Cover Songs

As anyone who has ever met me can tell you, I like things.

I like horror movies and Sweet Tarts and cigars and eggnog-chai and Christian Bale. I like couture sewing and heirloom tomatoes. I like dogs. I like way more things than I dislike—so many things that if I were to assemble a detailed and comprehensive list, it would take me three months and would be far too long to ever read.

So, in lieu of that detailed list, today I’m going to narrow it down and share one particular well-liked thing.

Confession: I have a deep, abiding love of cover songs. I collect them. I hoard them. I covet them. (Also, I’m a huge fan of retellings, modern versions, graphic-novelizations, and movie remakes, but that’s a post for another day.)

The concept of the cover song appeals to me on a very frivolous level. Like musicals about cannibalism, or wearing combat boots with petticoats, the perfect cover song is a seamless melding of totally disparate things. It demonstrates profound understanding of the source material, but also wild departure. Honestly, there’s probably a term paper or a dissertation somewhere in all this, but that would take a long time and I would have to cite sources. Instead, because I’m currently-drafting and all-the-time lazy, I’m going to keep it simple.

Now, the simple thing.

I am going to share with you my favorite cover song in the history of cover songs:

It is performed by one of my favorite bands of all time, and it exemplifies that glorious combination of the wry, the highly-stylized, and my personal favorite, the “why would you ever cover that?”

By which I mean, this:

What about you: Do you like cover songs—or do you hate them? Which ones? Why?

36 thoughts on “Cover Songs

  1. I too LOVE cover songs. In fact Seether did one of my favs….of course I forgot the name *facepalms*

  2. Not a fan of covers. Although I do love Johnny Cash’s cover of Hank Snow’s “I’ve Been Everywhere” and I love just about any cover of The Cure.
    I once interviewed Christian Bale. Damn! He’s hot.

    • I completely get that some people (for instance, my husband) are just not about cover songs as a genre. Also, yes—the Cure are impressively coverable!
      I once interviewed Christian Bale.

  3. You know, I like you more and more with each post. As I type this, I’m taking a break from listening to Florence + the Machine’s cover of Hospital Beds by The Cold War Kids whilst hacking away at my fairytale retelling. :D I am a GINORMOUS fan of covers and retellings, as well! I love how someone can take something existing and turn it into something completely new and wonderful yet so familiar. <3<3<3<3
    And I was convinced at the age of 13 that I was going to marry Christian Bale. And he only improves with age! Yum.
    I’ve never heard either of those songs – different music style from what I usually listen to, but I like very much. Also, unrelated to Some Velvet Morning, but related to embedded music vids – you totally got me hooked on Regina Spector last year after you posted the vid for Laughing With. HOOKED to the point of where I am convinced it was listening to that song aprox. 300 times in a row that powered me to finish my WIP last summer. Yes, I do love your embedded videos!

    • I had this post-modernism class—you would have LOVED it! It was all about reinterpretation and repurposing and meta-everything. Our assignments were things like “write a one-page proposal for a postmodern novel,” and our final project was to “do something postmodern.” People came up with really amazing stuff—websites and performance art and academic papers that could be read in a different sequences and still make sense, but which made completely different points depending on how you read them—it was basically my favorite thing ever.
      Oh, “Laughing With” is largely (largely!) responsible for me even having a *draft* of The Space Between. Regina Spektor made that book EXIST! She is a wonderful lady . . .

