Cover Me Up

02/18/2009

“Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so faaarr away,” sung Billy Foreman, before I grabbed his guitar and smashed it on the ground. He was a lousy singer, and an even lousier cover artist and I hated camp that summer. It’s one thing to have awful original material–at least you can claim yourself as an artist–but, it’s another totally musically unjust THING to mess up a perfectly great song with a bad cover. Unfortunately for Billy, he’s not an artist and he’s a terrible singer with a broken guitar.

These days cover songs are one of the easiest ways for bands to be heard. In this blog alone (proof that their cover made them famous), I’ve referenced two covers: Lykke Li’s “Hustlin'” and Far’s “Pony.” Though these bands aren’t yet Billboard celebs, singing familiar song to a new tune is both a new and old trick to success.

Celebrities famous for something other than music or sex-tapes, do it. They do it all the time: Scarlett Johansson covered Jeff Buckley’s “Last Goodbye,” Mandy Moore covered Rhinna’s “Umbrella” (though Mandy started as a TRL singer, and sucks still), Jada Pinkett with her band Wicked Wisdom covered the Dilligener Escape Plan’s “Unretrofied,” and the list goes on. Since celebrities already have a following, it’s not surprising their covers don’t have to be all that great to be heard.

For aspiring musicians a cover can make their band. When I was little, Cake’s Fashion nugget hit the stores, and “I Will Survive,” originally performed by Gloria Gaynor, was their big hit. Dynamite Hack’s fame grew from their cover of Eazy-E’s “Boyz N Da Hood.” “Killing Me Softly,” by the Fugees–need I say more?

Even successful artists will do a cover here and there–why not be pompous? Nelly Furtado covered Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” during an in-studio performance at BBC radio. She probably was like, “Shittttt–I’m a good singer, I like that song, people will listen.” And they do.

They will listen enough that bands like The Beatles will try and fuck their shit up and be like “Your shit is bollocks, that’s my music.” After The Beatles success, people got down to “original music” (in quotes, because what TRULY is original). This was also due to the number of law suits filed by The Beatles. Cover bands/songs became cop outs for less talented artists.

But that wasn’t always the case. Everyone knows Elvis Presley didn’t write his own music or even Frank Sinatra. How many people have you heard cover “Mack The Knife,” or “(Sitting On) The Dock of the Bay.” Like Presley’s stolen music, a lot of black artist’s created hits that topped the chart, but were performed by white artists. Little Richard, Bo Diddley, and Chuck Berry had their music blow up only to have white people cover it and make more money (i.e. Pat Boone: look at his ‘early career’).

I Hope as the SFCritic that explained some about the importance of the cover song.