Cover versions (part 1)

Today, I thought I’d look at some covers, and their originals.  The choice of song to cover says both a lot about an artist’s influences, and what they think might sell/look cool/sell.  Here, then are a few interesting covers:

  1. Alex ClareWhen Doves Cry (originally Prince): the leading sex-funk pop prince of the 80s gets covered by a Jewish guy from Golders Green who happens to be friends with Diplo.  The wub-wub of the bassline turns this into a prowling menacing beast, from the slinky masterpiece at the centre of Purple Rain.
  2. All SaintsUnder The Bridge (originally Red Hot Chili Peppers): John Fruiscante is the only good thing about the Chilis (and I prepare myself for a deluge of hate mail… or just one person’s mild opinion, either way) – and his guitar riff is recycled here.  Otherwise, it’s a London dance-pop girl group give it an “edgy” makeover with the occasional record scratch.  It’s an inconsequential cover in some ways, but it turns a song by a band I hate into something listenable.  For that, have a gold star.
  3. The Bad PlusSmells Like Teen Spirit (originally Nirvana): jazz trio from the USA have the blindingly obvious idea that jazz standards were standards in the 40s-60s as that was the pop of the time.  If you want to find modern standards, where better than one of the biggest, most important rock albums of the latter years of the century, Nevermind?  It makes a lot of sense – the riff lends itself to big chords, and there’s a pretty simple structure to then weave in and out of.  Iverson’s piano takes Cobain’s guitars to very strange but compelling new places, while Anderson and King are just as powerful a rhythm section as Novoselic and Grohl.  Highly recommended.
  4. The Beat Tears of a Clown (originally Smokey Robinson and the Miracles): Britain’s other classic ska band bring the twitch to a smooth, soulful cut that’s probably one of the best known soul songs of all time.  Now, though, replete with trumpets and Dave Wakeling’s and Rankin Roger’s disparate yet complementary vocals, it becomes  a great party anthem.  It’s amazing how such a heartbreaking song can become so uplifting if you simply play it faster.
  5. Bill FrisellI Heard It Through The Grapevine (originally Marvin Gaye): this is definitely the biggest, most defining songs of the most iconic Motown artist, and Bill Frisell, avant-jazz guitar genius, twists it inside out, stretches it out to nine minutes, and completely bewitches.  Unless, as with (2) above, you hate the source material/band, a good cover should make you want to listen to the original again.  Every time I hear Gaye’s version, I appreciate it a little more because I know how strong a song it was – it could be turned into this.
  6. Dead KennedysViva Las Vegas (originally Elvis Presley): what can I say?  Jello Biafra ain’t the King, but hell, he can deliver a line.  With barely any of his usual crowd-baiting, the Kennedys launch into this manic punk cover of a classic Presley tune; the crowd at the Deaf Club must have been bemused, amused, and pogoed out.  One to play when the Elvis impersonator turns up drunk.
  7. Jimi HendrixAll Along The Watchtower (originally Bob Dylan): almost too obvious, but I love both songs equally.  The strength of the cover is at its most profound, as Dylan, reportedly, prefers to play the song with Hendrix’s arrangement, rather than his own.  From a country ballad, with a spare sound to match its cryptic lyrics, the greatest exponent of the electric guitar turned this into a sky-searching, psychedelic masterpiece.  I can’t begin to imagine the state of his brain, if this is something he could knock out in late night sessions fuelled by God knows what, but my word, the man was a genius; and more than that, he knew where to find genius material.
  8. The FutureheadsHounds of Love (originally Kate Bush): another great Paul Epworth production, this takes the theatricality of Bush’s song and channels it into the multi-part vocals and insistent indie stylings of the Geordie darlings.  Brilliant, and a blast to dance to.

Seeing as we’re halfway through the alphabet… I’ll come back to this.  Get dancing, people.


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