      • Oh man, I would have loved that class!!! I was a Creative Arts major and my final project before graduation was something along the same vein, so I wrote a modern version of Iron Heinrich as a play for elementary schoolers. (I was an elem. school drama enrichment teacher for 4th-5th graders at the time, so I designed the costumes and sets and my students performed it for their parents – that was pretty awesome)
        But you wanna know the stupid thing? I just found the copy that I turned in to my teacher, and at the back, there’s a note saying “My friend is an editor at Scholastic and I’d love to help you get this published!” … and I didn’t take her up on it. I have NO CLUE why (other than that my wedding was the week of finals, so I was a tad distracted)and it was so long ago that my teacher doesn’t even work at my university anymore. *sigh*

  4. I love a good cover song myself. Soft Cell’s Tainted Love is still one of the greats IMO. And Bowie’s cover of the Who’s “I Can’t Explain”, especially the version he did on the Midnight Special which is just SEX. His cover of the Mersey’s “Sorrow” was pretty awesome too. And Bryan Ferry’s cover of the Everly Brothers’ “The Price of Love”. My favorite covers are, like the aforementioned, when someone can take a song I already like and make me like it even MORE. If I was on the computer with my iTunes collection I could come up with more…

    • Soft Cell’s Tainted Love
      ♥ And oh, Bowie!
      I’ve never heard the Bryan Ferry cover (I’ve really never listened to much Roxy Music—can you believe it?), but now I have to check it out.
      Those are my favorite kind of cover songs, too. I collect versions of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. (But only the versions I don’t hate with a fiery, fiery passion.)

  5. It actually wasn’t until recently that I began to understand why people *like* music the way I like books, likes songs were your comfort-things and had moods, and made you feel happy and brought you back to a time/place/person. But now I’m beginning to understand it, a little.
    As a result of this, I tend to not pay much attention to the artist, until I massively shuffled my iPod and heard “Blackbird” three times in a row – once by the Beatles, once by Chris Colfer, and once by Sarah McLachlan – and I realised how different and yet utterly the same the songs were.
    Or the first time I realised that the songs we sang at camp were ACTUALLY REAL SONGS? (For example, “Closer to Fine” by the Indigo Girls, and “Fireflies” by Faith Hill.) My mind was blown. For those, I prefer the off-key, camp versions to the “real” ones. :D
    Also, does acoustic vs regular version count? Because while I really like “Don’t Unplug Me” by ALLCAPS, I pretty much hate the acoustic version.
    Did I even answer the question? I can’t even tell. *sheepish* Great post, as usual.

    • Music took me a long time to figure out too, and I still think I don’t experience it quite the same way other people seem to.
      When I was in high school, all my friends talked about music in this completely foreign way, like it was somehow expressing the deep secret truths of their hearts. And for me, that was always books. I was always the one trying to get people to read certain novels or poems or paragraphs on existential philosophy because they resonated SO strongly with me, and my friends had essentially no interest in reading.
      I liked music—but I didn’t “get” it. Now I do more, but I think that for me, the most effecting thing will always be the written word. (I also won’t typically cry over movies, but a book can absolutely make me bawl.)
      Acoustic versions totally count—I collect those too. I don’t always like them as much as the original, but sometimes I wind up liking them more, or else they’re perfect for certain situations or writing certain scenes. Honestly, I think it just depends on the song, and on my mood.

      • all my friends talked about music in this completely foreign way, like it was somehow expressing the deep secret truths of their hearts. And for me, that was always books. I was always the one trying to get people to read certain novels or poems or paragraphs on existential philosophy because they resonated SO strongly with me
        YES! That’s it EXACTLY! It’s only really the last twoish weeks that I’ve really begun to understand, because it’s like Coldplay is reading my mind with “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall”.
        And it is also harder for me to cry over movies. If I do cry, it’s because the death reminds me of a real-life death I’ve experienced, or I’m projecting my feelings for the book-character onto the movie character. Like in Deathly Hallows part 2. I only REALLY cried when Hermione said, “We’ll go with you,” and her voice broke and SHE started crying. All the other deaths, I was far too angry about how their death was shown to be sad about them dying.
        I definitely agree with that. :D
        I loved THE REPLACEMENT, by the way, and I wanted to thank you both for it as a book, and for your posts, which always make me think.

