Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Art of the Cover - in D minor

The cover. It is an artform that has been around since Timmy and his garage band decided to start playing Led Zepplin songs in his parents' basement with the goal of loosening the panties of the neighborhood girls. Even though most of the work writing the songs was already done by rock gods in leather pants, Timmy and his band sounded like utter crap and the neighborhood girls left their concert to get drunk at the football field with the jocks. Any music enthusiast worth their salt knows how those girls felt.

My big little sister's eyes flash red anytime you mention Jaime Cullum's cover of Radiohead's "High and Dry." The Manfriend gnashes his teeth and snarls at the thought of The Used and My Chemical Romance laying their lily white fingers on Queen/David Bowie's "Under Pressure," and you better clear the room if anyone mentions The Wallflowers and "Heroes." Sometimes the songs we love are raped by other musicians, and that is a hard truth we will have to learn to accept. The best thing to do is to just bury your head in a pillow and scream "Go away!" until you can't hear the desecration anymore.

But sometimes, just once in a while, a musician will cover one of your favorite songs and IT'S JUST AS GOOD, HOW CAN THIS BE? Or better yet, a musician will take a SHITASTIC song and make it AWESOME. Oh, didn't we all revel in being able to sing along to "Hit Me Baby One More Time" without a quern of guilt around our necks because Scottish band Travis made it deliciously guilt-free? This is what we're here to celebrate: some of the most excellent of excellent covers.

Requirements for a Great Cover
The song is still listenable: If you can't stand to listen to the song, whether it's a cover or not, it isn't great on any level.
The Musician injects some of their distinct flavor into the song: Anyone (who isn't tone-deaf) can sing a song just like the original singer. That's BORING. It may sound competent, but there isn't anything new there, so who the hell cares?
Some of the best covers turn the song upside down, imbue it with new meaning, or are pulled from completely opposite genres: I have a treat for you a little later.

So, here are some of my favorites. What are some of yours?

The Divine Comedy (Neil Hannon) and Yann Tiersen cover David Bowie's "Life on Mars"

Matthew Good Band covers Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence

Talking Heads cover Al Green's "Take Me to the River"

David Byrne covers Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance with Somebody"

The Flaming Lips cover Madonna's "Borderline"

Madonna's cover of Eddie Cooley and John Davenport (Otis Blackwell)'s "Fever," made famous by Ms. Peggy Lee

The Gourds cover Snoop Dogg's "Gin and Juice"

Owen Pallett (also known as Final Fantasy)'s cover of Mariah Carey's "Fantasy"

Travis Morisson's cover of Ludacris' "What's Your Fantasy?"

Louis Armstrong covers Edith Piaf's "La Vie en Rose"

Ewan McGregor and Jacek Koman cover The Police's "Roxanne"

The Fugees cover Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly with His Song"

The Dead Kennedys cover Elvis' "Viva Las Vegas"

Nouvelle Vague's cover of The Dead Kennedy's "Too Drunk to Fuck"

David Bowie's cover of The Pixies' "Cactus"

William Shatner's cover of Elton John's "Rocket Man"

Jeff Buckley's cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah"

Iron and Wine's cover of The Postal Service's "Such Great Heights"

Johnny Cash's cover of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt"

Very nearly every Violent Femmes cover they have done

'Til next time, keep the turntable spinning.

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