Cover Songs

I’ve written before about the art of making a good cover song. If you look at the results of most musician’s attempts it is easy to conclude that creating a good cover is not easy to do. This morning I was blessed with not one but seven new cover songs. The band that made this happen is Royal Deluxe (comprised of three members, two of which make up another band Welshley Arms). Their recent album “The Cover Up” is a thing of absolute beauty.

It’s hard to pin down what makes a good cover (something I attempted to do in my earlier post) but qualities they all seem to have in common (offering something different than the original while also respecting it) are present on “The Cover Up”. So many of the original songs are known for a certain instrument or component and Royal Deluxe omitted or greatly altered them each time.

Rather than try and review the album, something I am loathe to do, I’d like to make this post about cover songs I love.

Starting with what I’ve just heard:

Royal Deluxe – Sunshine of Your Love

This has such a big and bold sound to it, I love it. I would not have thought you could improve on Clapton’s guitar but, holy smokes this is something else.

Stevie Wonder – Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours)

This is probably the first Beatles cover I heard that made me realize I don’t love their music. Don’t get me wrong, they have plenty of great songs but I don’t revere the band as so many do. This cover is such an improvement over the original – there is so much energy in this version. It’s impossible to listen to this and keep your body still.

The Black Keys – She Said, She Said

I’m not doing this to prove a point, I swear. The absolute confidence and swagger that The Black Keys have on this song fills me with joy. It’s their first album, they had nothing to lose and they went for it. I love the rough feel to their version, it makes me all kinds of happy.

Lenny Kravitz – Are You Gonna Go My Way

Here’s a less controversial one! I probably had only heard the original a handful of times before Lenny Kravitz unleashed this monster cover on the world. It’s a great music video and an absolutely inspired cover. I dig it.

Dolly Parton – Jolene

Look this one is weird, I get it. Technically not a cover, I’m not sure where else it belongs. You have the original song which was bothering no one. It was out there in the world doing it’s thing and we all liked it. I am sure some of you loved it. Then some madman slowed it down and this thing of beauty was born!

If you can’t appreciate this song, I get it, it’s weird. I think it is vastly superior to the original. The slowed tempo allows you to focus on the words. A desperate person doesn’t have to be slow, often they aren’t, but here there is a great deal more weight because of the speed of the song. It’s haunting.

Couple that with the vocals holding up – that now you have this strange man/woman voice – Perfection.

Royal Blood – Hook, Line and Sinker

This is another slowed version – forgive me (also I hate this repeating Gif thing, it’s just the only place I could find this version of the song). Royal Blood is a band that a friend kept pushing at me. It took a little while for me to get into their sound because a) I think most of it is a bit too fast and b) the singer’s voice is a bit too high. What’s with that nowadays? So few new singers with deep voices, it’s odd.

I digress. I came across this slowed version and it solved my main issues with this band. They sound pretty good like this.

Garth Brooks – Hard Luck Woman

In my previous cover post I mentioned how much I like Toad The Wet Sprocket’s cover of Rock ‘n Roll All Nite. I think it’s great. In fact nearly every cover on this album is terrific. I always enjoyed this cover from Garth Brooks because it certainly is country, yet it works. I feel that this version is sweeter than Kiss’ and I think that’s a good thing.

Rage Against The Machine – Ghost of Tom Joad

I would be remiss if I did not include this cover. Bruce Springsteen writes a song about a character from The Grapes of Wrath which then gets covered by Rage Against The Machine. This is what makes music and covers so wonderful. The power of this song when Rage gets ahold of it is undeniable. I don’t usually get too weepy about bands that have called it quits but I don’t think this band was done, I think they could easily have produced a few more albums with this level of greatness.

The Jimi Henderix Experience – All Along The Watchtower

No list of covers would be complete without this version of All Along The Watchtower. My feelings toward Bob Dylan are similar to what I feel toward the Beatles. Respect, gratitude and the belief that many of their songs became great when someone else covered them. This is no exception. What’s interesting is that usually a great cover is quite different. Usually you have someone who can sing well cover someone who cannot (Bob Dylan) or you have a band come in with a completely different sound and transform the work into something new. Jimi’s version is certainly different but I don’t think anyone was shocked or mystified when they heard it. He improved the song and made it his own and all of us get to benefit from that.

Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah

I heard this cover before I heard the original, which is rare for the songs on this list. Had the order been reversed I think I still would find it to be a better song. As I have gotten older I have come to appreciate Leonard Cohen more (his last album certainly made me view his work with kinder ears). Jeff Buckley can sing though. He can sing and the emotion is just there, reaching out to you. I cannot imagine hearing this cover and not feeling something. It is quite magical.

Royal Deluxe – Tainted Love

That’s right, I came back to where I started, I am a rebel. I love the original version cover by Soft Cell (who else didn’t know that their version is a cover?!), I listen to is quite often still. It’s such a good song. I would be hard pressed to explain how they’ve changed it, so many of the original elements are still there, but it’s good. They’ve delivered a cover that differs enough from the original that I get why it exists and I love that there is another version of this song for me to listen to.

Nirvana – The Man Who Stole The World

Someday I am going to write about MTV Unplugged and the number of exceptional albums they gave the world. More than anything else I think this is the best contribution MTV gave us. Nirvana’s Unplugged was so unexpected (I can’t remember the order but I think Alice In Chains and Pearl Jam had gone before them). This was a band that fought against being famous – doing an acoustic set on MTV. That this came off at all is a miracle. They did a number of covers in this set and my favorite, I think (Where Did You Sleep Last Night is amazing), is this.

To keep digging my musical hole I don’t have the reverence for David Bowie that everyone and their mother has spent the past five years declaring. He’s got some good songs but, honestly, I did not know a single person who listened to him growing up. I certainly have never had a moment when I’ve thought, “I should put some Bowie on” so do with that what you will.

Kurt Cobain couldn’t really sing but I like what he does with this song. It’s sad but not morbid, which for Nirvana is good stuff.

Charles Bradley – Changes

I am going to make a confession – I only just realized this is a cover of the Black Sabbath song. Which is nuts. I’ve heard both so many times. Charles Bradley’s version is so radically different (and better) that I never connected the two. Wow. Talk about making a song your own – this is absolutely his now.

Led Zeppelin – Nobody’s Fault But Mine

Once upon a time I worked at Barnes and Noble. If you have ever been in one for a long period of time you might notice that they have a decent selection of music they play (or did, I haven’t worked there for twenty years). Stores that have a music department have a monthly rotating roster of CDs (dear lord this is probably different now) and at the end of the month the head of my store’s music department would give away these opened and unsalable, CDs. One such month was an album called The Early Blues Roots of Led Zeppelin. I greedily snatched that one up.

The point of all that being they covered a lot of songs by a lot of artists and did not always give them credit. Which is terrible but it also makes it hard to pick a favorite (I have no reservations about Led Zeppelin, this is the band I wish people were more excited about). I chose Nobody’s Fault But Mine because I have to get up and move when I hear it. The song has energy and the vocals are excellent. I really wonder if it was anywhere near as good live.

Cowboy Junkies – Sweet Jane

This song is such a good example of changing little but still putting your mark on a cover. I have nothing clever to add. I think this is better than the original.

I want to keep this going but now I am starting to look things up and that’s a bad sign. These are some covers I love and I hope you love them too.

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