Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Cover Me

As both of our regular readers understand, I'm a sucker for a good cover song. Invariably, at least one bizarre cover will make an appearance in my Friday Random Ten, and I'm not just talking about the literal covers like the brilliant "Ethel Merman Disco Album" cover that stands to the left here.

I'm talking about people having the guts and/or laziness to tackle a classic song and put their own spin on it. There's just something about hearing a familiar tune reworked in unfamiliar ways, about having someone rip apart a perfectly good song and patch it together in new and surprising ways. I like seeing what different artists can do with the same text.

In that spirit, I thought we'd have another midweek musical discussion.

What are your favorite cover songs? Here are some of mine:

Jose Gonzalez, "Teardrop" (Massive Attack) -- This one is incredibly impressive. With just an acoustic guitar and his own vocals, Gonzalez somehow manages to get this one right. Doubt me? Check it out yourdamnself.

Superchunk, "100,000 Fireflies" (Magnetic Fields) -- The worst interview I've ever read? A college newspaper sent its music reporter out to interview the notoriously-moody Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields and, in the very first question, asked him, "What does it feel like to be in a band most people only know because of a Superchunk cover?" Wow. Way to insult the interviewee and expose your own ignorance at the same time, Chuckles. While lots of people love to cover the Magnetic Fields, this is probably the best cover I've found.

Radiohead, "Nobody Does It Better" (Carly Simon) -- This is a live version from the B-Sides collection. Thom Yorke introduces it as "the sexiest love song ever," and dammit if he isn't right. The original was the theme song from "The Spy Who Loved Me," and was so sexy that it drove superhot Russian spy Barbara Bach into the arms of the talentless, nebbishy Ringo Starr.

Christopher O'Reilly, "Everything in Its Right Place" (Radiohead) -- O'Reilly is a classical pianist who put out an entire album of Radiohead covers for which all aspects of the original -- vocals, guitars, keyboards, etc. -- are reproduced by him and him alone on the piano. If you're a Radiohead fan (and thus, not a dirty communist) you might enjoy this. It has moments where it gets close to Muzak, but for the most part it's impressive.

Afghan Whigs, "Band of Gold" (Freda Payne) -- Greg Dulli has a thing for Motown songs, usually Supremes songs like "I Hear a Symphony" and "Come See About Me." I guess he's in touch with his feminine side and it looks a lot like Diana Ross. Despite his Supremes obsession, this Freda Payne cover is one of his best.

Johnny Cash, "Hurt" (NIN) -- This has to be the greatest swan song from a musical legend. Ever.

Miho Hatori, "Crazy for You" (Madonna) -- This is like Cibo Matto on quaaludes, with Hatori's airy vocals and a sparse acoustic guitar slowing the song waaaaaaaaay dooooowwwwwnnn. Beautiful.

The Folksmen, "Start Me Up" (Rolling Stones) -- This is from the soundtrack to A Mighty Wind. It's easily my favorite thing to come out of the movie, and I'm surprised they didn't show it in the film itself. It's a brilliant twist on the original, and one that really brings out the dirtiness of the lyrics. "You make a grown man kum-ba-yaaaaaaaaah, my Lord!" Beautiful.

Magnapop, "Thirteen" (Big Star) -- They take a nice, sweet folk song and make it a nice, sweet grunge song.

Urge Overkill, "Emmaline" (Hot Chocolate) -- Most people would probably select their cover of Neil Diamond's "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon," but I've always loved the tragic groove of this slow funker. It's fairly close to the original's sensability, but the vocals set it apart.

Red House Painters, "Long Distance Runaround" (Yes) -- This one's for the Thrillhous. Great cover.

The Cardigans, "Iron Man" (Black Sabbath) -- I have a weakness for Scandinavian pop groups, but when they regularly cover Black Sabbath songs -- as in this one, and another cover of "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" -- I have no defense.

Cat Power, "Wonderwall" (Oasis) -- This is from a live performance on BBC Radio. I normally despise all things Oasis, but her slowed-down acoustic version of this song is pretty damn good.

The Gourds, "Gin and Juice" (Snoop Doggy Dogg) -- There's something perverse about hearing a bluegrass band sling it Westsiiiiiidddeeeee, but this is absolutely brilliant. Along with an accordian-dominated cover of the Stones' "Miss You," this cover closes out a three-CD live set that the Gourds did at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville. Sa-lute!

Iron & Wine with Calexico, "Always on My Mind" -- This is from a concert given by these two for NPR (available here). The two combined for a final set of nine songs, three of which were great covers. ("All Tomorrow's Parties" and "Wild Horses" were the other two). This is perfect.

Alright, that's enough for now. I could do this all day, but you would've stopped reading long, long ago when I got into the ABBA covers I discovered over at Copy, Right?

