To cover, or not to cover: that is the question.
And it is a question with no simple answer. Stray too far from the original and you will cause outrage, but if you don’t differ enough, then why even bother. However, skilled musicians manage to extract the soul of the original and add their own personal flavor.
Perhaps ‘to cover, or not to cover’ is not the most important question to consider. We need to understand why. Why cover? I personally believe that a cover song reveals the artists’ taste – the same way looking at someone’s record collection can tell you more about them than hours of conversation. As a wise man once said: “It’s what you like, not what you are like that matters.” And covers reveal the artists’ influences. Or maybe it’s just really damn hard to write a kick-ass original song.
Below are 5 covers that I think bring new life and give an added dimension to the originals. Enjoy!
Scala & Kolacny Brothers - Creep
Original by Radiohead
Doomed to be remembered as "that song from the trailer about that guy who created Facebook," this ethereal rendition of Radiohead's angst-driven Creep gives the track entirely new depths. The orchestra of voices sedates the listener and paints a dreamy seascape on our aural canvas. Sung by an all-female Belgian group, Scala and Kolacny Brothers’ haunting cover transcends David Fincher's triumph and deserves to be recognised on its own.
Mr. Little Jeans - The Suburbs
Original by Arcade Fire
Arcade Fire's The Suburbs was my favorite record of 2010. And I have unashamedly used the titular track in various MixTapes, with the intention of wooing various female love interests. There's something about Win Butler's voice, and his yearning that makes The Suburbs stand out from an album of fucking excellent songs. I recently discovered this cover in the backwaters of the blogosphere and was hooked. Mesmerized. The original version of The Suburbs is filled with grandiose instrumentation and lavish soundscapes - but Norway's Mr. Little Jeans (a.k.a. Monica Birkenes) has replaced the orchestral arrangements with eerie and and sparse synth, and topped it all off with her ghostly and resonant vocals. This is an effervescent gem that leaves an indelible mark on the listener.
Peter Gabriel - Heroes
Original by David Bowie
Peter Gabriel’s rendition of David Bowie’s iconic anthem strips the track down to its bare bones. The subtle instrumentation, paired with Gabriel’s fragile yet fervent vocals allows for newfound emotion to emerge. And when the chorus kicks in and the rich orchestral sounds are added to the mix, the song swirls heavenwards. This is from Gabriel's Scratch My Back album, which features other excellent covers of Paul Simon, Bon Iver and Neil Young.
Hart-Rouge - Dieu Ā Nos Cotés
Original by Bob Dylan (With God On Our Side)
Covering a Dylan song is always a risky endeavor - and many purists are disgusted by the thought of possibly not doing justice to the master himself. But having seen Dylan in concert a number of times, I realized that there is no definitive versions of his songs; he plays them differently every time, allegedly so his audience cannot sing along. This beautiful and haunting cover by French Canadian folk outfit, Hart-Rouge, takes Dylan's protest anthem to a new dimension. The harmonies, the strings, the vibrato. Though I guess singing in French makes everything seem more passionate and inspired.
Johnny Cash - Hurt
Original by Nine Inch Nails
Trent Reznor openly admits that Hurt doesn’t really belong to him anymore. Johnny Cash’s reworking of NIN’s dark and desperate masterpiece doesn’t only add a new dimension to the song but is a new entity in its own. Just like Jimi Hendrix’s All Along the Watchtower became the definitive version of Bob Dylan’s original song, Cash’s Hurt far surpasses the original in both integrity and fragility. The song balances on the precipice between life and death, and could become The Man in Black’s most enduring legacy. The song carries the most emotional weight when coupled with director Mark Romanek’s haunting music video, which was shot in the Cash’s Tennessee home.
Do you think I have missed any excellent covers? What are your favourite cover versions?
Be sure to leave a comment below.
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