On Musical Covers Better than the Original

Over the weekend, I acquired an inexpensive 8-gig USB flash drive. Its intended purpose? To become a portable music repository; I could put some of my music collection on the flash drive, and then listen to my library at home or at the office from the portable drive, instead of clogging up hard drives or lugging around CDs.

I have a lot of music, it turns out. And not much of it at all is in a computer friendly form… :-/

Yesterday afternoon, I moved some Radiohead off my hard drive and onto the flash drive. The thought that I don’t listen to Radiohead enough flitted through my mind; oh, I absolutely love “Harry Patch (In Memory Of),” I love OK Computer and Hail to the Thief, and I really like In Rainbows, too. But the rest just goes, well… unlistened. (Especially Radiohead’s B-sides. They’re a great albums band, but their B-sides are generally forgettable.)

What’s odd about some of Radiohead’s albums going unlistened by me is that I’m quite taken by “Creep” from Pablo Honey. But not as Thom Yorke sings it, no.

No, it has to be Sad Kermit for me. Sad Kermit’s “Creep” is a thing of exquisite beauty.

That’s the way it is, sometimes. A band records a song, but someone else’s cover is just… better. Maybe it’s more familiar. Maybe it’s just more in tune with your personality, your outlook on life. Maybe, like Sad Kermit, it just touches on a really twisted and sarcastic take on life. ;)

I don’t know what makes a good cover. The best covers, in my opinion, bring something new to the song. Just doing a rote replay of someone else’s tune isn’t enough. The musician needs to make it his own. Elbow’s cover of John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero” is a perfect example; they take Lennon’s song and they make it an Elbow song, with layers and doom and fatalism, and it’s perfect. John Lennon’s cover of Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” on Rock ‘n’ Roll works because Lennon sells the song as another lovestruck paean to Yoko Ono.

My favorite version of “Stairway to Heaven” is a cover. (So is Robert Plant’s, by the way — he loves “Stairway to Gilligan’s Island.”) I love the Beatnix’s Beatle-esque take on that Zeppelin staple; I’m not that taken with the song (or Led Zeppelin, for that matter), but I admire the demented ability to turn that ponderous bit of nonsense into a 1962-esque British Invasion song. :)

Like millions, when I think of The Isley Brothers’ “Twist and Shout,” it’s not The Isley Brothers I think of. No, it’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Beatles that come to mind.

While I love Badfinger (and they’re a band that should have been bigger than they were, but they were either cursed and/or unlucky), their version of “Without You” is just okay, but Harry Nillson kicks it into the stratosphere.

The Byrds managed to make listenable (and enjoyable) a number of Bob Dylan songs. Most people point to “Mr. Tambourine Man” as the prime example, and it is a very good cover, but I think their work on “My Back Pages” or “This Wheel’s On Fire” far surpasses Dylan’s originals.

As much as I love Smokey Robinson’s original version of “You Really Got A Hold On Me,” I vastly prefer both The Beatles and Zooey Deschanel’s versions of the song (on With the Beatles and She & Him’s Volume One, respectively).

I don’t know that The Leisure Society’s cover of George Harrison’s “Something” is better than The Beatles’ original, but it’s certainly one of the happiest songs I’ve ever heard, and it’s a lovely piece of work in its own right.

And, of course, anything Sad Kermit touches is automatically gold. ;)

Not an exhaustive list by any means, but yes, it is entirely possible for a cover to be better than the original. Who knows? Maybe I’ll listen to some covers right now… just because I can! :h2g2:

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