Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Art of the Cover

Covering is the easiest way for any band, using the parlance of the current times, "to get their shit together." Something already released is there for the picking, to be (sometimes) easily adapted and played, allowing the band to gel in many ways. But it is a fickle art. Why? Because 99.9% of the time, the original is that much better. The prototypical cover wishes to faithfully address the original: alright by any means, but unless the original was poorly executed, leaving way for the cover, there is not too much to offer. The not-so-standard cover wishes to cast a song in a new light: daring, but there is a strong chance of the cover severly backfiring. A recast cover can be considered pure brilliance, or it could just be a flaming pile of garbage.

Inherently, though, there is the problem of "first version heard." Let me use the example of Paul McCartney's "Live or Let Die." This is the version I first heard of the song. I love the song to death, even with the really hokey "spy movie music" middle bits that sound really dated and sort of stupid at times. My good friend heard the Guns 'n' Roses version first. He thinks that version is a lot better than the original. So we reach the problem of "first version heard," where the first version heard is the one that sticks out. You could consider it musical tastes, but more often than not it's the version you heard first.

Another good example is that of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower." This is the version I heard first, the one I love the most. The majority of the public has likely heard Jimi Hendrix's version first. My opinion? I hate Hendrix's version. To me, the original has a sense of urgency, immediacy and primacy (something like the devil chasing him, etc. etc.) that is substituted with some sort of frilly pomp and circumstance in Hendrix's version. Certainly a strong stance on the cover, but I truly feel that way. All covers and further occuring instances pale in comparison to the original.

Here, however, are examples of some good covers that I have located recently:

The first is the Faces doing Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed." If I have discussed music at at any real sort of length with you, you probably know my position on this sort of thing. Anyone who dares to tarnish anything Beatles or Beatles-related deserves all sorts of fiery death rained upon them and etc. etc. Only real exceptions are Beatles playing other's Beatle songs (i.e. Paul McCartney doing Harrison's "Something" or "A Day In the Life/Give Peace A Chance") or other super-gods doing them (i.e. Neil Young's version of "A Day In the Life," Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra doing "Something"). And somehow this version defies my rules entirely. Let's face it, Rod Stewart and co. aren't really "super-gods," though Ronnie Wood comes close. But just listen to it, and you can't help but acknowledge that this faithful reproduction is pretty damn awesome. It's got more of a rockin' feel too it, with the solos hitting you a little harder than the original. Though the keys are a bit hokey and not as well-fitting as I would hope, but still to find something pretty good is damn impressive.

This second one is a recasting, by David Sandström and co., whoever they are, and their dramatic recasting of Wilco's "Jesus, etc." It's a dramatic turn from a shuffle to a much, much slower sort of "hymnal" deal, and I use that word loosely. This version sure ain't a dirge, but who knows what the heck it is. Regardless, the translation to Swedish was really well done, and the cover is beautifully done. I have been sort of listening to this one a lot lately, so call me biased...maybe.

And the last one is a recent one, and it's another dramatic recasting, this one by Antony and the Johnsons. Antony and the Johnsons have turned the, er, "bootylicious" Beyoncé song "Crazy In Love" into a virtual elegy, slowed to a "Moonlight Sonata"-esque pace and all. Personally, I like this version better, but you can call me biased because I am not a fan of the "popular music" climate at the moment. It features trademark Antony piano, chilling strings backing right now, and obviously the trademark quivering Antony vocals. It works. It really does. Kudos to this guy.

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