Friday, May 16, 2014

Your Favourite Covers

In case the whole 69 Love Songs thing hasn't made it clear, I'm a big fan of cover songs. Actually, I'll amend that: I'm a big fan of cover songs IF they do something new with the source material. Playing a note-for-note cover can be fun at live shows, but there's really no need to record it unless you're bringing something original to the table.

For the last couple of days, I've been asking people on Twitter and Facebook what they consider to be the best cover of all time. Here are 20 of the songs that were suggested - let's see how inventive these reinventions are, shall we?

I'm Shakin' by Jack White
Original Artist: Little Willie John
Suggested by Amy Wise

Reinvention Rating: 2/5 - Jack adds a whole lot of attitude and (if I'm not mistaken) a couple of extra verses, but in spite of the added vim and vigour, it's still essentially the same track.

Comfortably Numb by Scissor Sisters
Original Artist: Pink Floyd
Suggested by Joshua Robson

Reinvention Rating: 5/5 - Destiny's Child, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, The Bee Gees - it sounds closer to any of these artists than it does to Pink Floyd.

Such Great Heights by Iron and Wine
Original Artist: The Postal Service
Suggested by Thom Cliffe

Reinvention Rating: 5/5 - It's amazing that two songs can sound so different when they're based around the same lyrics, sung to the same tune. Sam Beam swaps the pulsing electronica of the original for a lolloping, dreamy guitar pattern, plucking his gentle, unhurried way through the song to very nice effect.

If You Want Blood (You've Got It) by Mark Kozelek
Original Artist: AC/DC
Suggested by Dave Clare

Reinvention Rating: 3/5 - It's a pretty straightforward acoustic guitar cover, but given that it's an acoustic guitar cover of an AC/DC song, it still sounds like a massive departure from the source material. Mark Kozelek's voice makes those lyrics sound far deeper and more meaningful.

Firestarter by Jimmy Eat World
Original Artist: The Prodigy
Suggested by Dave Mahoney

Reinvention Rating: 4/5 - Firestarter is hardly prog rock, and yet JEW (that's a slightly unfortunate acronym, isn't it?) have taken that repetitive dance track and turned it into a slow-building, six-minute indie rock song. This version would have been right at home on an early Snow Patrol album.

Hot N Cold by The Baseballs
Original Artist: Katy Perry
Suggested by Rhys Topping

Reinvention Rating: 4/5 - The Baseballs are a covers band; taking modern pop hits and re-imagining them as '50s jukebox fodder is pretty much their entire schtick. Still, it's a good trick, and this is a great example of how they roll - they've removed all the synthetic elements from Katy Perry's song and turned it into something that Elvis would have been happy to sing.

Forever Young by Youth Group
Original Artist: Alphaville
Suggested by Jimmy Lawrance

Reinvention Rating: 3/5 - Youth Group took a synth-heavy song and made it sound raw and natural, like something a band would play on a beach. In a way, it's kind of similar to what The Baseballs did with Hot N Cold.

Superstar by Sonic Youth
Original Artist: The Carpenters
Suggested by Super Dudey and Joey Baltimore

Reinvention Rating: 2/5 - It's been Youth-ified a little bit (i.e. it's noisier and more lo-fi than before) but they don't make any major changes to the basic song. 

Romeo and Juliet by The Killers
Original Artist: Dire Straits
Suggested by Thom Cliffe and Amy Harrison

Reinvention Rating: 1/5 - But for Brandon Flowers and more modern-sounding production, it's the same as the Dire Straits version.

Hurt by Johnny Cash
Original Artist: Nine Inch Nails
Suggested by Simon

Reinvention Rating: 4/5 - The arrangement is different, of course - Trent Reznor's creepy piano and scary noises have been swapped for a more au natural sound - but the true revelation of Johnny Cash's version lies with Cash himself. Those lyrics mean completely different things in the mouth of a dying old man (as opposed to a relatively young drug addict).

The Ghost of Corporate Future by Bomb the Music Industry
Original Artist: Regina Spektor
Suggested by Adam Halton

Reinvention Rating: 5/5 - The song is the same but the delivery couldn't be more different. Regina Spektor's wry, kooky lyrics are run through a punk rawk filter and shouted through rusty vocal chords. Awesome.

Step On by Happy Mondays
Original Artist: John Kongos
Suggested by Neil Cooper

Reinvention Rating: 5/5 - So different to the original, it demanded a slightly different title. The iconic piano line and the stuff about twisty melons are nowhere to be find in the John Kongos recording.

No One Knows by John Smith
Original Artist: Queens of the Stone Age
Suggested by Thom Cliffe

Reinvention Rating: 4/5 - Smith's version actually cleaves pretty close to the standard arrangement, but the jaunty tempo and the fact that it's just a man and a classical guitar set it worlds apart from the full-bodied blueprint that QOTSA laid down.

Wicked Game by Giant Drag
Original Artist: Chris Isaak
Suggested by Jim Auton

Reinvention Rating: 3/5 - As with Sonic Youth's Superstar, this adds a lot of noise but doesn't really tamper with the essentials. Still, the noise makes a lot more difference this time, and GD get 3 out of 5 for transforming a smooth, sexy song into something so jagged and fraught.

Last Kiss by Pearl Jam
Original Artist: Wayne Cochran
Suggested by Super Dudey

Reinvention Rating: 2/5 - Pearl Jam have slowed it down and made it sound a little more grungey and primal (as you'd expect), but other than that, not much has changed.

Hallelujah by Kathryn Williams
Original Artist: Leonard Cohen
Suggested by Amy Harrison

Reinvention Rating: 2/5 - For all the Cale vs. Buckley vs. Wainwright debates, no Hallelujah cover has ever really changed the original formula all that much. Williams adds a nice violin part and takes her foot off the accelerator a little bit, but it's generally the same old same old.

Black and Gold by Guillemots
Original Artist: Sam Sparro
Suggested by Jimmy Lawrance

Reinvention Rating: 4/5  - As with The Baseballs and Youth Group, the shift from synthetic to organic instrumentation has a profound impact. The 'Mots don't reinvent the black 'n' gold wheel here, but they do make it sounds like a genuine Guillemots song, and that's the mark of a good cover: the artist makes it their own.

Baby Got Back by Jonathan Coulton
Original Artist: Sir Mix-a-Lot
Suggested by Sarah Macleod

Reinvention Rating: 5/5 - Perhaps the only cover on this list to completely change the tune of the song in question. Coulton turns the infamous buttrap into a sweet, summery indie song - my favourite part is the recurring 'LA face with the Oakland booty' line, which sounds strangely ominous when set t to that sugary-sweet arrangement.

Twist and Shout by The Beatles
Original Artist: The Isley Brothers
Suggested by Rhys Topping

Reinvention Rating: 2/5 - It's hard to articluate why the Fab Four's version of this song is so much more satisfying than the original. It feels a bit looser, the pace is a little quicker, but it isn't really any different to what the Isleys did. I think that John Lennon's vocals are the key factor - they just sound so raw and rock 'n' roll compared to the IB recording.

Common People by William Shatner
Original Artist: Pulp
Suggested by Thom Cliffe

Reinvention Rating: 4/5 - It's faster! It's more rocked-up! Most of the lyrics are spoken instead of sung! Pulp's recording sounds positively motorik when placed next to this frantic, frenzied bonkersness.

Thanks to everyone who made a suggestion - I really enjoyed listening to all of these. And well done for choosing so many covers that do change things up a bit and put a new twist on old material. Y'all have good ears.

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