Some of my co-workers and I started sharing some of our favorite music. We’ve been doing it for a while, but now we’re actually reviewing them and sharing those reviews with one another.
This week at work, we’re busy launching a website and writing a magazine, so we haven’t had as much time to listen and review much music. So I suggested we just pic a cover that we think is better than the original.
A note on how I rate things. One star means I don’t think it qualifies as music. Five stars mean I wish I wrote the thing. Most music for me is a three.
Poison’s cover of Loggins & Messina’s Your Mamma Don’t Dance.
My coworker said everything about this song rocks. It was a solid song when it came out “40+ years ago,” but the drums and screaming guitar, not to mention Brett Michaels’ vocals, take this song to a whole new level.
My brother introduced me to Poison when I was a freshman or maybe sophomore in high school. And I’m sure I never knew they covered this song (and I don’t think it’s even been 30 years since they did). But since it’s Poison, I knew exactly what I’m going to get and this song doesn’t disappoint.
It does rock, but is it better than the original?
I don’t think so. It’s just an 80s glam band doing a straight cover of a 70s country rock song. They put no thought into it. In fact, if Loggins had done this song 10 years later, I bet it would have sounded just like Poison’s version.
And, to be completely honest, I’ve never really been a huge fan of the original. 2/5
The Knife’s cover of The Knife’s Heartbeats.
That’s right, you read that correctly. This is a band covering their own song. But there’s more to it than that. This is going to be a bit of a journey, so put your helmet and seat belt on.
The Knife is a Swedish electronic duo and Heartbeats is their quirky pop “masterpiece” from 2003. In case you don’t know the song, here’s the original:
José Gonzáles (also Swedish) stripped the synths and went pure acoustic, leaving nothing but the beautiful melody and poetic lyrics. Most people who have heard this song have heard this version, and don’t usually know it’s a cover. Very subtle, very good.
And we see the evolution, where an artist covers a cover (maybe because that’s the one she heard first). To me, it’s an improvement on Jose’s subtle approach. I really love Ellie Goulding’s voice.
Following the evolution, the wonderful Scala & Kolacny Brothers ups the ante and brings out the pure emotion of the song.
And now we come full circle. After a few years of the song morphing through interpretation, The Knife took the song back, stripped it down to a more basic, darker composition, illuminating the lyrics and emotion inherent within.
Now that I’ve taken you from the original, through a series of covers, back to the original artist doing a “cover” of their own song, let me say that I’m not really a fan of the original song OR The Knife’s “cover” version. They’re just weird. Jose’s version is an improvement, and Ellie’s an improvement on that. And the choir version is also better than Jose’s (in my opinion). But I’m not sure which is better between Ellie’s and the choir’s. But the point of all this, was to say that there are a slew of covers better than the original, but not The Knife’s cover of their own song. I think the original was better.
But the song itself is good. You know it’s a good song when you cover it a few times and you don’t ruin it.
So I find myself in a dilemma. How do I give this a rating? Which version do I rank? Well, I’m doing the average. Some I might rank higher and some lower, but all together I’m giving these songs three out of five.
Damien Rice’s cover of U2’s One.
I’m sure some people are going to flip out when I say this, but I’ve never really been a fan of U2. Some of their stuff is okay, but a lot of it is just boring to me. Especially their bass lines.
And I’ve never really be a fan of Damien Rice, either. He’s just kinda … depressing.
With all that out of the way, I really like the original and I really liked this song. Is it better than the original? No, I don’t think so. It’s not worse, either. It’s just … different. Which earns it a 3/5.
Nickel Creek’s cover of Britney Spears’ Toxic.
This is the first time I listened to a full Britney Spears song on purpose. The song is musically sound, I mean other than the her auto-tuned, breathy vocals, acoustic (?) guitar that sounds like its cutting out, some weird string synths, and a bass that sounds like it blew a speaker. So … the James Bond guitar is good. Oh, maybe I’m being too hard on the string synths.
But this isn’t a review of the original. This is a review on a cover. I just needed to lay the groundwork of what I didn’t like so I could come out and say this song could really work for another artist, if they covered it in their own style, like Nickel Creek did at Bonnaroo in 2006.
Just listening to them, you can tell they’re just having fun. They’re a bluegrass band playing a Top 40 pop hit. They’re not taking themselves too seriously. And since they’re actual musicians, they could take any decent song and do well with it. The violin sounds a little weak, but that could just be the recording.
I totally agree that the cover was better than the original. 3/5
Everclear’s cover of Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl.
When I first suggested this, I immediately had a dozen ideas. But by the time I got to my computer, I couldn’t remember all of them. So while it isn’t my favorite cover of anything, it is still a great one and one I think is better than the original. 4/5
Apparently, the song was originally about a brown-skinned girl from Jamaica, but was changed because inter-racial relationships weren’t accepted in the mid-60s. Frankly, it doesn’t seem like a very deep song. It seems like it was just a fling.
But the Everclear version feels like it has real emotion. It’s not just a fond memory of a one-time thing; it’s nostalgia for a real relationship with someone he misses. That’s how I hear it anyway.
Here’s what my coworkers had to say:
“I’ve heard this one before, I love this album and Everclear were a fun little band back in the mid-late 90’s. This song is a little too much like the Poison song Tim cursed us with. It’s a little overdone, and doesn’t really do the original justice. I don’t love it, and I always thought it was a weak spot on the original album. How it made their greatest hits record is beyond me, but I’ll give it a solid C+ for effort.” -Phil
“This one was cool! I LOVED the harmonies at first, and it started off at a 5/5 for me. I would’ve rated it higher, but once the song started picking up it was almost a little too much for me. There were a lot of echos, and the guitar/drums seemed to be louder than the vocals most of the time – seeming a bit off-balance. 3/5 it is!” -Kari
“I liked this cover. In some ways though, I felt like it became a whole different song form the original, which sometimes works and other times doesn’t. In this case, I could listen to both versions and feel something different from each, naturally, rather than forced.” 3/5 -Tim
“I like that they really changed it up to be an Everclear song, but at the same time, I never was a huge fan of this era of Everclear. This was about when they started sounding like photocopies of their former selves and just cashing in the checks. So while this is a respectable cover in the sense that they made it their own, I couldn’t help but wish it didn’t sound like Everclear. Oh well. Points for changing things up.” 6/10 -Chris
There are some seriously great covers out there. Obviously, this isn’t a comprehensive list. What are your favorite covers? Have one you think is as good or better than the original?