There are lots of posts on here about cover versions. Whether you are of the “it’s just bastardising a perfectly good piece of music” school or persuaded by the “all art is derivative and is there for others to build and improve on” argument, there’s no avoiding them. Musicians are positively encouraged to perform their own versions of other artists songs.
There are the covers that have become so embedded in the listener psyche it has almost been forgotten they are covers (think Sinead O’Connor’s version of Prince’s Nothing Compares 2 U), there are those you hear and wonder why the band or artist thought it was a good idea to cover that track, they bring nothing new to the table, in fact they spoil the original (my opinion, but think Metallica’s cover of Thin Lizzy’s Whiskey in the Jar – why???).
There are the covers that are clever and polar opposite to the original and offer an alternative sound (try Daughter’s cover of Daft Punk’s Get Luck or Lissie’s version of Kid Cuddy’s Pursuit of Happiness). There are the covers that are different enough and executed brilliantly in their own right to stand up to the original and be just as good (Tricky’s cover of Public Enemy). And then, dear reader, there are those covers that raise the song to another level becoming better than the original. I’m thinking of the Johnny Cash cover of Hurt by Nine Inch Nails or Jimi Hendrix’ version of Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower. I love these two songs much more than their originals – in fact I never even listen to the originals because both these artists made these songs their own.
The other day I was listening to Bowie’s Station to Station. The last track is the much covered Johnny Mathis song Wild is the Wind. In fact I actually thought this was a Nina Simone track because she did a couple of versions of it; I stand corrected by Wiki. In a step that may well annoy some of you jazz lovers out there I will admit to disliking every version I’ve heard of this song but Bowie’s. I love it. I mean, really adore it. I love the guitars, I love the slightly bossa-nova beat. His voice is so heartfelt and aching. There’s a real honesty and desperation about his delivery. So much better than the original. It’s not the only Bowie cover I think is better than the original either…I’ll let you try to guess the other.
But this got me thinking, like these things always do – which other covers are better than the original? Obviously, as is the case with most stuff related to music, this is an opinion thing, but I’d like to know your thoughts.
Yet again ‘Spillers I come to you to fill in the gaps in my musical knowledge. What can you tell me about all this and who else should I be tracking down?