If you are covering a song should you ...

change the lyrics when the song was written for the opposite sex?

should you change the racial references when you are a white guy singing a rap song?

should you replace the original singer’s name with yours?

OK Jonathon Coulton doing “Baby Got Back” chanes Mixalot to Jonny C but otherwise true to the original.

So change it or keep it the same? keeping it the same tends to be more humourous.

Definitely switch genders. White people covering rap never works out IMO. (in fact I HATE when songs switch genres)

Changing the genders works most of the time, but not always.

One example, “The Girl From Ipanema,” which is often covered by female singers as “The Boy From Ipanema.” Except it doesn’t really work when it gets to the part about how the boy walks “like a samba” and “swings” and “sways” etc. It sounds more like how a man would talk about a woman walking - I’ve never heard of a woman caring much about a man’s walk. Not that it never could happen, but it just sounds weird.

The Astrid Gilberto version had it right. She still sang about a girl, but at the end, referred to a man who wanted her, described in the 3rd person. It changed “She looks straight ahead not at me,” to “She looks straight ahead not at he.” Not quite grammatically correct, but I think a bit of poetic license is okay here, and makes the most sense.

Genders should be left as is. It can put a completely different spin on a song, and challenge our assumptions about heterosexuality being “normal”.

The White Stripes version of Jolene is magnificent.

I was once given Aha’s “Hunting High and Low” to sing in a charity concert. I insisted on leaving the words as written - “him” instead of “her” at the end of the line just didn’t feel right. Lesbians can be in love too.

There are exceptions when it doesn’t work, mind you. I remember some daft lassie singing “The Man in the Mirror” on the X Factor. Just… no.

That’s not an assumption I’m willing to give up just yet.

I typically prefer all the lyrics (gender or otherwise) to be left alone. I don’t think it challenges our assumptions about anything, I usually just like the lyrics the way they are and it always throws me for a loop when I’m singing along and I stumble because the new singer changed something. But that’s just me.

A friend told me about hearing a female singer change “Sweet Caroline” to “Sweet Man of Mine”.

There are very few cases where changing lyrics is workable - “This Guy’s/Girl’s In Love With You” is the one that springs to mind.

Nope, left as is. The person covering the song didn’t write it, so I don’t think they should change it. If the covering artist is small-minded enough to have a problem singing a song as it was written, maybe they should pick another song.

An interesting hybrid is the Beatles’ cover of the Shirelles’ “Boys.” Pronoun gender was switched (“My girl says when I kiss her lips…”), but the chorus–a joyous tribute to, well, boys–remained as is. McCartney discussed this:

I’ve heard plenty of folk songs sung from the point of view of the other gender, and it’s never occurred to me that they were challenging any assumptions about sexuality*, but that the song has a story to tell or a point to make that the singer didn’t wish to change.

I’ve also heard covers where the gender has been changed successfully - Emmylou Harris’ version of Leonard Cohen’s “Ballad Of An Absent Mare” as “Ballad Of A Runaway Horse” is the most obvious one to me.

Either way can work, and it’s up to the artist.

*I’m sure some people have done it for this reason, and I’m sure it could work. I can’t think of any examples, though, other than “Jolene” which you mention - did you have some in mind?

The most famous gender flip is probably Me and Bobby McGee. As written (and much later recorded) by Kris Kristofferson Bobby’s a girl, in the most iconic performance by Janice Joplin Bobby’s a boy, and in covers it depends on the gender of the singer. (Dolly Parton probably does my favorite version and Bobby’s a boy.)

Speaking of Dolly Parton, Jack White has done her Jolene without gender flipping (though he sings it like Bobcat Goldthwaite, and the ‘long haired religious kid’ from Glee did a cover of his version also not flipping). So it depends on the singer and the song and the permissions I suppose.

Granted I dislike bossa nova, I don’t think I have heard this done. It seems more normal to me to just sing the song from Jobim’s (character’s) perspective, but in a soprano.

I think it’s fine to tell stories with your songs that don’t match your real persona or voice, and I think the White Stripes’ “Jolene” is brilliant–because of the passion Jack put into it.

That said, highly feminine singers singing “The Girl from Ipanema” kind of stick out in my mind as a mismatch (yeah, yeah, bossa nova classic, I know), so if someone wants to gender flip it, I say good for her.

On our cruise, I heard a male voice singing a recording of Beyonce’s All the Single Ladies. I have no idea if they changed the gender (I was in an elevator when I heard it, and the only portion I caught was “If you like it, then you gotta put a ring on it…”), but seriously:

What. The. Hell?

Legendary Delta blues singer Charley Patton recorded one of his masterpieces, Pony Blues, in 1929.

The third verse (starting at around 1:32 on the linked recording) contains the words:

Ain’t a brownskin woman something fit to eat (x2)
But a jet black woman, don’t you put your hands on me

I usually change “brownskin” to “Memphis” and “jet black” to Nashville". It makes no real sense, but is family-friendly.

A male friend of mine sings a cover of “Poker Face”, but doesn’t change lines like “I’m bluffin’ with my muffin” because he thinks it’s funnier that way.

I would leave the gender alone. To me, if you like a song enough to cover it, you shouldn’t change the lyrics in any way. When an artist does that, I immediately think they’re only in it for the money.

“Memory” from CATS, a song that has been covered by damn near everybody, was originally written for a woman, and contains the line “I was beautiful then.” Very few men sing the line as written, but change it to “LIFE was beautiful then.”

Besides being an “applied mathemetician”, are you a performing musician? Just curious.

I’m a girl, and I enjoy singing “Norwegian Wood” by the Beatles (“I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me…”) I don’t change the lyrics.