The art of the cover song is a delicate subject. Many people believe it is impossible to achieve a perfect rendition of a song already recorded by another artist. Others believe that a band’s ability (and chutzpah) to play a classic song is the true test of their strength as a group.
I have a love/hate relationship with cover songs. In many cases, I believe the cover song is one of the best parts of a band’s live set (ie. The Decemberists/Death Cab for Cutie/Stars performing Fleetwood Mac’s “You Can Go Your Own Way” to close the Central Park Summerstage show in 2005). In some other cases, I find the cover song an overdone and unnecessary practice (especially if it is cliche ::cough cough Every Indie Act Covering “Womanizer”).
In order to make a cover song work, as far as I am concerned, the artist has to inject their own style into the song instead of just playing the song exactly as it originally appeared. The artist has to believe in the original as well as taking steps towards exercising some artistic license.
Here is a list of some notable cover songs (with corresponding mp3s)…
- Matt Pond PA covering Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In The Aeroplane Over the Sea” mp3
Recently I have realized that Neutral Milk Hotel’s songs are very often covered by my favorite artists. (Jesse Lacey of Brand New, for one, has been known to cover “Two Headed Boy” in his solo show set list). The song, “Aeroplane,” is one of my favorite songs off the album by the same name. This cover is a beautiful acoustic piece sort of close to the original version. From listening to so much Matt Pond PA recently, it is a fair assumption that MPPA is heavily influenced by Neutral Milk. But injecting violins into the melody, he adds a sense of softness and romanticism to the song. It is what MPPA does best.
- Bats for Lashes covering Kings of Leon’s”Use Somebody” mp3
Recently posted on Stereogum, this cover features many of the things that I love about cover songs. First off, it is a female vocalist singing a song originally recorded (and performed) by a male-fronted band. Secondly, the tempo is slowed down slightly. Thirdly, one or more instruments are added (an organ and a tambourine). Although I don’t listen to much Bat for Lashes (and am a casual KOL fan), this cover is a great example of a cover where the song is softened up successfully.
- Stars covering The Smiths’ “This Charming Man” mp3
What? A Smiths cover? Someone attempted to cover the Smiths! That is preposterous! No. I am just kidding (even though many think – Morrissey included – The Smiths are one of those untouchable bands). Stars fuses the melody with electronica sounds. The whispering vocals of Torqui Campbell accompanied with the ever-so-charming (haha) Amy Milan is a new spin on Morrissey’s signature style found in this song. Yes, it is possible to appropriately cover The Smiths. Stars have done it. Death Cab for Cutie too (in a version of the same song – download here).
- Peter Gabriel and Hot Chip covering Vampire Weekend’s “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” mp3
When I originally heard that this cover existed, I thought it would be one of those cover songs that came off silly. I mean, a 59-year-old famous English musician who is name-dropped in an indie song covering said indie song as a duet with an electronica-dance-pop band? However it is one of the greatest things I’ve heard in a while. He covers the song with a bit of humor and even inserts, “But this feels so unnatural to sing your own name” at the part where one would expect to hear “But this feels so unnatural, Peter Gabriel too.”
- She and Him covering The Beatles’ “I Should Have Known Better” mp3
When a female vocalist covers a song written from the point of view of a man, it is expected that any “her” pronouns will be turned into “him.” In this case, “girl” is replaced with “guy.” This version has a country twang and slow finger-picking tone, unlike the original (which is only slightly twangy due to the harmonicas). The tone is casual yet dreamy. In addition, it is one of the few times on “Volume One” where M. Ward actually takes a verse (in this case, the chorus). There is even a bit where Zooey lets out a giggle. Too cute Zooey, too cute.
Coming soon: Top 10 Bruce Springsteen cover songs…