Saturday, August 23, 2008


The following is a message from the ww opinion system.
*stepping onto soapbox*

It seems to me that most covers are pointless. The kind of cover I'm talking about is when someone re-records their version of a song. For example, the Carpenters did a cover of the Beatles' "Please Mr. Postman". The practice of covering is certainly not new, but it seems like these days there are more covers than ever.

Why do I think they are pointless? Because, in many cases, the cover doesn't add anything new to the artistic expression in the song. It seems like it's just an excuse to make money off a song that they didn't have to write themselves. For example, No Doubt's version of Talk Talk's "It's My Life" is basically the exact same as the original arrangement, except for a girl is singing instead of a guy. Likewise, Smashing Pumpkins' version of Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide" is, as far as I can tell, exactly like the original, except a guy is singing instead of a girl.

I remember asking my friends on Facebook what they thought of covers, and one of the responses that I got was like this: "I don't mind covers, as long as they stay true to the original vision of the artist and pay appropriate homage to them." I really couldn't disagree more. If you respect the original musician that much, why not let that person's version stand as the definitive version of the song? I have no doubt that it was her admiration for the excellent songwriting skills of Joni Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot that caused Sarah McLachlan to cover "Blue" and "Song for a Winter's Night", but her arrangements, while layered with ephemeral voices, don't really add anything new to the song. The only relative consolation I feel about these kind of covers is that at least the original author of the song is hopefully getting some additional royalties to reward them for their excellent songwriting in the first place.

There is an occasional cover that is a completely different artistic interpretation of the song in question. I have no problem with these reinterpretations. For example, "Mad World", as performed by Michael Andrews, gives a completely different feel than the original Tears for Fears version. And there are certain good songwriters who are such bad singers that they beg to be covered: Bob Dylan and Tom Waits, to name a couple. There are great songwriters like Burt Bacharach who rarely perform their own songs but purposely write them to be performed by someone else. But Counting Crows and Amy Grant seemed to leave something out when they covered Joni Mitchell's playfully sarcastically serious version of her "Big Yellow Taxi".

This is my general message to those musicians who want to make a quick buck by covering a good song that was written and performed by someone else: it would be much better if you made your money off of your own creativity instead of someone else's.

And don't even get me started on remakes of movies.

*stepping off of soapbox*
You may now return to your regularly scheduled program.


Amber said...

I actually really like covers when they are done well with some originality while maintaining the integrity of the song. I think the good thing about them is they introduce a new generation to great old songs. Like Harry Connick Jr. got me jazzed about a lot of great jazz songs and now Michael Bauble is doing the same thing for latest set of teenyboppers. Also I really like Katie Melua's version of 'Just like Heaven' by The Cure. Anyway, that's my two cents, a little late.

i i eee said...

Covers blow! Unless the original wasn't great to begin with, don't fix it if it ain't broke. Thanks for the post.

Although, Tori Amos' album, "Strange Little Girls," is a brilliant covers album. No doubt about it. And yes, I'm a bit biased when it comes to Tori, but I do believe it is up there with some of her greatest work. Even though it was a step to get out of her recording contract at the time.

Indulge me by reading this quote:

“I’ve always found it fascinating how men say things and how women hear them. Words can wound and words can heal, and both are included on the album. I’ve heard a lot of people say, ‘They’re only words; what is everybody going on about?’ But words are powerful; words are like guns. Your fingerprints cannot be erased from your words; you only leave the scene of the crime covered in ink. A person has to take responsibility for their words. We as writers cannot separate ourselves from what we create. All of these songs were created by powerful wordsmiths, whether you agree with them or not.” The 12 songs are told through the eyes of 13 women (one song features twins), each of whom has her own story to tell. “Each woman approached me and said, ‘I have a point of view on this song, that you may want to know, that may change how you hear its meaning.’” [Atlantic Records online - July 2, 2001]