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Cover Songs

Generally speaking, the original version of a song is better than the cover. Today I was wondering why this is.

One thought, which I quickly discarded, is that older music was simply better than newer music. False premise. Then I thought that it could be because the original artist can make choices that are best for the song without having to worry about how to create a new twist (which often backfires). In short, it's easier to go first. Maybe.

The most likely explanation, I think, is that the songs which are most often covered are the songs that have already "worked" well in the original setting and, therefore, aren't likely to be improved much in a cover.

But there are exceptions to every rule, like "Respect" by Aretha Franklin, "Me and Bobby McGee" by Janice Joplin and "Sloop John B" by The Beach Boys. In each of these cases, the cover artists was better suited for the song and, as a consequence, brought something new and improved.

Do you agree that the original is usually better? Why do you think this is? What are some counter-examples, where the cover is a significant improvement over the original?

Re: Cover Songs

Yes the cover is almost always better. I think too many covers are so similar to the original that there's no point listening to them,there's no value in them...

Re: Cover Songs

Covers can be a great exercise, Johnny Cash's Hurt and Futureheads' Love Hounds are among the most acclaimed songs of the last decade.
When you do find a new twist to improve a song, or at least to give it a new taste, it can be great ; on the other hand plain copies, acoustic guitar adaptation, r&b or soul translation or just adding bass to turn it into nightclub music are bad ideas.

Here is what I think is a good example of a great cover, very different from the original while respecting its main idea :

Re: Cover Songs

1) I like to know who I'm chatting with : are you the same Loophole that posted back in days then changed its pseudo then went back to the old one ? If you are him, then welcome back, we missed you.

2) I don't think there's a golden rule about covers.

I can't really say that the original is always better. Look at "All Along the Watchtower", "I Heard It THrough The Grapevine", "Louie Louie", "That's All Right Mama" (by Elvis), "Hallelujah" by Jeff Buckley, etc.. these songs did much better than their "originals".

Some covers, even if they're not "better" than the original, cast a new light on a song. Take "Mr Tambourine Man" by the Byrds. The original is (IMO) excellent, but the Byrds re-invent the vocal harmonies and play the song with electric instruments, paving the way for Dylan's reconversion to electric rock.
or Patti Smith's "Gloria" with additional lyrics, or (even if that example won't speak to any of you), Serge Reggiani's version of "Le déserteur" by Boris Vian. Reggiani added in a spoken-word intro, a beautiful poem by Raimbaud to Vian's song.

But I admit that a great majority of covers are not so great. Simple proof of that is that we don't remember them (or we remember tham too much when they're crap).

Re: Cover Songs

one more example of a innovative cover (that I'm listening to at the moment) : Isaac Haye's great (and exteeeeeeeeeended) rendition of "By The Time I Get To Phoenix"

Re: Cover Songs

1) I like to know who I'm chatting with : are you the same Loophole that posted back in days then changed its pseudo then went back to the old one ? If you are him, then welcome back, we missed you.

Yep. I disappeared for at least a year, maybe more. I decided to go back to the first name because "Paul" is too common.

I don't think the original is always better. Just usually. The more I think about it, that's probably because one great song often results in hundreds of covers (which can't all be good). So it's a numbers thing.

What I'm most interested in right now are covers that are better than (or equally good and different from) the original. Mr. Tambourine Man is a great example. I'm not going to say that it's better than Dylan's recording, but the Byrds' recording adds a lot to the song.

What prompted me was finding a list online of 33 covers that are better than the original. I disagreed with almost all of them. In particular, they said The Higwaymen's version of "Pancho & Lefty" was better than Townes Van Zandt's and that U2's version of "Helter Skelter" was better than The Beatles.

Although I hated the list, I like the idea of covers that are better than originals.

Re: Cover Songs

We could do better than this old list: 33 Cover Songs that are Better than the Originals

Re: Cover Songs

Most of the times that covers are crappy is when it sounds THE SAME as the original. I find that completely pointless. What most people don't realize is that a quality cover of a song could have it's lyrics replaced and it's name changed and It would be an original.

Re: Cover Songs

The forum tackled this one some years back:


Back during the 2008 songs poll I asked if anyone included both the original and cover versions of any song, having done so with the Beatles' and Stevie Wonder's versions of "We Can Work It Out." I was trying to draw out Anthony (whose passionate, knowledgable, and curmudgeonly input I miss on these boards). Sure enough he responded "Each of the 200 spots were too precious to waste on listing (what essentially boils down to) the same song twice." Well, it wasn't the first time he and I disagreed.

The whole concept of "covers" has to be a relatively recent phenomenon, though, right? The popular songwriters of the first half of the 20th century didn't perform their own work... they hoped it would be widely performed. So if I think Dinah Washington's is the best version of "I've Got You Under My Skin," (and I do) what "original" is it better than. Similarly, my No. 6 song of all time, the Flamingos "I Only Have Eyes For You," was introduced in a 1934 film musical and performed for a quarter of the century by numerous popular artists before the Flamingos delivered their definitive version.

And the technologies that grew in the last thirty years have made the question of what constitutes a "cover" more difficult. How much does a song have to sample an original to wind up being considered a cover (e.g., I'd consier Kanye West's "Stronger" a cover of Daft Punk's original (albeit, not better). And what about mashups?