I wrote a couple of years ago about cover songs I’d like to hear.
Giving one’s own treatment to a song by a favorite artist is something I’ll never be able to do. As I’ve said before, I can play the notes, but I can’t really make music. I never learned the circle of fifths, or wrapped my head around how to write harmonies and such. I can hear them, and sometimes sing or play new ones, but I’ll never be one to write my own music or even a new version of someone else’s song.
People who can do that, and do it well, fascinate me.
I remember the controversy in 1985 when a band dared to cover Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” There was some question as to whether radio stations would even play the new version, so revered was the original. I didn’t hate it, although I didn’t like it better than the original.
Some find it sacrilegious to cover certain classic songs, like Stairway, or “The Sound of Silence,” or “In The Air Tonight.” Others find it wrong to cover any song. I’ve never held that belief. I don’t think anything is untouchable, and I’m always fascinated when one artist covers something from a completely different genre. The result is often just as amazing as the first version.
Disturbed’s outstanding cover of “The Sound of Silence” made the rounds on Facebook several months ago, and I loved it. It is a classic song, but David Draiman’s vocal range make him well-suited for the song. Their treatment is one of those that had me astounded about how they made it their own. They’re a heavy metal band, of course, but how does one choose a song to adapt? How did they come up with the incredible orchestrations they used to support Draiman’s voice? That kind of stuff just amazes me. “Sound of Silence” wasn’t their first cover though; they’ve been doing covers since 2004. Their version of U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s still an amazing piece of music.
Sara Bareilles pulled a similar tribute to Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” Opening in a minor key for the first verse, she finishes with a soaring, stunning flourish that seems to never end.
Iron Horse has done the same thing with bluegrass covers of rock songs. Want to hear Guns ‘N Roses with a banjo and mandolin? How about Metallica or Elton John? They’re far from the only band putting a bluegrass twist on music. Check out Hayseed Dixie too along with the Original Pine Mountain Railroad doing one you might recognize.
Bob Seger gets a similar response from his songs. Secondhand Songs says almost two dozen of his works have been covered by close to a hundred artists. Many seem to be a straight replay of the song without any special treatment, but I especially enjoy Metallica’s version of “Turn The Page.” The video concept may be disturbing to some, but musically this is amazing. Turn this one up.
Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox has covered a bunch of artists, from Guns N’ Roses and Nickleback to Ariana Grande, George Michael, and Aerosmith. They have 207 covers listed at Secondhand Songs, and the vocalists will just stun you. Here’s their cover of Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.”
Here’s a jazz cover of “Livin’ on a Prayer,” one of my favorites. Miche Braden was a perfect choice for this song. I’d love to hear her treatment of Bruce Springsteen or Bob Seger.
What set me off on a cover songs post? Daughtry’s cover of Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight.” That song was one of my favorites even before Miami Vice used it, and before Collins’ famous intercontinental Live Aid performances thanks to the Concorde. It doesn’t sound exactly like the original, but I think that’s the whole point of cover songs. You’re recognizing the skill and talent behind the original, but giving it your own personal treatment. I don’t think anyone who sings a cover song is trying to be better than the original. I think they’re just making it personal.
What are your favorite cover songs? Do you have one you like better than the original? Have you ever been surprised to find out the version you like isn’t the original?
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