Cover songs

Cover songs can be fun, which is probably why everyone has been writing about them lately.

Three kinds of covers stand out for me:

Covers that re-make. Gifted musicians can take a song with a good basic structure and translate it seamlessly into a different style. Stevie Wonder’s version of the Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out” is a good example. Barely a trace of Paul McCartney remains after Wonder finishes with his song — it’s 99.9% Wonderized Motown, and better than the original. Sadly, these successes are rare.

Covers that re-live. They played air guitar to it when they were kids; now they have a band and want to play it with real instruments. The result is usually an embarassment: a note-for-note, lick-for-lick “tribute” that doesn’t sound nearly as good as the original. Was the Wallflowers’ cover of “Heroes” really necessary?

Covers that re-ward…the record company. Take a song from a couple decades ago that people remember. Bring in a hot celebrity. Have the celebrity record the vocals any which way (it doesn’t really matter, as long as the evocative original sound is reproduced, and that’s the job of the backing musicians). And, voila! You have “Lady Marmalade” by Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Pink, and Mya: a guaranteed #1 hit.

Covers usually don’t turn out well; parodies often do. “Gimme Some Money” by Spinal Tap (a take-off on “Money (That’s What I Want)” by Barrett Strong) is a long-time favorite. Strong Bad’s “The Theme from Dangeresque II: This Time It’s Not Dangeresque I” (which sends up “The Theme from Shaft”) is a good new one.

And then there’s sampling

One Response to “Cover songs”

  1. The Bemusement Park Says:


    Steve Casburn, springboarding off everybody, is talking about cover songs. Rather than just listing ones he likes, though, he’s waxing philosophical about them, saying they all basically fall into three categories: Covers that re-make, covers that re-l…

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