The art of cover songs and remakes
I collect cover songs. There’s something about covers – when done right – that make them stand out among everything in my music collection. Perhaps it’s because I don’t like change and I’m so much more comfortable when things are familiar and routine that cover songs are like a little thrill or a burst of excitement, like the feeling I get when I venture to do something out of the ordinary.
This isn’t the case for all covers. I’ve always said, if you’re going to remake a song then really remake it. Don’t just re-record what the original artist put down. Take that song and make it your own. Turn it on its head. It’s even better when an artist takes a song completely out of their genre and does something spectacular with it. But it shouldn’t be done in an ironic way or for a little chuckle (see every punk band’s cover of any pop song); it needs to feel sincere.
While Johnny Cash’s cover of Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt has recently become the most common answer to “What is your favorite cover song?” that particular tune -while beautifully done – is not something I’d put on my own list simply because it is presented the same way as the original. Same with Gary Jules’s Mad World (Tears for Fears). While the cover is well done, I think it’s popularity came more from the way it was used in Donnie Darko than from any originality brought to the tune.
The first cover song that left its mark on me was Vanilla Fudge’s rendition of The Supremes” You Keep Me Hanging On. Released just one year after the original, the Vanilla Fudge version takes a dance oriented song and turns it onto a psychedelic trip. I remember being fascinated with the fact that someone could take something that belonged to someone else and completely make it their own. Remnants of the original were still there, but they took the emotions inherent in the lyrics and put their own passion into it.
And that’s – to me – what makes a remake of a song great – taking the guts of the original and putting it another form. Here are some of my favorites:
The way Cake adds bursts of quiet anger and bitterness to Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive that were only implied but not vocalized in the original give the song a new feel and the tongue in cheek way in which most of the song is presented adds an even further dimension to it; it becomes Cake’s song.
It takes guts to take a very popular song and do something else with it. Ted Leo makes a thing of beauty out of Kelly Clarkson’s Since You Been Gone.
The Queens of the Stone Age takes Billy Idol’s White Wedding and turns into something dark and ominous.
Rammstein turns Depeche’s Mode’s Stripped upside down, making it something far more sinister than the original ever intended.
Ben Folds makes Dre’s Bitches Ain’t Shit sound completely out of context.
The Dickies manage to make the Moody Blues Knights in White Satin actually sound interesting.
In Flames version of Depeche Mode’s Everything Counts does just about everything a good cover song should do.
Type O Negative doing a polar opposite version Neil Young’s Cinnamon Girl.
Aztec Camera’s cover of Van Halen’s Jump is possibly my favorite cover of all time. It was the b-side to the 12 inch version of their single Oblivious. I listened to Oblivious once, flipped the record over and then listened to this for about four hours straight.
I’d love to add to my collection of covers. What are your favorites?
(For more fabulous covers, check out the Cover Song Appreciation tumblr)