Please feel free to drop your own favorites in the comments below. We'll then cover your comments into a new and wholly original version of our own.


Mr Furious said...

Wow after last week's FRT (containing a cover) the first song after the FRT that my iPod played was Johnny Cash's cover of Soundgarden's "Rusty Cage."

I immediately thought, I need to do a list of the best cover songs.

I often hear songs and think, "If I was in a band, I'd cover that..." But, that's a separate list.

I'll have to add to this as they occur to me...

I'll throw "Rusty Cage" up on the board.

And speaking of Soundgarden, they do a nice cover of the Stones "Stray Cat Blues" (among others).

Rage Against the Machine did a whole album of covers. "Maggie's Farm" (Dylan) and "Renegades of Funk" (Afrika Bambatta) are stand-outs.

Love Spit Love did a nice cover of the Smith's "How Soon is Now", but I'm not sure they changed it enough to qualify for this list.

Any ground rules here, Otto? Signicant change from the original? Do tribute albums count?

jt said...

Johnny Cash "Rusty Cage" (Soundgarden)
Martina McBride "I Still Miss Someone" (Johnny Cash and June Carter)

What can I say? I'm a sucker for the man in black. The work he did with Rick Rubin is truly amazing.

Also, you might want to check out the podcast of Coverville, Brian Ibbott's thrice-weekly (or so) ode to covers (including many of the ones in the original post). The RSS feed is available via iTunes and various other places, including

Otto Man said...

Any ground rules here, Otto? Signicant change from the original? Do tribute albums count?

No rules. The song should be one we might have heard of, I suppose, but other than that, have at it. Live covers, tribute albums, whatever.

Otto Man said...

Thanks for the tip, JT. That "Copy, Right?" website is also a good source for cover songs -- not all of them ABBA-related.

Mr Furious said...

[scrolling thru the iTunes at work...]

The Firm "You've Lost that Lovin' Feeling" (Righteous Brothers) -- Paul Rodgers is certainly qualified...

Stevie Ray Vaughn "Voodoo Chile" -- Jimi wouldnt've minded a bit.

Jeff Buckley "Halleluiah" (Leonard Cohen) -- Haunting and beautiful.

Joe Cocker made a career out of covers. Choose any song off any Greatest Hits / Best of. My favorites? "The Letter" (Boxtops?) and "Feelin' Alright" (Dave Mason?)

"Hey Baby (Land Of The New Rising Sun)" M.A.C.C -- More Soundgarden (sort of), this time covering Hendrix.

Van Halen also did some of their best work with other people's material. "You Really Got Me" is probably the best one.

sideshow bob said...

Johnny Cash also did a great cover of Beck's "Rowboat"...damn, Cash was awesome.

I also like Cake's version of both of the 70's disco standard "I Will Survive", and Willie Nelson's "Sad Songs And Waltzes".

I used to think that I hated country music, but then I realized that it's just that no one in modern country music has any talent...too bad.

Studiodave said...

Otto, you left off Lauryn Hill's "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You"?

Don't tell Malibu Stacy.

Otto Man said...

Crap, can't believe I forgot that one. Boo to me.

Thrillhous said...

Does stealing songs from old blues artists count as covering? If so, then we could list about half of Zeppelin's songs.

There's a song that Pearl Jam did that was a cover of an oldies song, but the name escapes me at the moment. It was about a guy and his girl getting in a car wreck and the girl dies. A little help?

Otto Man said...

Does stealing songs from old blues artists count as covering? If so, then we could list about half of Zeppelin's songs.

I'm really thinking of well-known songs that we covered later on. If the cover is better known, that doesn't count. (Though I am thinking of a future post on originals that are better than the cover.)

There's a song that Pearl Jam did that was a cover of an oldies song, but the name escapes me at the moment. It was about a guy and his girl getting in a car wreck and the girl dies. A little help?

Something like "Oh Where Oh Where Can My Baby Be?"

alex supertramp said...

thouse -- i think you are searching for "last kiss" -- originally performed by, errr the cavaliers or the chevys or some kind of car reference .. oh, irony is for the covers I'm a late comer (hehehehe) so I'll just say, yeah, covers are cool....

Thrillhous said...

Thanks Alex! "Last Kiss" is the one I was thinking of.

I don't think it counts as a cover, but R. Kelly's rendition of the national anthem a couple weeks back was, um, special.

ORF said...

Rufus Wainwright's cover of "Hallelujah" is superior to Buckley's IMHO. But then again, I seem to be about the only person on the planet who fails to get what he was about in the first place...I'm sure I have just spoken blasphemy with regards to those of you who frequent this page but y'all can suck it.

And speaking of blasphemy, T'hous, you are kidding about "Last Kiss" right? Man, I H.A.T.E.D. that Pearl Jam cover. It was rotten AND overplayed.