The art of the cover song
Published: Thursday, September 13, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 13, 2012 00:09
Covering another band’s work is no easy task. There comes a certain responsibility with recreating someone else’s music, and there’s a wrong way and a right way to do it.
Ideally, an artist making a cover is supposed to introduce something fresh and original to the piece they’re working with. It isn’t about duplicating the song with a different voice: the idea is to restructure the song without eliminating its original framework. That means the lyrics should predominantly be the same, and there should be some essence of the core melody.
The other crucial aspect of making a cover is to keep in mind why you chose a certain song. It shouldn’t just be a generalized affinity for the original piece or band—it has to apply to the new artist’s life in some way as well. It has to sound genuine, not replicated. After all, there’s a difference between paying homage and copying.
With all this in mind, here are a few tracks that should go down in cover version history.
“Motel Blues” - Big Star (Originally by Loudon Wainwright III) – Alex Chilton stated in a 1974 WLIR interview, “Well, it was a hard life out on the road and all, driving around in station wagons. It just wasn’t any fun.” Based on that, it’s safe to assume the Big Star lead singer wasn’t accustomed to life on the road, and he was able to translate that through Wainwright’s 1972 single.
“Last Nite” Jumbonics - (Originally by the Strokes) – Sweeter, more soulful and less urgent than the original. The Strokes’ signature petulance is replaced with contended maturity.
“Wild Thing” The Troggs - (Originally by Chip Taylor) – Larry Page originally had The Troggs reworking pieces like The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind.” Reg Presley had a different idea in mind. The band, taking any extra studio time they could afford, managed to grab a quick 15-minute session. In that time, they recorded “Wild Thing” and “With a Girl Like You” in two takes—hence the genuine exasperation in Presley’s voice.
“I Want To Hold Your Hand” - Al Green (Originally by The Beatles) – A soulful, heartfelt take on the world-famous original, and the intro is absolutely charismatic.
“All Along the Watchtower” by Jimi Hendrix (Originally by Bob Dylan) – An interpretation that’s become better-known than the original. Dylan himself performs Hendrix’s version in concerts.
“Hurt” - Johnny Cash (Originally by Nine Inch Nails) – Originally a rather miserable number, Cash’s rich baritone and sense of redirection turned the song into his own personal anthem about aging. It’s also considered his epitaph—Cash died seven months after the music video was released.