Best Cover Songs That Are Nothing Like the Original

May 26, 2015

It’s summer and time for a Random Pop Culture Apocalypse post.

Sometimes the person who creates something is not as well positioned as others to interpret and present it as someone else with a fresh perspective.  I learned this during grad school when Paul Peterson would annually host a conference in which discussants presented papers rather than the authors.  As it turns out, authors fall too much in love with every detail of their own papers and have difficulty distinguishing between what is important and interesting and what is not.  The authors could respond to clarify or rebut the interpretations offered by the discussant, but the bulk of presenting was done by someone other than the author.  And that approach made otherwise dreadful and boring academic conferences much more interesting and productive.

The separation of creator and performer is a common occurrence in other fields, particularly music and theater.   The cover song, however, is especially challenging because we already know the interpretation offered by the original creator.  When the cover differs from the expected pattern of the familiar original it sounds wrong to us.  We tend to enjoy familiar repetition in music, something that Lisa Margulis writes about in On Repeat: How Music Plays the Mind.  The trick of a successful cover is to offer an interpretation that is dramatically different from the original.  This allows us to forget the expected familiar song and appreciate the same song as something new and different.

I’m going to start a list of great cover songs that sound nothing like the original.  Feel free to add your own in the comments.

Jump by Aztec Camera

David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen have got nothing on this cover by Scottish new wave band, Aztec Camera.

Our Lips are Sealed by Fun Boy Three

The song was actually co-written by Jane Wiedlin, the guitarist in the Go-Go’s, and Terry Hall, who was in Fun Boy Three and The Specials.  The Go-Go’s released their original recording in 1981 and Fun Boy Three followed with their version in 1983.  Strictly speaking the Fun Boy Three version is not a cover since it was co-written by Hall, but it is awesome enough to include in this list.

Mad World by Gary Jules

The Tears for Fears original is pretty great but this interpretation by Gary Jules is even better.  And it has a great video.

I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself by The White Stripes

Jack White nails this cover of the Dusty Springfield original.  And the video is… um… er… also fun to watch.

Heartbeat by The Vulgar Boatmen

This is an unusual cover in that the original was done by an earlier incarnation of the same band (or at least some of the same people).  I know both are obscure, but I’ve previously written about The Vulgar Boatmen as the best band you’ve never heard of.  The original by The Gizmos is by a band that you’ve certainly never heard of.  But listen to both and marvel at how much a different interpretation can change a song, even when both versions are really good.

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What do you think are the best cover songs  that are nothing like the original?  No fair picking covers that are better known than the original (e.g. most covers of Bob Dylan, etc…)

(H/T Brian)


Wildflower Fever

April 10, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So I am struggling not to nominate the most blindingly obvious choice for the Higgy this year….must……resist!

In the meantime, I decided what this blog needs this Friday is a late 20th Century folk-revival tune…enjoy!


For Sale: Awesome Mix Volume 1

December 14, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Got that impossible to shop for science fiction fan who already has everything? Well he or she doesn’t have this.

You’re welcome.


Episode VII, Special Edition

December 4, 2014

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Ladies and gentlemen, humor is now concluded. We have a winner.

(You won’t get it if you haven’t seen this yet, but then, if so there’s no hope for you anyway.)


Iron Maiden?!? Excellent!!

October 31, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)


Stop Nick Cage Before He Kills Again!

September 25, 2014

Spurious Correlations

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

This graph of the correlation between the number of Nicholas Cage films and the number of swimming pool drownings in each year (correlation = 0.666004) and many more await you at Spurious Correlations.

Here’s the graph of the age of Miss America and the number of murders by steam, hot vapors and hot objects (correlation = 0.870127):

Spurious Correlations 2

Perhaps you scoff at such weak correlations. It may interest you to know that the marriage rate in Kentucky and the number of people who drown after falling out of a fishing boat correlate at 0.952407! What on earth are newlyweds doing in Kentucky, and how do we put a stop to it?

HT Michael Strain


Random Pop Culture Apocalypse: I’m So Lonesome I Could Cover

July 7, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Speaking of cowboys, this song by Hank Williams Sr. demonstrates the hit and miss but generally delightful nature of cover songs.  Here is the original:

Elvis gives the song a go:

Al Green gives it some soul:

Terry Bradshaw (?!?) exceeds very low expectations- Go Terry Go!:

Johnny Cash and Nick Cave go duet:

Plus the Master in the Art of Living Dean Martin gave it a go:

All of these versions however buried their head in their pillows to weep bitterly when they heard the genius of the bagpipe/punk rock version:

 

 

 

 

 


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