I’m a fan of good covers. In a way, I also like good cover bands, but that’s not really the same thing. I like it when a band who I already like covers a song that I already like. I’m not sure if that makes sense… I am a pretty big fan of The Zombies (60’s British psychedelic pop band). An Indie band that I really like covered one of their best songs, “Tell Her No”. That gave me a raging boner. Deal with it.
Now, this isn’t a steadfast rule. I can’t tell you how many different bands have covered John Lennon’s needlessly controversial yet hauntingly beautiful “Imagine” but I can tell you how many of those covers I have liked – Zero. Not a single fucking one. That is one of my all time favorite songs, and I’ve yet to hear a cover of it that so much as did it justice. Instead we’ve all be treated to renditions of the song ranging from sub-serviceable to fuck-off abysmal. Almost all of my favorite artists have covered it and it hasn’t made me like them more – it’s made me lose some respect for them. in fact, I heard a version the other day that actually made me angry. I won’t share what version that is. I will share that the cover by A Perfect Circle is as bad as it gets before you cross into the, “I don’t want to live on the world anymore” territory.
But there are good covers.
Here’s how it’s gunna work. I’ll list a song. Next to the song I’ll list the original artist. Next to that, I’ll list the cover I want to share. If there are more than one worthy cover, I’ll… I don’t know, list that too. Yeah? Let’s do this. (I talk a bit more after the list)
Aaron’s Notes Playlist of the Month, May 2012 – “I Got It Covered”:
- “I Will Survive” Original: Gloria Gaynor; Cover: Cake
- “Hurt” Original: Nine Inch Nails; Cover: Johnny Cash
- “Personal Jesus” Original: Depeche Mode; Marilyn Manson
- “Whatever you Like” Original T.I.; Cover: Anya Marina
- “The Man Who Sold The World” Original: David Bowie (as Ziggy Stardust… I think); Cover: Nirvana
- “All Along The Watchtower” Original: Bob Dylan; Jimi Hendrix
- “Tainted Love” Original: Gloria Jones; Covers: Soft Cell & Marilyn Manson
- “Blue Monday” Original: new Order; Covers: Orgy, Flunk, Nouvelle Vague
- “Ain’t No Sunshine” Original: bill Withers; Covers: Buddy Guy ft. Tracy Chapman, Michael Jackson, Jazzamor
- “Summertime” Original (or… close enough): Billie Holiday; Covers: Louis Armstrong & Elle Fitzgerald, The Zombies, Sublime, Jazzamor
- “Just My Imagination” Original: The Temptations; Covers: The Rolling Stones, Boyz II Men
- “Creep” Original: Radiohead; Covers: Scala & Kolacny Brothers, Korn, Macy Gray, Karen Souza
- “The Suburbs” Original: Arcade Fire – Cover: Mr. Little Jeans
Lately, my biggest interest in covers has been about the differences between the original and the new joints. I find it most interesting when there are a bevy of covers from different eras and different genres. The all time best example of this has to be the classic George Gershwin song “Summertime”, written for the truly incredible stage musical named “Porgy and Bess”. The original song touches on love and happiness steeped in deep, heavy undertones of melancholy. To be fair, I do like my songs a bit moody. That’s probably why I liked the original so much. But this song is really the first to hip me to the very idea that I could like, nay, except a cover. Before this point, I considered covers for wedding singers and rubes. I wasn’t fond of when rappers sampled. I didn’t like when classic acts did each other’s works. I flat-out hated it when some hot new pop group would do a full on cover and act like they were the first.
In retrospect, that was a very ignorant and foolish way to feel and be. In actuality, these artist are offering one of the greatest between-artist-honors they can. They are showing their reverence and respect by repoducing the original the best way they feel they can. Now, instead of hearing a new song that’s a cover of an old one and saying, “They fuckin’ ripped ’em off!!! Fuck them!!!” I say, “Wow, that song is so good that it still works. Fuck yeah.” I find it especially important when the cover is cross-genre. The example of this that I think most people alive today could recognize is “Hurt”.
“Hurt” is a real motherfucker of a song. Originally written and performed by Nine Inch Nails (well… I mean… Trent Reznor. I mean… let’s not be weird), it has been covered by several other artists. Deth Metal, Nue Metal, Techno… all the usual suspects. At some point, there was an anonymous acoustic cover floating around the Gnapsters of the world. I should see if that’s still around… but for my generation, the concept of a “Cover” was flipped on its head when we heard the soul searing cover of “Hurt” – by Johnny Cash.
The song was already deep and dark and moody and just cut right at the fucking soul, and now we hear it in the raw, unprocessed, unaffected, unfiltered and heartbreaking voice of a man that everyone knew had been through all of the serious shit that it could possibly take to sing and play that song with any realism, and truth. It reached out and gutted us. It shoved the oldschool musicians like Johnny right in the faces of the 80’s – 90’s kids like me and forced the oldschool music fans acknowledge that the new generation still had it. It was good. And for a short while, we all agreed – that’s a damn good song.
Sometimes covers are faithful. The Nirvana cover of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World” and Alice in Chains’ version of “Suffragette City” were basically just same-mega-genre updates of the originals. You could argue that there were different genres, much like the Micheal Jackson cover of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t no Sunshine”, but… c’mon. Be realistic. Those genres belong under bigger umbrellas. That being said, those covers were pretty damned good. As a guy who kinda doesn’t much like Nirvana, me saying so should say something to you.
Sometimes the covers are close by different in a way that really make them matter. Jimi Hendrix’s cover of Bog Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” is moving. It’s not terribly different by modern standards – folk and rock were considerably more distinct by then. But when you sit down and actually listen to the songs back-to-back, man… they are night and day. And both absolutely amazing.
But my favorite, my absolute favorite covers are those that don’t sound anything like the original but someone seem to either keep the spirit of the original, get even deeper to the point or, disturbingly, take the original in a new and completely unseated direction. “Blue Monday” as a song by New Order did nothing for me. As a song by Orgy (a band that otherwise prettywell sucked) it was interesting and dangerous. Other versions are touching. And a select few are just downright skin-crawling inducing creepfest horrors. Yuck with a hand-gesture.
Glenn Danzig (yes, that Glenn Danzig) frequently covered the Blues. Tool & A Perfect Circle frontman Maynard James Keenan famously mashed up Ozzy Osbourne’s “Diary of a Madman” and The Cure’s “Lovesong”. Jay-Z masterfully combined his own music with that of The Beatles. Admittedly… it can go very wrong. I love me some Scarlett Johansson and I can really dig on some Tom Waits songs… but ol’ Scary Jo’s cover album of Tom Waits was hit or miss at best.
I feel like I’ve started to ramble, and I really don’t have time to do my normal triple-readthrough-edit… so let me bring it back to an earlier point. I like the way that music evolves. I like to see its path. I like to see a song ebb and flow through time, across genres, and over peoples. That song I mentioned earlier, “Summertime”, seriously. Go look that up. Listen to every version. I mean, a song named “Doin’ Time” by Sublime was inspired by it. Some say that the Fresh Prince of Bell Air and D.J. Jazzy Jeff (whom we now know as Will Smith and… um… who?) wrote their song “Summertime” as a tribute to the Gershwin masterpiece.
tl;dr – What the fuck was the point I was trying to make? Whatever, enjoy the playlist.
Believe it or not, I do a rather rousing version of “Hurt” myself. Maybe I’ll put that up here some time. Maybe I won’t. You know… I’m a bit overdo for some pure filth, aren’t I? Alright. I’ll work on that. Now I’m gunna run from you. Get it? I’m so fucking funny!