When a band or artist does a cover I think they should put their stamp on it. I may like it (The Caridgans version of “Iron Man”) or I may loathe it (Scissor Sisters version of " Comfortably Numb"), but at least there seemed to be a reason to do it.
But the other day I head a version of the Violent Femmes “Gone Daddy Gone” done by Gnarls Barkley that sounded exactly like the original save for the different voice. What’s the point of doing a song the same way?
They did it all the time in the 50s and 60s. Before groups like the Beatles, bands weren’t really known for writing their own music.
Nowadays it is pretty much about the money. Playing a hit from 20 or even 10 years ago can often guarantee a hit today, even if it’s a different crowd. Orgy did it with New Order’s Blue Monday and the Ataris did it with Don Henley’s Boys of Summer. Sometimes a different voice can make all the difference between what’s ‘cool’ (what sells) and what’s not.
I’ve noticed a lot of carbon-copy covers on film soundtracks. The most recent one I heard was Ben Fold’s note-for-note cover of The Clash’s “Lost in the Supermarket” which appeared over the end credits for “Over the Hedge”. I understand getting him to rerecord his own “Rockin’ the Suburbs” to delete the F-bomb from a PG-rated movie, but I didn’t see/hear any reason not to have used the Clash’s original. My possibilities: [ul]
[li]Don’t want to pay for the rights to the original.[/li][li]Can’t get permission to use the original (Cat Stevens refused to let John Landis use “Moonshadow” in American Werewolf in London)[/li][li](Most likely) Cross-promotion. Many soundtracks are released by a record label owned by the same conglomerate that owns the studio. Director wants a particular song, record company has new band they want to hype record a new version.[/li][/ul]
When it’s used on a soundtrack, it’s generally a contract issue. The original artist might be willing to have it on the movie, but asks for too much (or doesn’t want it on the soundtrack).
This sort of practice dates back at least to the Easy Rider soundtrack (one of the first to use existing rock songs exclusively). The movie used the Band doing “The Weight,” but they couldn’t get the rights to it for the album, so they substituted a version by Smith (not the Smiths, in case you’re wondering).
That gnarls barkley (I won’t even capitalize it because I hate them so much) version of the Violent Femmes’ amazing song is a complete disgrace. It adds nothing - actually, no, it adds suckitude. The voice is shittier, and the awesome marimba and guitar solos are gone.
I get sick to my stomach when I hear that cover.
I feel the same way about the Bloodhound Gang’s cover of Along Comes Mary by The Association. The original song kicks ass, with interesting rhythms, a booming brass section and incredible vocal harmonies. The cover manages to make it boring and grating.
Seriously, this is hard to figure out? Say you’re a performer, and maybe your songs aren’t as good as songs somebody else already wrote a long time ago. Great, just sing those other songs, and hopefully make oodles of money!
Another factor to think of is radio. Unless you’re an oldies/classic rock station, stations almost never play a song over 20 years old. That means crafty artists will cover a long in the tooth song almost exactly and get the airplay the older version got as the older version gets retired. A good example is Uncle Cracker’s “Drift Away”. Easy listening stations stopped playing Dobie Gray’s original in the late 90’s, so when Cracker released his cover it was an easy add for those stations. I agree with the dislike of the Gnarls Barkley cover. The original had a creepy overtone that the cover totally lacks, which makes it bland. Plus they omitted the original’s best line, "You know this will go on your permanent record.
My favorite is when they cover a slower song using frothy pop beats–the best examples being “Total Eclipse of the Heart” covered by Nicki French and Bryan Adams’ “Heaven” by DJ Sammy and Yanou (had to look that up!)
Although I guess there’s a point to that…different style and all, but is there ever a point to frothy remakes of slow songs? Not that I don’t sing along at the top of my lungs in the car.
I never really liked the original of So Happy Together until someone (ASP?) covered it for a soundtrack. It’s lameitude made me realize the original one fairly rocked. It’s amazing how a modern song can get even wimpier than a 60s song despite having more “hard rock” guitars and “punk” attitude.
A complete WAG: Sometimes, bands start by playing covers in concert, just because they like the song or they think they can do a good job with it or they think audiences will like it, and it gets such a positive reaction that they decide to record & release it?
For some covers, I think that’s definitely the case.
A friend of mine who was in a death metal band told me once they just spontaneously burst into Kiss’ “Cold Gin”, regardless of whether or not they all knew the music or lyrics. It was…interesting…sounding…
I’ve also heard of a number of bands that do covers just because they like to. Type O Negative, I think, falls into this category. Or, for that matter, 95% of all the ska bands out there…
Maybe it is Gnarls Barkley’s way of trying to tune their audience in to songs that they think their audience would like but is probably unfamiliar with? Other than that, the only reasons to cover a song are:
To do it in a radically different way (e.g. All Along the Watchtower)
To do it better (e.g. Strawberry Letter 23)
To get income for the songwriter (e.g. ?)
Conversely, the frothy dancey original version of “Mad World” by Tears for Fears is vastly inferior to the slow melancholy version done for the Donnie Darko soundtrack. Also see Travis’ cover of “Baby One More Time.” Maybe more songs would improve if they were made all slow and sad.