Thursday, 1 January 2009

The Art of the Cover Song

One of the trials of living in the UK is the huge public interest in ‘talent shows’ such as the X-Factor. Ok, I do admit that I have had a passing interest in this years series due to the fact that this show is such a water cooler subject around my office. In its more innocent moments, the show had lulled me into a false sense of security, and articles such as this one by Steve Wells of the Guardian had caused me to re-examine my own musical prejudices and leave myself a slight more open to the oft criticised world of manufactured pop.

Not for long however. Cue the dire cover version of the already covered-to-death Cohen classic ‘Hallelujah’ by X-Factor winner Alexandra Burke. I’m not going to go into why I severely dislike this version of the song (for the record, this tune is having the soul slowly ripped out of it with every new version, ironic in a fashion considering the definition of the songs title), it has inspired me to write about some cover songs that I truly think are quite accomplished, clever, or beat new life into dead horses. Finally, I get to the point of this exposition.

Let me wax lyrical with a few cover songs that I think are quite well done.

NoFx’s cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Go Your Own Way’ is a typical example of something I think freshens up the song. It sure is cheeky! Fat Mike is no stranger to the art of the cover, being an intrinsic part of seminal punk cover band Me First and the Gimme Gimmes.

Two other great cover songs come immediately come to mind. Cake’s version of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” is another absolute gem while Of Montreal’s cover of the great Shins song ‘Know Your Onion’ from is something unexpected. Speaking of The Shins, they too are also not adverse to cracking out the odd cover, hitting strides with a cover of ‘Strange Powers’ by originally done by the Magnetic Fields, which you can find on their “Sea Legs” single.

Dinosaur Jr's cover of the Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” deserves a mention. The live version of the song is particularly notable for J Mascis’s crazy-arse soloing at the beginning of the song and off kilter vocal delivery (I say off kilter, I probably mean ‘out of tune’ – Mascis can’t sing, but we won’t let that stand in the way of a great cover, eh?).

Irish rockers The Frames have been known to throw in a cover or two, typically melding their own songs with cover songs with similar chords/structures. They do a smashing version of Pixies “Where is My Mind” utilising the fiddle to good effect. On the subject of mashups, I recall years ago back in my dark days of liking Tool and other Maynard James Keehnan side projects witnessing A Perfect Circle performing a mashup cover utilising the verses and music from Ozzy Osbourne’s “Diary of a madmen” with the chorus of the Cure’s Lovesong (this cover song seems extremely hard to find on the webernet). Rest assured, I actually think it was pretty well done.
On many occasions, the cover version can outshine the original. Ryan Adam’s version of Wonderwall is certainly one of the more well known covers. I have to admit I prefer it to the original, but that is not saying much considering how much I dislike the original. I think the same for Jimi Hendrix’s version of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”.

Of course, there are some seminally bad cover versions. I’m thinking any number of song covered by Britney Spears. The worst one I can think of is definitely Celine Dion and Anastacia doing AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long”. See it here in all its unholy glory.

Truly awful.

Of course, there are thousands of good, and bad, covers songs out there. Feel free to suggest some!


Chris said...

Oh god. That was awful. I couldn't watch the entire clip and, after tasting that sour little gem, I had to go listen the original ACDC version just to get it out of my mind.

Daz Murray said...

I generally get to the bit when Anastacia enters the fray before I feel the urge to vomit rise to unacceptable levels.