Yesterday my friend Bev and I got into a deep discussion about music covers. It was prompted by a video I shared with her where the background music was a cover of Talking Head’s “This Must Be The Place” by jam band, The String Cheese Incident. We delved into a deep discussion about her particular taste in covers, my taste in covers, and covers that would never do justice to the original artist or bands. I’m assuming everyone knows what a cover is but just in case you don’t, when someone says a song is a cover it means that the song is a recording or performance by someone who is not the original artist.
There have been plenty of cover songs throughout history that have become more successful than the original. A great example of this comes from legendary rock n’ roll singer Elvis Presley. “Blue Suede Shoes” was originally a song by Carl Perkins. Elvis also did plenty of Chuck Berry covers. Then of course there’s some controversy surrounding the song “Hound Dog”. Some claim that Elvis stole the song from Big Mama Thornton. Truth be told though when Elvis rose to fame racial prejudices were much greater than they are today. As a white singer, he brought many songs that may have been sung by or written by black musicians to fame. Hence, all of Elvis’s music being written by someone other than Elvis, which isn’t uncommon even today, but still.
Another example of this is “Twist and Shout” by The Beatles. The original song was by The Isley Brothers who are also famed for their song “Shout”. To be honest, I didn’t realize until today that “Twist and Shout” was a cover. I was looking for some covers on Spotify and saw it on one of their playlists. Part of me believes I knew this at one point and just forgot but the other part of me is kind of shocked.
Besides these songs a few other famous covers are Otis Redding’s “Respect” covered by Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” covered by Jimi Hendrix (Dave Matthews Band also frequents this cover too), Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” covered by Whitney Houston, Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” covered by The Chicks (formerly The Dixie Chicks), Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” covered by Jeff Buckley, The Guess Who’s “American Woman” covered by Lenny Kravitz, Robert Hazard’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” covered by Cyndi Lauper, and Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” covered by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. There’s also been some recent covers in the spotlight. Two years ago Weezer got some airplay from covering Toto’s “Africa” and lately an indie artist named Ritt Momney is getting some huge hype over his cover of “Put Your Records On” by Corinne Bailey Rae. The list goes way beyond this too. I’m sure you’d be surprised to know just how many famous songs are actually covers. I know I was.
My friend Bev seems to love covers that capture the essence of the original song especially when the original was by a well-known band or artist. What I think makes a great cover is when the song is given a new “spin” or feel like when an artist known for a certain genre of music covers a song of another genre. This is why I was always a fan of the Punk Goes… album series growing up.
These albums started in 2000 with Punk Goes Metal and by 2002 the first Punk Goes Pop album was released. Most of the Punk Goes… albums are cover songs aside from Punk Goes Acoustic which are just acoustic recordings of original songs. While hosting my own radio show in college, I would occasionally do cover shows where I played a lot of covers from these albums.
Although I don’t really listen to punk/pop-punk/alternative music these days, I’m always looking out for a great cover whether it does the original justice or not. I still love and appreciate hearing unique covers. However, strangely enough, I don’t usually love remixes, which I feel are electronic music’s version of a cover song. I have a few I enjoy, but in this instance I seem to enjoy the original version of the song more. I’m not sure if we could even consider these “covers”, but unless a deejay has someone else singing the track, how would they cover the song? I definitely think a remix is “sub-genre” or so of a cover for this reason.
If you’ve ever played an instrument or sang a song, you’ve probably played someone else’s music or sang someone else’s lyrics. It’s a pretty standard practice in music. But just be careful if you ever plan on officially releasing covers. There are copyright laws surrounding music, but thanks to the Copyright Act of 1909 we’re able to create covers (usually with some negotiations between the artists involved and ASCAP or BMI…I linked the act for more info). No matter what your preference is on cover songs, I bet you’ve heard plenty and even have a few favorites. I obviously do so I figured I’d share some of mine to end this post.
- “I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Bon Iver (Bonnie Raitt cover)
- “99 Red Balloons” by Goldfinger (Nena cover)
- “Everywhere” by Yellowcard (Michelle Branch cover)
- “Umbrella” by All Time Low (Rihanna cover)
- “Megan” by Bayside (Smoking Popes cover)
- “Blitzkreig Bop” by Foster the People (Ramones cover) (performed live only, not recorded so check out a live version on Youtube)
- “That Don’t Impress Me Much” by HAIM (Shania Twain cover)
- “Skinny Love” by Birdy (Bon Iver cover)
- “Walking On A Dream” by Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness (Empire of the Sun cover)
- “Over My Head (Cable Car)” by A Day to Remember (The Fray cover)
- “Start Today” by Fall Out Boy (Gorilla Biscuits cover)
- “Mad World” by Gary Jules (Tears for Fears cover)
- “A Thousand Miles” by Mac DeMarco (Vanessa Carlton cover) (performed live only, not recorded so again check Youtube)
- “What I Like About You” by The Suicide Machines (The Romantics cover)
- “Hospital Beds” by Florence and the Machine (Cold War Kids cover)