Listening to music, one of my favorite things to discover is a well constructed cover of a song- one that manages to overtake the original version or, perhaps better still, to reimagine it. In searching the web for links to performances of a couple of my favorite examples, I came across an entire blog devoted to covers performed in the folk/acoustic style, a time sink of the very first water. Of course, the web being what it is, I then found a whole bunch of such blogs.
Buying a tribute album or other collection of covers is fraught with the danger of mediocre takes messing up favorite songs (or at least it used to be, before you could preview nearly any album on Amazon.com) so the best covers are generally those of songs that you're not all that fond of in their original version.
For example, having come into pop-music consciousness in the early 80's, I couldn't help but be aware of Prince, though I had little use for his music apart from conceding that he was good at writing pop songs. Those songs just didn't do much for me, whether performed by pretty girls or the guy who kind of looked like he wanted to be a pretty girl. Back then I was listening to more music from the non-psychedelic strain of 60's rock, with The Police, Elvis Costello, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers and a few others thrown in.
That aside, Prince's "When Doves Cry" (note the link is to the original video, in all it's overwrought and risque glory) was a pretty big hit and is a pretty good pop song. Compare, though, the Be Good Tanyas' version (and this link is to a place to listen to the song, music videos seeming to have largely passed from this earth, except for the homemade sort). It seems to me that this is as much an homage as a reworking of the song. A great bit and a favorite of mine.
Another Prince hit which I can take or leave (mostly, leave) in the original is "Kiss". However, Richard Thompson's driving solo acoustic version of this song is pretty amazing and another of my favorite covers. Incidentally, Thompson is not only a great songwriter in his own right, he isn't afraid of covers at all. Perhaps we should be afraid.
Another big name in the 80's that I've never been partial to is Bruce Springsteen. Apart from the moving and perfect album "Nebraska", I just don't care for Springsteen's bombast. However, he does write some good songs. He just needs someone else to sing and perform them. Someone like Cowboy Junkies. Margo Timmins is much nicer to listen to than Bruce, see this cover of "Thunder Road". Mostly, though, the songs are just better stripped down.
Incidentally, Cowboy Junkies play Santa Fe tonight.
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