Monday, January 31, 2011

Judging a Song By Its Cover: Part 1

In case you've never noticed, musicians and bands borrow each others' songs all the time. Usually, these "covers" are done to pay tribute to the original artist, or to adapt a well-known song in a new and different style. I thought it would be fun to compare some of my favorites with the originals, and see if they TOP the original or fall short.

First up, Cake's cover of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive".



Tough call, because the styles are so different. But I'm going to have to give the nod to Cake for this one. The original is a classic, but it's really stuck in its disco-era time period.

Lots of people have covered John Lennon's songs. They usually don't come close to topping Lennon, but they have done some interesting things with them. Take, for instance, Green Day's take on John Lennon's post-Beatles political rant "Working Class Hero".

Green Day:


Green Day really nail this one, and add a little edge to the darkness and hopelessness of Lennon's lyrics. But I have to say, Lennon's is the original and best.

Even Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder has tried his hand at John Lennon. Vedder tackles the Beatles' "Hide Your Love Away" for the "I Am Sam" movie soundtrack.



Vedder's is a good version. But nobody can say with a straight face that it's better than the Beatles' classic. Ironically, both versions were part of movie soundtracks (The Beatles' "Help!" album was the soundtrack to the "Help!" movie.)

Here's an example of an older, legendary artist covering a more modern song from a completely different genre than he was used to. Let's see how Johnny Cash dealt with Nine Inch Nails:



It's a dark, brooding song no matter how you look at it. But I think the general consensus among music fans everywhere is that Johnny Cash nailed Nine Inch Nails. When Cash, in his final years of life, sang anything, he made it captivating and believable. Out of the way, Trent Reznor...the Man in Black just schooled you on your own song!

Punk covers of pop songs can be particularly great because they generally take a light, simple, bubble-gummy song and simplify it even more, after amping it up on steroids. Such is the case of Local H. vs. Britney Spears' "Toxic":

Local H:


Local H's cover is awesome, but I think the song is so associated with Britney Spears that not even a new spin on it can make a better song. It is what it is, and for that I think Spears wins here.

Sometimes a song is so awesomely stupid that people love it no matter who performs it. Perhaps Snoop Dogg's best-known song is "Gin and Juice", and it's about as classic as you can get for old-school's about smoking pot, getting drunk and "bitches in the living room gettin' it on." But what happens when a quirky country band from South Austin adapts it?

The Gourds:


I have to go with the cover on this one. The Gourds did something completely unheard a rap song. On top of that, they made it AWESOME! No disrespect to my homeboy Snoop, but Snoop can't rock the banjo.

While on the subject of rap covers, What if you turn a rap song into a mellow pop song? That's what Dynamite Hack did to Eazy E's "Boyz In The Hood".

Dynamite Hack:

Eazy E

Eazy E wins this contest. DH's version is funny, but that's just seems to be mocking the original without improving on it.

Here's a 3-for-all...What do Bob Dylan, Dave Matthews and Jimi Hendrix have in common? They've all made kick-ass versions of "All Along the Watchtower" (Dylan's being the original version.)



Bob Dylan is apparently a copyright nazi, so no Youtube link for him. Ass!

But no matter. Dylan's was good, but other artists saw something in it that he did not, hence Jimi Hendrix's better (and better-known) classic. But you know, I gotta give both of these covers a tie here. You might not THINK someone like Dave Matthews Band could compete with Jimi Hendrix, but their version is epic in a way that the other versions weren't. Jimi and Dave get a tie.

Well how about Dave Matthews? Has anybody covered his stuff? Yes! In fact, none other than Willie Nelson gave Matthews' "Gravedigger" a shot.



This is hard, because I love Dave Matthews and Willie Nelson. Both are legendary. Comparing the two music videos, Willie made a better one. But if you just listen to the SONG, I have to say the original is better. I don't feel the emotion in Nelson's vocals as much as I do in Matthews'. That, and Nelson's cover is pretty straightforward...he doesn;t do a bad job, but he doesn't add anything either.

No comments:

Post a Comment