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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Cover Me: Boldly going where some other band has already been

Posted By on Wed, Aug 19, 2009 at 12:59 PM

So I was riding to work the other morning, satellite radio jamming, and I heard the familiar guitar licks of one of my favorite songs, Prince’s "Let’s Go Crazy." My happiness, to my dismay, was short-lived. Once the vocals started, and the voice of Brandon Boyd, lead singer on Incubus, started, I quickly realized that Prince had become yet another victim to cover-song-itis. A disease that has been around forever and shows no signs of slowing down. Ironically enough, the very next song was a remake of the WHAM! emo-hit, "Careless Whisper." My first thought was “do we really need covers of George Michael songs floating around and melting the minds of another generation??” But there is a bigger, more serious issue here: Are cover songs a good thing? Is imitation really the best form of flattery? The answer appears to be yes and no.

If one was to look at the wide range of cover songs that are out there, it is quite the hodge podge of attempts. You have choices such as Johnny Cash’s "Hurt" (legendary), The Ataris’ "Boys of Summer" (respectable), and Marilyn Manson’s "Sweet Dreams" (creepy). It would seem some songs just shouldn’t be covered (the aforementioned Prince number comes to mind), but still yet bands choose to fill slots on albums with “tributes” to the hits before them.

And it seems that covers fit into a variety of categories:

• The successful ones – Cash’s "Hurt," Black Crow’s "Hard to Handle," Red Hot Chili Pepper’s "Higher Ground."

• The career-defining ones: Sinead O’Conner’s "Nothing Compares 2 U," Alien Ant Farm’s "Smooth Criminal," Soft Cell’s "Tainted Love."

• The creepy ones (where an artist does a duet with a dead parent and freaks everyone out in the process): Natalie and Nat King Cole’s "Unforgettable," Hank and Hank Jr.’s "Tear in My Beer."

• The ones that have been done a gazillion times: "Crazy Love," "Ring of Fire," Anything by the Beatles, or apparently George Michael.

The cover song is quite the fickle beast.

There does seem to be one sure-fire exception that always seems to work. When a band or artist does a cover song in concert. Have you ever been to a concert and the band rolls into a cover of some past hit? Everyone goes wild. Why? Because everyone knows the song and can sing along? Because you want to hear how your favorite band makes a past hit their own? Perhaps these are questions we won’t ever have answers for. What we do know is there will inevitably be another cover lurking just around the corner (and with Michael no longer with us, be prepared for about 40 million MJ covers over the next 50-60 years).

So fearless reader, what great, awful, weird ones did I miss? Are covers a harmless form of imitation, or a complete lack of creativity? Leave a comment and let the debate continue to rage on ...

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