performed by someone else. That’s like re-writing Nineteen Eighty-Four in a way that makes people forget Orwell.
I had a few tunes in mind for this list but when I started to dig around there is untold plagiarism to be found. Here is a link to a great resource that helps you search all the songs that a band has covered or had covered by other artists. Hours of fun there if you are a bit geeky like me..
On to the 4 tunes this week.
1.) The Man Who Sold The World – Nirvana – so there were a few great covers on this MTV unplugged recording by Nirvana. The whole thing is such a great piece of musical history for so many reasons. There is the joy of seeing the young Dave Grohl just at the start of a huge career of creativity and the sadness of seeing Kurt Cobain close to the end of his and the thought of what could have been. But this version of Bowie’s tune is poignant, and beautiful. I love it for different reasons to the original and I think it is as important.
2.) All Along The Watch Tower – Jimi Hendrix – sorry to Dylan, but to me Jimi took ownership of this song like someone taking a beat-up old camper van and installing a V8 engine and a Jacuzzi. A towering talent.
3.) In Between Days – Ben Folds – Ben Folds has done a few great covers. If you haven’t heard his version of Dr Dre’s b*tches aint sh*t then you are missing a reworked classic… (and a good laugh) However its this version of the Cure’s 1985 hit that I wanted to share with you. Robert Smith had a birthday at the weekend too so this is a raised glass in his direction. Folds could have easily just sung the song and noodled his piano with his signature contemporary elegance. But I think he really does the message and emotion of the lyrics justice and I personally love what he did here.
4.) Billie Jean – The Civil Wars – Its again so difficult to narrow the field but we have a rule. I hesitated a few times here but wanted to include something a bit different. This cover caught me by surprise one day as I was on the way to work listening to a random playlist. I had to stop and think what it was before it clicked. This recording is pitch perfect and so well produced its almost too polished. I love the way they have pegged it out to almost a slowed waltz.. it shows off this talented duo and is a worthy reissue of the MJ classic.
So there it is for this week – and yes there are many more worth delving into. I’m going to leave you with a video of a cover that would have made the cut apart from the fact that both the artist and the original musician hated it and its generally been derided by the ‘rock community’, whomever they might be..
What I love about this clip is that it was a live performance on the 1990’s music and alternative show ‘The Word’. Seemingly poorly planned and with most of the audience, the acts and potentially the hosts being ‘on something interesting’, there was rarely a dull moment. Least of all with the live music that saw some incredible British TV debuts of bands that went on to become huge. There is a whole article on the show worth a read if you don’t know it linked here. Host Danni Behr gets a bit confused at the intro, but here are The Lemonheads graduating… with ‘Mrs Robinson‘