Saturday, July 11, 2009


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 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.


Andrew Campbell said...

You and me wouldn't have got on in high school. I was too busy listening to heavy metal and scorning 'The artist formally known as the heiroglyph'. Which is why oneof my favorite cover albums is Pat Boone's 'In a Metal Mood.' Pat's voice isn't the greatest by any stretch, but the big band arrangements are phenomenal -- and to my mind, cast an interesting light on the originals. 'Crazy Train' comes out looking fabulous, 'Panama' just pallid.

In my list of crazy covers, I would encourage folks to listen to Yat-kha's Tuvan cover of 'Love Will Tear Us Apart.'

Awesome post. I know what I'll be reading today!


mdmnm said...


Thanks! I actually came across that Tuvan cover of "Love Will Tear Us Apart" on one of the coverblogs. Fun stuff!

I've heard some of the tracks off of Boone's metal album and got a kick out of them.

Andrew Campbell said...

If you checked out that Telegraph article on top-50 covers, I would also endorse Rachid Taha's cover of 'Rockin' the Casbah' as awesome (as is the whole album) and would also suggest looking out for Rodrigo y Gabriela's flamenco version of 'Stairway'.


Chad Love said...

Speaking of excellent covers, if you're into Woody Guthrie-type folk the best cover of his music I've found is the two-disc set produced by Jimmy Lafave entitled "Ribbon of Highway Endless Skyway."

I have to admit that while I've always loved the lyrics to Guthrie's music, I just couldn't get into Woody's voice. I know, I know, being an Okie it kinda makes me a Philistine...

But a couple years ago Jimmy Lafave called me up and asked about using one of my photographs for the cover art on an upcoming album. He sent me a bunch of his CDs, including this two-disc set, which was a compilation of songs from a Woody Guthrie tribute tour Jimmy had put together a year or so before.

It floored me. Simply gorgeous music. It made Guthrie's music so much more accessible to me. Great stuff.

Incidentally, one of my top five all-time favorite covers is of course the Cowboy Junkies cover of the Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane"...

Again, I may be a heretic, but I think it transcends the original. Wish I could see them live...

I'm a Joy Division fan, so I'll have to check out that "Love Will Tear Us Apart" cover...

mdmnm said...


Thanks again! I'll look around for Rachid Taha.


Thanks for the Jimmy LaFave recommendation. Another interesting bit of Guthrie material, though not really covers, is Billy Bragg's album with Wilco- "Mermaid Avenue", which are song and lyric fragments put together a few years ago by those artists with Guthrie's daughter's permission.

I'm pretty sure I read an interview with Lou Reed in which he said he really liked Cowboy Junkies' reworking of that song. Definitely one of their best works off one of their best albums.

Chad Love said...

I had actually seen that Billy Bragg/Wilco collaboration on Itunes not long ago(I'm something of a Luddite, still learning my way around my first Ipod)and it caught my eye, as I'm a fan of both.
A much-hipper-than-myself friend of mine introduced me to Billy Bragg way back in high school and whenever I hear "The Saturday Boy" on Sirious or Accuradio I still think it was written about me...

"I had to look in the dictionary to find out the meaning of unrequited."

Yep, that was me...

Andrew Campbell said...

Ditto on a lot of this: 'Mermaid Ave' definitely made Guthrie more accessible to me; the Junkies' version of 'Sweet Jane' also to my mind eclipses the original.

The Wedding Present's version of The Beatles' 'Getting Better' is pretty great -- although it should be mentioned that half the content of their 'Hit Parade' albums was cover tunes, including The Monkees' 'Pleasant Valley Sunday.'

all best