Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Covers Suck: A Commentary

This past weekend, I was subjected to a cover band. Check that, a horrible cover band. While listening to them ruin a perfectly good song, I got to thinking about good covers. I couldn't think of many, especially of those performed by national acts. Most are shells of the original. And most of those that make popular radio play are performed by bands that have passed their peak, looking for a little more glory and more accurately, a little more money. Case in point, 311. They took a good song, not great by any means (try "Prayers for Rain" or "Disintegration", much better selections off of the same album), in "Love Song" by The Cure, and added a psuedo-reggae riff and it gets huge radio play, more than the original. Using a cover as a radio single is saying to me that you are lazy or have lost your originality and can't come up with something new to hold the interest of your fans or attract new one. You can call it a tribute, wonderful, but keep it on the album and off the radio. Make it a gift to those who actually buy your album or come to your live show. Artists are also making whole albums of covers. 'I don't feel like writing anything. I know, let's make an album of covers!' Cat Power? I know you have it in you to write your own material. You are breaking my heart. Please, save it for a live performance. Even if they are songs that no one has heard in years, please be original. And country artists, stop taking relatively current pop songs and turning them country-fried. These songs were never meant for the audience you are reaching!

The biggest problem is those subjected to these covers actually think that the songs are the performing artists orginal work. I don't know how many times I heard the story of a 'tween saying how the Dixie Chicks ruined the Smashing Pumpkins "Landslide". I am no means a Fleetwood Mac fan, but for god sakes people, know your music history! Those of you in my age group know the Say Anything soundtrack like the back of your hands. I was at a concert this fall and one band (Shiny Toy Guns) took a Depeche Mode classic, "Stripped", and tore it a new one. It almost brought a tear to my eye, and not in a good way. I had to go out and indulge my nicotine habit during the debacle. However, the kids on the floor in front of the stage were eating it up. They had no idea that the song is 20 years old and was on one of the best soundtracks and live albums ever made (thats the double disc 101 for the DM deprived). And the band never made a mention of who's song it was, maybe trying to pass it off as their own?

That is not to say there are not worthwhile cover songs out in the world. "Killing Me Softly" by The Fugees is one that strikes me as a good cover (I could have done without the 'one-time' and 'two-times'). Of course, Roberta Flack is not in my current playlist, but I recognize a good song when I hear it. Lauryn Hill was the right person with the right voice to remake that song. If some pop-whore tried, it would have gone down in flames. Even 10000 Maniacs feminizing "Everyday Is Like Sunday" was a little weak, but better than most efforts.

Here's the bottom line: For the most part, covers are an abberation that should be limited to crappy bands at college bars, live shows and B-sides. Some may break the mold and actually be as good as the original, but that is a longshot.

Some covers for you. Decide if they stand up to the original. Comment away...

Creeping Weeds - (I'm a) Donkey For Your Love (BOAT)
David Ford - There Is A Light That Never Goes Out (The Smiths)
East Hundred - Save A Prayer (Duran Duran)
Editors - Lullaby (The Cure)

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with you some aspects of covers. But the nice thing about a bad cover is that in some cases it will draw people to the older song.

However, as far as music history, it used to be up until the time of Bob Dylan and the Beatles, that recording artists - especially solo singers - sang songs written by other people. Many of them were interpreters - I think Cat Power is a good case of a modern version of this - in that she receives as many kudos for her interpretations as she does any original work.

To say that someone is lazy by covering someone else's written work is disingenous - in part, because cover songs are often criticized much, much more.

Bands known for doing original work, I think, often fall into the lazy category as far as creating new work - but a good cover is fabulous.

Think of Sonic Youth's Superstar, Aretha Franklin's RESPECT or Cat Power's Bob Dylan's "memphis" song on the I'm Not There soundtrack.

Again I agree with you for the most part because comemrcial acts do try and throw out a cover for a quick buck (although I don't think the Dixie Chicks did, while Billy Corgan has admitted he did throw his version of Landslide out and wished he had done a better version), and I used to be more elitist, but I have found that I don't care if someeone likes some crap that I don't anymore.

I should also add that I am a fan of Fleetwood Mac - especially Lindsey Buckingham. You should check out Tusk and also get camper van bethoven's album Tusk - which is a complete cover of the entire album. Also great.

Thursday, February 07, 2008  

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