4 Cover Songs that Left the Excellent Originals in Smoking Ruins
The importance of cover songs is, in my opinion, highly underrated. Bands like The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, who you may have heard of, cut their teeth doing covers of their favorite American blues and soul songs. As a new band, covers can help you figure out your influences, and let you do some gigs while you’re still learning to write for yourself. However, my favorite covers, and the ones that really matter, are when an artist takes a song that they love, and then make it their own like a lion taking over a pride.
So, this is a list of great songs by great artists, that seem hollow and trite and stupid compared to their cover versions.
Here Comes the Sun
The Original: The Beatles
Did I really even need to link that video? Have you seriously not heard this song? If you haven’t, there is almost certainly no joy in your life. You should honestly stop whatever it is that you’re doing and listen to it 30 times in a row. Don’t even stop there. If you’ve never heard this song before, listen to it non-stop. Non-stop, until you die.
It’s the damn Beatles. They cannot be beaten. The Rolling Stones needed a career that lasted several decades longer just to come in a distant second. There’s no way that any artist could re-purpose any song by the greatest band that ever was.
The Cover: Richie Havens
Holy shit! What was that?! That couldn’t possibly be the same song. Richie Havens takes a rather charming pop song and turns it into an earthy, energetic hymn of praise to existence. The raw, immediate musicianship and, for lack of a better word “soul”, kicks the shit out of the George Harrrison penned, George Martin produced version. THAT SHOULDN’T BE POSSIBLE.
(Seriously, I hate applying the word “soul” to any piece of art. I’m so white that, when I say it, it sounds derogatory).
The Original: The Who
In “My Generation”, Pete Townsend created one of the seminal songs of youthful rebellion. “Hope I die before I get old”. SHIT YES, Pete. The Who’s signature Maximum R&B sound, and wild stage presence was revolutionary. I defy you to find a band with a better rhythm section. (Note: Parliament/Funkadelic is disqualified in that they had approximately 45 people/animals playing rhythm at any given time). Pete Townsend made smashing your guitar after the show popular, while drummer Keith Moon made being a drug crazed lunatic popular. This was the signature song of one of the British Invasion’s signature acts.
The Cover: Patti Smith
Warning: Ms. Smith’s version contains some language that is probably not safe for work.
If you had told someone in 1965, when The Who’s version was released, that in 10 years a woman would make their version seem cute, they would have laughed in your time-traveling face. But, uh, yeah, she beat their asses in. Her version took the angst in the original and said “I kind of see what you were going for there, is THIS what you meant?” and proceeded to scare the bejesus out of everyone not living on the streets.
By 1975, The Who, while still amazing, were no longer on the front lines of rock and roll. They were living legends, supporting coke habits that out stripped most mid-sized cities. They were on their way to inventing the arena rock that the punk movement, which Patti Smith was the Godmother of, just couldn’t stand. Their version, even the much more energetic live version, was still something that a person with a change of clothes and parents could relate to. Patti Smith and her band gave zero shits, and that’s really what My Generation demands.
The Times They Are Changing
The Original: Bob Dylan
If you’re only going to listen one protest song, make this one it. Bob Dylan made his name with politically and socially charged acoustic ballads, in the tradition of his hero Woody Gutrie. Meant to be played in small clubs and in front of small outdoor gatherings, this song is just a beat up guitar and Bob’s somehow perfect voice. Hope and melancholy fuse into resigned determination. Anyone else feel like joining the Sierra Club right now?
The Cover: Nina Simone
Ummmm. I’m going to need a minute. Woah.
Okay, I’ll be alright. The otherworldly Nina Simone changes a song that mainly hits you in your head and your limbs, prompting them to action, into something that grabs your heart and your throat and quietly throttles them until your soul pops out. I’m more or less convinced that Dumbledore was thinking of the organ in the bridge when he said “Ah, music. A magic far beyond all we do here!”. This is a version, not for sharing with strangers, but for yourself, and those closest to you. It’s too intimate to listen to with anyone you wouldn’t trust with your life.
Side note: If you don’t know Nina Simone, please go listen to everything she’s ever done. “Sinnerman” is a fantastic place to start.
The Original: Credence Clearwater Revival
CCR was the prototypical roots rock band. They stood in contrast to the psychedelia going on in San Fransisco (ironically the band’s home town). They played simple, country-tinged guitar rock, and son of a bitch, it just feels right, you know? They’re The Dude’s favorite band, which should give you a hint as to what their sound is like. You don’t know who The Dude is? Well, we’re probably not going to be friends. Not for sure, but probably not.
Credence songs in general, and this one in particular, always make me feel like I just had a good meal and a beer after a long day’s work.
The Cover: Ike and Tina Turner
Wooooooo!!! Go Tina!
The horn break that comes after the slow, spoken word opening, is what I imagine my body being flooded with illicit stimulants feels like. Now that I think of it, that feeling probably informs the couple’s troubles with substance abuse. It’s just freaking exciting, right? It makes me feel like jumping up and dancing, which is especially notable because, as we’ve already established, I am white and therefore HATE dancing.
Ike Turner took this song from a slow and steady stream in your back yard, to the rapids that carved the Grand Canyon. And Tina’s voice. Mother of God. Her voice sounds like it’s trying to escape from your speakers, and from the sounds of it, the speakers don’t stand a chance. Some might say that this was due to limitations in recording equipment at the time, but I’m pretty sure Tina Turner’s voice could blow the sound system on a Russian submarine.
Ike and Tina’s version was so powerful, that John Foggerty had to be convinced to start playing his own song again, just so that people would remember that it was his.
Yes, I know that All Along the Watchtower by Jimi Hendrix was a cover.
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