Cover songs and their purposes…

I take it that by now you have heard more than one or two cover songs but have you ever wondered why they exist in the first place? The obvious answer is that a band covers a song they like but there’s a bit more to it than that.

It may well be, and usually is the case, that a band likes a song but their motives may vary. It might be the case that they like a song but want to rubber stamp it with a new sense of identity, their own for example. A recent example of this is Metallica’s version of Iron Maiden’s Remember Tomorrow, which frankly, pales in comparison to the original and sounds like nothing more than yet another Metallica song produced long after their energy in music per se began sapping away slowly.

It could also be the case that, as musicians, they like a song but want to improve upon its imperfections. Perhaps its so that. as artists, they want to play something a little different to what they are accustomed to.

In any event, I recently thought at length about all the cover songs I have heard over the 30 years I have listened to metal, and although I quickly realised which was by far the best, I could not be sure why. It was only until I came to realise that the three songs I have always like the most have a unifying theme, and that was the reason why I like them. Taking the last point of the previous paragraph: when a band covers a song from a different genre that is what works best. Metal is such an energetic from of music and when songs are taken from a separate genre there is real potential to inject the song with a lease of life that it never had.

A classic example of this is the cover song I was so struck by in the 90’s, the one that is still today the best cover song I have come across. Here’s the original first.

As great as Joy Division were, given how raw their music was, they certainly had their limitations musically. Interzone is an example of how upping the tempo was something they could not do very well. Here’s the cover off the same song. The difference is absolutely mind-blowing. You need to go to 02.50 for it to kick in.

Sticking with a change in genre, but less so than the previous example, the French band Trust from the 70’s had two songs covered by Anthrax. Here’s the original of the better song:

On Attack of the Killer B’s can the cover be found.

The a greater degree of energy here and also a stronger sense of accomplishment, it certainly sounds more fluid than the original, which as so much music form the 70’s often is, is rather disjointed in places. The other song that Anthrax covered from Trust was ‘Antisocial’, again this was never publicized, the song itself was promoted as their own.

Here is Anthrax, the video will play if you click on it. Apologies if the thumbnail does not show.

Lastly, another example of a cross-genre cover song, which has always stuck in the mind due to its brilliance is Nirvana’s cover of the classic David Bowie song, ‘The Man who Sold the World’.

Here’s Kurt’s version, which although also acoustic, is acoustic throughout, and not evocative of a bygone era like the original unfortunately is, particularly when the chorus comes in.

So that’s it, in my opinion a cover song works better if there is a change in style and tempo, making it cross-genre.

MJM

About mccreadyandchess

My online and offline lives are both written about extensively in my site.
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