The Bookish Mutant? Writing a post about something other than books? It’s more likely than you think.
I’ve been a music nerd for much of my life, and though most of this blog is dedicated to more bookish content, I do like to ramble about songs. In particular, there’s one topic that I’ve been wanting to talk about, and that is the topic of covers.
So, I’ve tried to outline some examples of covers that I find particularly significant, whether that be in a positive or negative way.
First, let’s address the nearly universal (and mostly good to follow) rule of covers: Don’t cover the Beatles.
I’d say…I agree about halfway with that. I’ve heard more butchered covers of Beatles classics than I can count on my fingers, but at times, artists have been able to cover the iconic band so well, to the point where they nearly–but never completely–surpass the original.
Case in point, Throwing Muses’ cover of “Cry Baby Cry”.
They’ve managed to create a cover that converts the original into an almost gothic, and at times atmospheric composition. Kristin Hersh’s ethereal voice only adds to the dreamlike effect, making for an unforgettable rendition of the song.
But at the same time, I feel as though it loses the warm, almost nostalgic air that the original carries. With the Beatles, it feels like someone fondly telling a story; with Throwing Muses, it almost has the feeling of someone reflecting on a childhood that they thought was full of joy, but had darkness hiding within it all along.
Sometimes, though, a cover can completely nail the original feeling of the song, while still making it their own. Take Nirvana’s cover of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World”.
As with “Cry Baby Cry”, both versions of “The Man Who Sold the World” sound like the words of a raconteur, recounting a particularly odd acquaintance of theirs from ages ago. Even with something as simple as a key change, Cobain transformed the classic song into something darker, more desperate. (As he did with…well, most all of his songs, but that’s beside the point.)
Nirvana’s version does seem to lack the inherently alien quality that’s always hidden below the surface of any David Bowie song. To be fair, however, I don’t think anybody could ever come close; that’s just David Bowie. Nobody can be David Bowie but David Bowie.
Another source of interesting covers can always be found in the soundtracks of film and television. More often than not, it produces bland attempts at making songs into something “edgy” or “gritty”. But on rare occasions, gems are born from already polished crystals.
Personally, the best example of this is…well, all three seasons of FX’s Legion.
I mean, you have to have some serious talent to make “Rainbow Connection” sound creepy, turn “Behind Blue Eyes” into the pulsating score for what’s easily the best action scene ever to air on television, and “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding?” into a heartstring-pulling, tender moment between the whole show’s cast. And Noah Hawley, without a doubt, has that talent by the boatload.
(Spoilers for seasons 2 & 3 of Legion in the last two, especially the last one.)
And that’s not even all of it. Man, I can’t wait another second for the Season 3 soundtrack to come out…
And then, there’s those rare, once in a lifetime covers that transcend the original.
Alright, let’s back up. This is completely subjective, mind you, but I think there is some degree of truth to it. Maybe.
Think for yourselves, but we need to talk about girlpool’s unforgettable cover of Radiator Hospital’s “Cut Your Bangs”.
With something as simple as removing the drums and slowing down the tempo, girlpool has morphed the original into something far more tender, deeper, and overflowing with emotion. There’s no doubt that Radiator Hospital’s songwriting is stellar, but girpool made it shine even more, telling a raw, bitter, and tear-jerking story.
As I said, I’m definitely biased around the original. It’s probably just Sam Cook-Parrott’s voice that mainly gets on my nerves, but in it’s faster form, it feels more like pulling off a bandaid than telling a story.
And then there’s covers with lovely intent, but that fail to capture the original meaning.
Remember what I said earlier about nobody being David Bowie but David Bowie?
[heavy sigh] Well…
Alright, let me be clear. There’s no doubt that Lady Gaga is a talented musician, but this does not feel like a tribute. Nor does it feel like a cover.
This just feels like commercialization, capitalizing off of Bowie’s legacy by trying to be him. And I get it, so many of us–myself included–were beyond heartbroken at the news of his death, but I don’t think that this is the proper way to pay tribute to somebody. Make the content your own, at least a little, don’t try to be somebody you’re not. And I mean that in the least harsh way possible, but…at the time, this just felt like salt on the wound. Still does. This pretty much ruined Lady Gaga for me. I still admire her as a person, but I don’t think I’ll be able to forgive her for this one.
Hopefully you found this interesting! I just wanted to pour out some of my nerdy thoughts here (as I always do), so I hope you liked this post. See you tomorrow for Goodreads Monday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and keep on being your wonderful selves.