This week’s theme for Twisted Mix Tape Tuesday is cover songs.
For this incredibly large category I needed to set some parameters, and so I did. A good cover, in my opinion, should be either very different from the original or it should blow the original out of the water. For purposes of this post, I also concentrated on songs that did not feature obscure originals. Sure, “Because the Night” and “Blinded by the Light” have both been recorded by (and, incidentally, were written by) Bruce Springsteen, but his are not the versions anyone but a diehard fan would be familiar with — the same can be said for Jackson Browne’s “Take It Easy”, which he recorded first on his debut album, but the version most folks are familiar with is the one that put a little band called The Eagles on the map.
Having set some rules, here are five cover songs that I believe outshine the originals.
I love Jeff Buckley’s version of the Leonard Cohen song, “Hallelulah”. Rufus Wainwright’s interpretation isn’t that much different from the Jeff Buckley version — piano-driven and a little too “AM radio” for me, though — and so I’m going with Mr. Buckley’s cover of the classic Cohen song.
Admittedly, I’m not a big Leonard Cohen fan — I find him a bit, well, morose. Still, I knew this song. Jeff Buckley’s take on it immediately wiped the original from my memory — I honestly had to go back and listen to the original before I wrote this post, you know, just in case I had gotten it wrong. I hadn’t.
Aside from the fact that Jeff Buckley had a better voice than Mr. Cohen is reason enough to enjoy his cover more than the original, but there is also the sparse, guitar-driven arrangement that Mr. Buckley relies upon that makes this version soar. Buckley’s version is also far more spiritual — I couldn’t help but think that the original was taking a little poke at religion — something not wholly unexpected from Leonard Cohen. I’m not religious, so that was fine with me, but Mr. Buckley’s interpretation, his phrasing, the way he picks at the guitar, never suggests that he’s anything but sincere.
No disrespect to Lou Reed, but I really do think The Cowboy Junkies blew The Velvet Underground version of “Sweet Jane” out of the water when they recorded it (their version was subsequently used in the movie “Natural Born Killers”) for their groundbreaking album, The Trinity Sessions (an album that contains a few other great cover tunes, in case anyone’s interested).
I know I’m going to take a lot of flack from my generation when I tell you that I prefer The Dixie Chicks take on The Fleetwood Mac classic “Landslide” over the original. I know. I know. It’s sacrilege. Still, I love it. I think Natalie Mains brings a plaintiveness that suggests a vulnerability that Stevie Nicks just can’t pull off.
I love the Muppets and Kermit is, hands down, my favorite. Kermit is cute. Kermit is kind. He puts up with the amorous advances of that tart, Miss Piggy. Surrounded as he often is by lunatics, he’s the voice of reason. Kermit is stable. While Kermit is many things, what he is not is a great singer. He does the best he can with “The Rainbow Connection”, but really, there is a better, more kick-ass version of the song that I just love, love, love! Now, when I think of the song, I think of the Ska-infused cover offered up by Me First and the Gimme Gimmes.
This band has covered and put their twist on other classics, most notably “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. The problem with “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is that the original cannot really be usurped, etched in our collective consciousness as it is. And, frankly, if I was going to choose a cover of that song, I’d pick Livingston Taylor’s version. I like that one. Still, no cover will ever replace the original.
Whitney Houston became so associated with Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” that it became, for lack of a better description, her theme song. There’s not much to say that hasn’t already been said about this song. Just go ahead and enjoy it. It’s a gem.
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