Cover Me: Part One

Note: This is the first installment in an ongoing series.

Cover songs are great.  Done well and they breathe new life into a long forgotten song.  Cover’s pay tribute to musical history.  They introduce a new audience to music they’ve never heard before.  The early history of Rock n’ Roll is the history of cover song’s rather un-ethical cousin, stealing blues songs and not giving credit to the song writers.  Run DMC brought Aerosmith back from the dead when they covered Walk This Way and asked Steven Tyler and Joe Perry to collaborate and essentially cover themselves.  Sure, it marked a twenty year reign of Top -40 terror from Aerosmith but, more importantly, it also brought Hip Hop into the mainstream.  Nirvana’s cover of The Man Who Sold The World was so successful that Bowie once said a fan thanked him for paying tribute to Nirvana.

Some covers are terrible.  Two years ago Kid Rock try to innovate the covers industry and synthesize covers of  Werewolves of London and Sweet Home Alabama, and mix it with his own less-than-stellar song writing.  It was a hit, but it was awful.  Covers  have also spawned an entire sub-genre of tribute and cover bands, which is can be miserable, but the point stands.  Covers are important.

Not every song warrants a cover.  Here are a few that do.

Mister Blue Sky – Electric Light Orchestra: There is a lot of resistance whenever I bring this up.  It is quite nearly a perfect song, which usually doesn’t lend itself to a cover version.  Other people will invariably screw it up.  It is such a stubbornly optimistic song.  It requires not so much dancing, but jumping around the room with your arms pumping up and down.  Lily Allen tried.  Imagine what Passion Pit could do with it.  What if we flip it around, let The National, ever dour and pouting rockers try it.  It would be a bizzaro Mister Blue Sky.

Common PeoplePulp: A song for the most of us.  An angry anthem ahead of its time that cries out against Homeless Chic and the fetishization of poor.  Shatner did it.  It is awesome.  Unless you’s someone who doesn’t like things that are awesome.  The fact that a Shatner version exists shouldn’t stop people from trying.  It would be a great live cover.

Sinner Manvarious, but the Nina Simone is the best:  It’s an early 20th century spiritual song that is absolutely gorgeous as Simone sings it.  Her 1965 version is ten and half minutes long powered by an infectious piano piece.  This song has been remixed, featured in the climatic scene of an art heist movie, sampled by Kayne and Timbaland, and used in commercials.  It’s time for a cover – maybe Janelle Monae?  She’d kill it.

Already covered and well:

Stillness Is The MoveDirty Projectors: As made sexy by Solange Knowles.  Dirty Projectors are strangely captivating.  With their harmonizing, broken cadence, and unpredictable hooks.  The original is beautiful, the cover is silky.

See Line Woman – Nina Simone: It’s a traditional American folk song.  Simone’s version was spare, vocals and a good rhythm section.  Feist took it on in 2007, calling Sea Lion Woman.  Letting hand claps and vocals propel the song until the middle third when the band finally chimes in, it’s an energetic version that doesn’t stray too far from the original.


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