The old proverb “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” can be applied to many aspects of art. When a music performer or band imitate a song we end up with a cover of that song. Since the beginning of music, covers have existed. Whether the artist performing the cover attempts to stay true the original song or change it to be something completely different one thing holds true… that song was loved enough to be copied.
Like most things there are good covers and bad ones. It’s not up to anyone else but yourself to determine if a cover is enjoyable or not. When I listen to a cover there are different things that I listen for. These parts of cover songs may even be contradictory to other aspects of the song.The first two things I look for are either “is the cover true to the original” or “do the artist change the song to make it their own.” We can find this in Dire Straights’ “Romeo and Juliette.” The cover by the Killers holds very true to the original, you can almost lay the tracks on top of each other, and yet it’s a good cover. The Killers were able to recreate the song and not make it seem as if you were listening to the original.
Here’s a great example of a cover that kinda tried to be close to the original but not
The Indigo Girls cover of “Romeo and Juliette” is completely different from the original, however, it’s an amazing cover. I feel that sometimes when a band tries to make a song their own they may stray so far from the original that it’s unrecognizable.
I apologize to my fellow Cure fans in advance, but their cover of Jimi Hendrix’ “Purple Haze” is one of those covers that I feel missed the mark. In their quest to sound like the Cure with the force of Hendrix it just didn’t do it for me.
Sometimes a cover is so good that it’s often mistaken to be the original. Such is the case with Cyndi Lauper and the song “Girls just want to have fun.” The song is so good and Cyndi Lauper was so Cindy Lauper in the music video that most people aren’t aware that it’s a cover.
Next I listen to hear if the artist performing the cover songs puts some emotion into the song. Most big or well known musicians that perform a cover song will put the energy required to present the song in the manner they have chosen. Smaller or more novice bands, however, will often do a cover because it draws the attention of potential new listeners. Often these covers while well done will lack the emotion to make it a great cover.
I also seek out the ear worms… songs that can get stuck in my head. There are two ways an ear worm can go. A cover song stuck in your head because you enjoyed it or because it makes you want to listen to the original. Those tend to make it on my playlist and more listened to music. If a cover is stuck in your head because it’s a bad cover it can drive the listener to further dislike the song, and if it’s especially bad may even ruin the listeners opinion or feelings towards the original.
Finally, the primary thing I look for in a cover song. Is it good!? It’s a very simple question with a complex answer. I love covers where the instruments are played with talent, and if there are lyrics with a singer who has control of their voice. Artist will cover a song in practice or on stage because they love it. It also gives those artist something to compare their talents to. Below is a list of 20 (because it was tough to choose 10) of my favorite cover songs.
This list is not in qualitative order in any sort of way
The Aquabats | Controller
Originally by Oingo Boingo
Devo | (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
Originally by The Rolling Stones
Whitney Houston | I Will Always Love You
Originally by Dolly Parton
Cyndi Lauper | Girls Just Want to Have Fun
Originally by Robert Hazard
The Fugees | No Woman, No Cry
Originally by Bob Marley
Natalie Imbruglia | Torn
Originally by Ednaswap
UB40 | Red Red Wine
Originally by Neil Diamond
Jimmy Cliff | Ruby Soho
Originally by Rancid
Cowboy Junkies | Sweet Jane
Originally by The Velvet Underground
No Doubt | It’s My Life
Originally by Talk Talk
Save Ferris | Come on Eileen
Originally by Dexys Midnight Runners
Sublime | Hope
Originally by The Descendents
The Indigo Girls | Romeo and Juliette
Originally by Dire Straights
Nirvana | Man Who Sold the World
Originally by David Bowie
Madness | Madness
Originally by Prince Buster
Siouxsie and the Banshees | The Passenger
Originally by Iggy Pop
Reel Big Fish | Take On Me
Originally by A-Ha
Joan Jett & The Blackhearts | Crimson & Clover
Originally by Tommy James and the Shondells
Head On | The Pixies
Originally by The Jesus & Mary Chain
Half Past Two | Three Small Words
Originally by Josie and The Pussy Cats (Dave Gibbs)