I love a good cover version, especially when the artist finds a new spin. You could say it feeds directly into my own impulses to mash genres together and see what results, but musicians tend to be somewhat cooler in their experimentation. To whit, 6 cover versions I think everyone should listen to at least once:
If you’d prefer not to listen to the youtube playlist, I’ve broken ’em down one-by-one below.
There’s a strong possibility that the pang of pure melancholy I feel when I hear the opening guitar notes to the Paradise Motel’s Flight Paths album is a pure Pavlovian response to one of those albums that served as a soundtrack for three or four straight years of my life, and the real centerpiece of the album is the cover of the Car’s Drive. The Paradise Motel take what was a minor pop hit, slow it the fuck down, and imbue it with the kind of sorrow that’d have a small passel of emo kids huddled in a corner wondering why one needs guitars and black hair in order to appear miserable. No youtube clip for this one (correction; there’s now one linked above), but if you listen real carefully you can hear in the soundtrack of the He Died With a Felafel in His Hand movie (speaking of which, why don’t I own a copy of that film yet? Seriously?) or get lucky if you spend enough time poking around Last FM.
There is some crazy kind of power in taking hideously poppy songs and slowing them down, discovering the sadness in them. The Paradise Motel does it above, the oft-mentioned Mad World cover from Donnie Darko does it as well, but none of it takes something quite as crazy as Beyonce and achieves the same affect as Antony on the Johnstons.
3) Pierre, The Dresden Dolls
I’m a sucker for the Dresden Dolls and they have a wide variety of very mighty covers out there, including Black Sabbath (War Pigs) and their version of Pretty In Pink, but their live DVD made me a huge fan of this Carol King cover. Largely, for once, thanks to the awesomeness that is Brian Viglione. Much as I love the Amanda-Fucking-Palmer solo stuff, I find myself missing the male half of the Dresden Dolls more and more. I think it’s the facial expression that make this song.
4) I was Only Nineteen, The Herd
Somewhere along the line I became a Herd fan, and they’d become the band I’ve seen more often than any other. I’m not sure when that happened. I’m pretty sure this one will be lost on people who aren’t Australian and therefore missed the Red Gum original, and I know plenty of people who are all “ooo, sacrilege” that a hip-hop group has covered what is essentially one of the best-known Aussie protest songs, but when you see this being performed it starts making total sense that it needed to be covered and the Herd needed to do it.
Let me make something clear: I don’t like Cold Chisel. Not ironically, not unironically, not even a little. I have sung along to Khe Sanh only once in my lifetime (this is, in the eyes of many people I know, as un-Australian as you can get), and that was when I saw someone doing it as a cover. It’s not that Cold Chisel can’t write an okay song (Don Walker teamed with Tex Perkin’s is a musical combination that’s truly droolworthy), it’s just that Jimmy Barnes’ voice gives me the shits. Then Sarah Blasco comes along and does a nice, gentle cover of Flame Trees and I’m hooked.
6) Straight Outta Compton, Nina Gordon
A few years back Tori Amos put together a covers album called Strange Little Girls, built up around the concept of singing songs traditionally associated with men and seeing what happened when a woman sang it. It’s an impressive album, one of my favorites, but I think Nina Gordon’s cover of NWA’s Straight Outta Compton takes the cake when it comes to recontextualizing songs by the gender of the performer.
Honorable Mentions: Smells Like Teen Spirit, Tori Amos (good, but slipped out of contention due to much repetition and too many Tori Amos covers); Come As You Are, The Charlie Hunter Trio (Someone, somewhere, is spinning in their grave); Crazy Mary, Pearl Jam (woulda made the list, but so close to the original Victoria Williams Song); Ziggy Stardust, Bauhaus (see above, plus one day a bunch of goths will argue about who is sexier while performing this song – Bowie or Peter Murphy – and it will result in the end of the world); Love Will Tear Us Apart, Nouvelle Vague ( actually, they should be on the list above, but I ended up listing their entire catalogue of covers and couldn’t pick a favourite); actually, even now I need two spots for Nouvelle Vague, cause Too Drunk to Fuck has to be on the lists somewhere (really, French women channeling Jello Biafra to bossa nova? Sign me up – it’s the stuff of awesome).
Feel free to feed my cover-version addiction and tell me what I missed 🙂