what came first?...the cover or the cover version...

Posted by Brad Schelden, November 11, 2007 05:32pm | Post a Comment
I don't know what it is that gets me about cover songs. But I really do like them. It is always fun to hear one of your favorite bands cover some horrible song that was not really good before they covered it. Or to hear  some band do a sort of tribute to some awesome song you loved in your youth. As I listen to more and  more music I also find out that some of the songs that I loved forever and thought were originals were actually covers of much older songs. I didn't grown in the girl group 60's or the Motown 70's. So many of the songs that I originally heard in the 80's and 90's that I thought were originals, were actually just covers. When I bought the  Siouxsie & The Banshees "Through the Looking Glass" cassette and listened to it for the first time, I had no idea it was all covers. It only took me a couple years to figure it out. I had not heard Television and Iggy Pop yet. I also heard most of the covers on the This Mortal Coil albums for the first time as "This Mortal Coil" songs.  It is weird to grow up hearing one version of a song only to learn later that there is some older original version that actually inspired the version I grew up loving. How would I know that the Soft Cell song "Tainted Love" was actually performed 10 years before I was born by the great Gloria Jones. The song was then covered by Ruth Swan in 1975. After the Soft Cell version that I grew up with in the early 80's, the song has of course been covered countless more times. The song has been performed by Blue Oyster Cult, Coil, Marilyn Manson, and the Pussycat Dolls. Rihanna even sampled the Soft Cell version a couple of years ago for her song "S.O.S."

There have been many entire tribute albums over the years. Some have been great. Most have been pretty bad. The best covers tend to turn up as b-sides and bonus tracks on actual artists albums. Sometimes they work there ways into the live shows and then end up as extra tracks on reissues or singles. They tend to also turn up on soundtracks. The great Cat Power will release her second entire album of covers early next year. The first one was fantastic. There is a great website to search for all your favorite cover songs. You can look at it here. Some of my favorite covers over the years have been covers of new wave and 80's songs by artists in other genres. I absolutely love Johnny Cash's covers of "Personal Jesus" by Depeche Mode and "Hurt" by Nine Inch Nails. I don't know why but I really love Rammstein's cover of "Stripped" by Depeche Mode. And even though this song was a bit overplayed, I still have a special place in my heart for Frente's cover of "Bizarre Love Triangle" by New Order. Placebo have a whole bonus disc of cover songs. They do great covers of "Running up that Hill" by Kate Bush and "Bigmouth Strikes Again" by The Smiths. Xiu Xiu does an amazing cover of "Fast Car" by Tracy Chapman. I also love Low's incredible version of "Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me" by The Smiths. These are just some of my favorites. I could go on forever. The band Japancakes do an entire album cover of "Loveless" by My Bloody Valentine. The original is one of my favorite albums and they really do a great job covering the entire album. But I also love those cover versions that you really only need to hear once. Sometimes I just need to laugh and some covers often do the trick. William Shatner did a brilliant cover of "Common People" by Pulp. Me First & the Gimme Gimmes do a great cover of "Jolene" on the their last country album. There have been many brilliant covers of Jolene over the years. My favorite being Strawberry Switchblade. But it is really about the b-side of "I Will Always Love You" on the recently released single. Whitney Houston already ruined the song for the "Bodyguard" soundtrack. The song was originally by the great Dolly Parton for the movie "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas." That Whitney Houston song was so overplayed that she almost made me never want to listen to the Dolly version again. Me First sort of make up for it with their version. It is at least meant to be funny.

These are some of my favorite covers at the moment...

The Killers do a cover of "Shadowplay" by Joy Division for the soundtrack to the new movie "Control." Its is the only new song on this great soundtrack. I really did love this movie so much more than I thought I was going to. Anton Corbijn did such a great job of capturing the feel of the band. And the cast was really amazing. The guys actually looked and sounded like the band. I am sure most Joy Division fans will probably hate this new Killers cover. I think some fans feel like they have to hate any band coming in and covering one of their favorite bands. But I actually really do like this version. They don't try and sound exactly like Joy Divison. They actually take the song and make it into a great Killers song. If you have never heard the song before it could easily just sound like another great Killers song. The band was obviously a fan of Joy Division and I am sure were excited to even be on the soundtrack. Another great thing about this soundtrack is that there are only 4 Joy Division songs on the soundtrack. The soundtrack has songs from The Velvet Underground, Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Kratwerk, Roxy Music, and New Order. You really just need to go get those great reissues if you need some more Joy Division in your life. But one of the Joy Division songs is the cast version and it is seriously hard to tell which one it is. The band in the film is really that good.

The Chromatics just put out a great little album called "Night Drive." The album was originally a tour only thing that they decided to release some copies of in some stores. The album includes a brilliant cover of "Running up That Hill" by Kate Bush. It is one of the most over played songs by Kate Bush and it has already been covered a bunch of times. But it is also still a really great song. Their version even comes close to being better that the original. They also take the song and turn it in to their own song. I think I listened to it about 10 times on the day that I picked up the CD. Its a great little electronic cover of the song.

The band Test Icicles seemed to break up only months after their album came out. I was just starting to like them. Devonte Hynes is now in the band Lightspeed Champion and just put out their first EP. It is called "Galaxy of the Dust." They have an album coming out next year on Domino. I really fell in love with the EP and have been listening to it a bunch this last month. It does not really sound anything like Test Icicles but I don't really even know how to describe it. But it has an adorable cover of "Xanadu" by Olivia Newton-John from the soundtrack for Xanadu. It completely reworks the song into a cute little indie rock song. They also cover "Flesh Failures/Let the Sun Shine In" from the soundtrack to Hair. This song is also brilliant and completely different. This EP really got me excited for that new album next year.

I think Ryan Adams has had about 10 albums and EPs in the last couple of years. I was sort of getting over him a bit. I really have not liked much since the Rock N' Roll album. But he does have a great little cover on his new EP "Follow the Lights." It actually took me a minute to figure out the original even though I already knew all the words. He covers "Down in A Hole" by Alice In Chains. The song was on their album "Dirt" from 1992. Not exactly the song I would expect for him to cover. But he takes over the song and it becomes a Ryan Adams song.

Bat for Lashes does a great version of "I'm On Fire" on her album "Fur & Gold." The song was originally done by Bruce Springsteen on his "Born in the U.S.A." album. Imagine a Joanna Newsom type with a less annoying voice with Lisa Gerrard from Dead Dance playing the music. It is a haunting little cover and I love it. She has an amazing voice. These are the sort of covers that I love. It sounds completely different. The entire album is fantastic but this song is a nice end to the album.

Relevant Tags

Joy Division (29), Ryan Adams (15), Xanadu (2), Covers (2), The Killer (2), Chromatics (13)