You should only cover a song if you have a reason for covering it. Financial considerations don’t count. Bring something new to the song. Make it your own. You’re a musician, interpret the music! It can be good or bad, just make it different from the original. Otherwise, what’s the point? If I like the song you covered I’ll just listen to the original unless you can give me a reason to listen to your version.
The only worthless covers are the boring ones. The ones that mindlessly ape the original song with no surprises or innovations. Here are a couple of good examples for reference.
A few years ago a Grateful Dead tribute CD came out. It was called Deadicated and included quite the roster of artists. Unfortunately most of them turned in boring covers.
Elvis Costello once said that the only things that matter to him are guilt and revenge, a very Irish point of view. And that really comes out on his contribution to Deadicated, “Ship of Fools”. He took a song that had always seemed like just another meandering bit of Grateful Dead twiddling and turned it into quite the bitter recrimination. He really made me listen to a song I disliked in a whole new way. That’s a good cover.
Jane’s Addiction’s slap-happy take on “Ripple” is another great cover. They rouse the song from its original shambling trot and spur it into a spirited gallop. Again a they took a song I truly despise (it’s a long story, but it reminds me of my drunken dorm roommate in college) and made it listenable for me. Thanks guys.
On the same album, we have Los Lobos going through the motions on “Bertha”. It sounds just like the Dead. They bring absolutely nothing to the table. It’s a complete waste of time.
While I love Los Lobos and I think their album Kiko is a work of singular genius, they’re a really bad cover band. Their cover of “La Bomba” similarly echoed the original. There’s a cover of Cream’s “Politician” on their box set Just Another Band From East L.A. that is also sort of uninspired. I guess some bands just aren’t good at reinterpreting other people’s songs.
My mission here is to spread Good Covers in the hope that they will overtake the bland and boring ones. If I post one that you enjoy, tell your friends and help me in my lonely battle.
I’m also open to suggestions. I can’t guarantee that anything you send me will make it onto the blog, but if you have an interesting cover drop me a line.
Thanks for reading and thanks for listening,