        • because it’s like Coldplay is reading my mind with “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall”
          I LOVE finding those rare songs that really resonate—the ones that seem so specific and personal. It doesn’t happen very much for me, so when it does, it always feels like a really big deal.
          I’m projecting my feelings for the book-character onto the movie character.
          I think having that extra level of insight is what often makes books more effecting to me than movies. Even though I love movies and especially appreciate when they’re emotional and beautifully done, I just get so much more involved with books—the line between me and the character blurs more, I think.
          I’m really glad you liked The Replacement! And hey, if you keep reading the posts, I’ll keep writing them :)

  6. Tee hee! Weird song, but I like it.
    Also, it depends. I used to tend heavily toward the not-liking cover songs, but I think that’s changing with age. (Notable examples being Mindy Smith’s Jolene, Sara Bareilles’s Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay, and, as someone else mentioned, Chris Colfer’s Blackbird…and/or Sarah McLachlan’s as well…)
    As for story retellings, I’m a big fan of authors who place emphasis on the “-telling” and not the “re-“. (Like Jackson Pearce’s Sisters Red.)
    I cannot stand a retelling that uses the exact same plot but a different location/time/etc. “Oh, you’re writing a retelling? It’s Romeo and Juliet in the 21st century, you say? And Romeo zaps Tybalt with a taser instead of slicing him open with a sword? Well, that’s fresh, except that you didn’t change the plot, and I already knew that. I also already knew, about 150 pages ago, that Romeo is going to kill himself at the end. Again. So this book is going back on the shelf…”

    • I totally agree, retellings have to be fresh to really work—they have to bring something new to the table. Otherwise . . . what’s the point? It’s just, I see not-a-lot-of-value in saying what someone else said, only they said it first and they said it better.
      Full disclosure: I am not a musical person AT ALL and cannot tell the difference between a lot of things. Like lead guitar versus rhythm guitar. Or sometimes, which sound is the bass. (Hey, it’s bad.)
      I think one of the things I like so much about covers is that I *can* hear the differences—they’re obvious, and often emphasized. I like that exercise of taking the same thing, and then personalizing it.

      • “I like that exercise of taking the same thing, and then personalizing it.” Indeed! I believe that’s known as being a writer. :D Or any artist, really…
        Also, I’m familiar with your musical syndrome. On the rare occasions when we occupy the same vehicle, my mom likes to tell me that my music has no distinguishable instruments, too.

  7. I love cover songs! I have a whole playlist of them. My favorites are from the 80’s. I like to look up a song on itunes and then listen to all the different versions. There are some really, really bad covers out there.
    My all-time favorite is Total Eclipse of the Heart by Straight Outta Junior High. Makes me laugh every time…as I bob my head and sing along. Heh. Other favorites are Boys of Summer by The Ataris and Major Tom by I Hate Kate. Good stuff. :0)

    • There are some really, really bad covers out there.
      Amen! :D And I *love* covers of 80s songs. (This is probably an embarrassing admission, but I don’t care—I also love the original version of Boys of Summer.)
      Major Tom by I Hate Kate
      Yes! I really like it when super-electronic, very-produced originals are covered in a harder, grittier style. But man, I do love the Shiny Toy Guns cover of Major Tom too, even though it’s really glossy and twinkly. Because—wow, that last chorus is just incredible.

  8. I’m a fan of cover songs, too! It’s interesting to see how different yet the same they sound to the originals. The band Snake River Conspiracy has done some of my all-time-favorite covers. (Their version of “Lovesong” is so awesomely creepy, and their take on “How Soon is Now” is simply amazing–easily my fave version of that song ever!)

  9. This reminds me, I made you a mix cd of cover songs several years ago for christmas, only to discover at the last moment that the very first song on the disk was NOT, in fact, a cover…it was the original of something that had been made famous by someone else:( I never got around to fixing it, but it’s pretty good anyway, maybe I can dig it out again…
    -Sister Yovanoff

    • Wait. So, you’re telling me that you refrained from giving me a present because you discovered at the last minute that it was imperfect? Despite the fact that I have very little craftsmanship, poor attention to detail, and WOULD NOT HAVE NOTICED THE DISCREPANCY?
      You and Mom—I swear!

