January 11, 2013

Run For Cover!

(alternate title: I Do Not Entirely Hate Song Covers)

Song covers are touchy business. I get that. And everyone knows that you should never read YouTube comments. I get that. But Sweet Mother Sofia, I was NOT prepared for this particular internet poopstorm. I had to whip out my best James May impression for this: "For Pete's sake!"

I'm a bit mixed when it comes to song covers. After all, I grew up in a local music scene that is riddled with them in a bad, bad way. To put it in a slightly different light, Regine Velasquez definitively ruined Aerosmith's "I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing" for me, and that was before I heard the original.

Here it is possible to become a multiplatinum-selling artist without ever composing a single note of original music. Here you have artists and bands that made their careers selling whole albums of nothing but covers, some more egregiously than others. Heck, cover albums are a tried-and-tested method local celebrities use to stoke their brand power while raking in more of their fans' money in one fell swoop (I really overuse that expression, don't I?).

In this vein, I'll never forget that one afternoon when I found a Jennylyn Mercado album in my Dad's car. I was staggered upon discovering that she had covered Snow Patrol's "Run." More specifically, she covered Leona Lewis's cover of Snow Patrol's "Run." Between this and the wholesale usage of Top 40 hits on noontime show production numbers. one really cannot help but wonder just what the heck happened to local music lately. (Geez, all that's missing is the token crotchety "Get off my lawn, you no-good kids!", complete with angry waving of your walking stick in the air.)

Naturally, there are the odd reinterpretations that become so popular that the legacy of the original literally gets all covered up, which is excusable when you consider just how mind-blowing the resultant cover is to fresh ears. Jeff Buckley's take on Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" and Nirvana's cover of David Bowie's "The Man Who Sold The World" are legendary examples in this regard.

There are also covers that do pay a modicum of respect to the spirit of the original while also breathing new life into it. My favorite examples of this are Johnny Cash's version of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt" and the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Havana Affair" on the Ramones tribute album We're A Happy Family. (This same album also has John Frusciante's melodic solo cover of "Today Your Love, Tomorrow The World", the sound of which is a far cry from the original's Hitler Youth-centered origins.)

At this point I shall eschew objectivity completely and get to the unabashed gushing. Above is the old Rivermaya's cover of "Shiver", one of my favorite songs on Coldplay's debut record Parachutes. Truth is I like both versions just fine, but the original seems pretty restrained when compared to the raw emotion of Rico Blanco's performance.

Below is a legendary, widely-beloved cover I found only recently: the sixties standard "Feeling Good", in the style of Muse.

This cover pretty much went straight to number one on my Songs I Want To Play When I'm Getting It On, a mental playlist that didn't even exist before I heard this song. I guess this goes to show that song styles may come and go, but the biological imperative is forever.

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