      • Also, one time I gave you a CD called “fourteen songs about sisters” where one of the songs was not, in fact, about sisters—I just put it on because I liked it. I think you get a pass.

  10. Too true. My personal favorites are Otep’s cover of ‘Breed’, and the irreplacable Tina Turner version of ‘Proud Mary’ (of course, Tina could cover any song and make the original artist sound tired by comparison).
    Actually, I think it’s funny that your top pick was ‘Some Velvet Morning’, because a while back, I made a playlist for THE REPLACEMENT and used that exact song. Granted, it was the Lydia Lunch and Nick Cave version, but go figure, right?

    • Man, I love that Tina Turner version! That’s one of the few covers where I just think, “What’s the point of listening to the original after this?”
      That’s awesome that you made a playlist, and really surprising to me that you included *any* version of “Some Velvet Morning” because I honestly think of it as such a weird, obscure song! While I did not include it on my Replacement playlist, the cover version I shared here is on the playlist for one of those perpetually half-finished projects that I pick at sometimes. Firewater just gives it this nice gunslinger twang that really fits the setting.
      (The project’s working non-title is Ozark Demons, so . . . yeah.)

  11. I like cover songs a lot, but it’s unusual if I actively seek one out–I prefer to be pleasantly surprised when I find out a band I love covered something, like Muse with “House of the Rising Sun” or The White Stripes with “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself.” Sometimes I spend an ungodly amount of time on YouTube listening to everyday people do covers of songs I like. People are really talented, but my least favorite are when they turn everything into something for the ukelele. Also, I saw in one of your comments that you took a PoMo class (I have also taken one) although your end-of-the-semester assignments sound more intense. I think, for me, “doing something postmodern” would have been hard because I didn’t feel like the class *really* made sense until it was over. Although apparently I wrote a paper about it just fine. But I really loved my class. It was like, once it made sense it really made sense. I basically think more classes like that should be offered in college (and why not high school?)

    • Sometimes I spend an ungodly amount of time on YouTube listening to everyday people do covers of songs I like.
      I did this a few years ago, looking for people performing “River” By Joni Mitchell. No, don’t ask me why—I don’t really have a reason. That’s how I came across Allison Crowe though, so it worked out :) She does some of the most beautiful piano covers I’ve ever heard. (Her version of Raining in Baltimore by Counting Crows is gorgeous.)
      I think, for me, “doing something postmodern” would have been hard because I didn’t feel like the class *really* made sense until it was over.
      Oh, trust me—the big joke of the class was, “It’s Postmodern if you say so.” No one had any real, solid sense of what made something Postmodern, even after it was over, but it was still one of my favorite classes of all time. And I totally agree that we need more things like that in general, but especially in high school. School is only ever fun when it’s interesting. And too often, it’s just not that interesting.

  12. I always assume, for some reason, the first version of a song I hear is the original, so when it comes to songs, usually that rule holds. Exceptions…

    I genuinely love and hate the Eagles– love the songs, hate the way the band plays them. This cover also has the bonus of being perfectly placed in The Big Lebowski.
    A reverse example of the Eagles phenomenon is that I cannot get enough of anything the Zombies do (excepting their attempts at rock, they are a jazz band through and through). Sample:

    just fantastic. The keyboards, Colin Blunstone’s voice…so cool. I’ll stop here, I could honestly go on about cover songs for ages!

    • I absolutely agree about the Eagles (and the placement of the Gipsy Kings cover). I would like the Eagles so much more if they were just . . . an entirely different band.
      As for the Zombies, I actually *do* like their rock singles, even though they certainly don’t showcase his voice to best advantage. (Marginally related note—oh, Burt Bacharach, I <3 you.)

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