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30 More Songs: Day 1: Favorite cover version of a non-obscure song — The Lost Fingers: Tainted Love

January 2, 2012

I love cover songs. I have dozens of them. In fact, I’m pretty sure that if you counted up each individual title in my iTunes file, I have multiple versions of at least half of the songs on there.

Okay, so maybe they’re not all technically “cover” songs. In some of my favorite genres, they don’t call them cover songs. I have multiple versions of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerti, for instance, but no one calls them cover songs. I have at least four jazz versions of Someday my Prince will Come. And don’t even get me started on the Christmas carols.

So what makes a cover a cover? Well, it’s usually got to be a rock song. A cover song demands a genre that prizes composer/performer originality, otherwise the concept just isn’t notable. There aren’t rock standards in the same way that there are jazz standards. The rock musicians we prize most write their own tunes. And those that don’t tend to keep that fact under the rug.

In rock, a cover song is usually seen as a tribute to the originator of the song. It’s a song so good, someone else just had to play it. But what I really like about covers is counterpoint. I love the way the versions bounce off of each other. A good cover lets you hear the original differently.

Some covers don’t get it. I’m thinking, for instance, of Pete Townshend’s cover of the English’ Beat’s “Save it for Later,” which doesn’t really change much. It’s a case where I much prefer the original.

Here’s Pete:

He’s too earnest. He adds filagree to his chords that show off his guitar but detract from the raw edge of the song. I feel like he doesn’t understand what the song’s about. It’s too melancholy. It’s lost its reckless past. And at the same time, he doesn’t change enough. He keeps the sax, the backing vocals. He keeps the tempo, but dulls its edge.

And here’s the Beat:

Where Pete’s given up, the Beat is holding on by its fingernails. It’s a song I have played over and over for 25 years at least.

Pearl Jam can make me nuts, but they at least understand what this song is about:

They’ve got the right kind of fancy guitar work for this song. They don’t cling to the instrumentation and they know what to do with the riff.

But sometimes someone can take a song and make it sound completely different. Probably the most popular example I can think of is Gary Jules’ take on Tears for Fears’ “Mad World.”

Here’s the original:

And here’s Jules’ version, as it appeared in the film Donnie Darko.

This is a case where I think the remaker saw something in the original song that was lurking in the background and brought it forward. In my opinion, this is the best kind of cover. The songs are quite different, but I like them both because they both have something to say.

My favorite cover of this type is probably too obscure for this meme: Jules Shear’s cover of Procol Harum’s “Too Much Between Us.”

Here’s the original:

Shear, sadly, doesn’t seem to be on youtube, but I urge you to seek his version out, because it’s gorgeous.

Strangely, I discovered this song through a cover by New Age pianist George Winston, that was a bonus track on his CD Linus and Lucy, which I bought for AJ:

I don’t always care for Winston’s simplicity, but here his spare arrangement brings out the essential elements of the song and lets the heartbreaking chord sequence in the chorus speak for itself.

But a lot of my favorite covers are genre jumpers. These days that mostly means bluegrass covers of rock songs, which entertain me greatly. I’m a big fan of Sarah Jarosz’s cover of the Decembrists’ “Shankhill Butchers,” although that’s maybe not such a big genre leap:

Jarosz’s cover of Radiohead’s The Tourist is perhaps a better example.

Here’s Radiohead:

Here’s Jarosz:

Am I trying to learn this on mando? You’d better believe it.

My favorite in the bluegrass as rock song category is The Meat Purveyor’s Madonna Trilogy, an amazing bluegrass medley of Like a Virgin, Burning Up, and Lucky Star. This sadly does not seem to exist on the internet, but if you ever get the chance to hear it, believe me, it’s worth the price of admission.

But my favorite genre jumping cover band is The Lost Fingers, a French Canadian band that plays rock songs a la Django Reinhardt (hence their name). It’s hard for me to pick just one. I thought about Billie Jean.

Or Pump up the Jam

I could have Rickrolled you.

But my favorite is Tainted Love. Here’s Soft Cell’s original:

And here is (are?) the Lost Fingers:

What’s your favorite cover song?

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. January 3, 2012 5:56 am

    OK, I’ve been dithering about getting my PC set up in my new home, but this has tipped the balance. I want to hear these songs properly, so it will have to be done. Looking forward to discovering new sounds – especially the last. Happy new year x

  2. freshhell permalink
    January 3, 2012 9:18 am

    Soft Cell’s Tainted Love is the one song that, apart from anything Bowie, defines high school to me. I have the vinyl EP of this song and nothing makes me happier than when Pandora plays it for me.

  3. January 3, 2012 11:42 am

    I think my favorite cover is the Glee version of Baby It’s Cold Outside, because it was the first one I heard sung by two men who were attracted to each other, and their voices blend in a lovely way.

  4. January 3, 2012 2:50 pm

    Spygirl, I didn’t know about any of these! I just adore “Save it For Later.” I wore that album out! I remember once, after I’d played the record for the umpteenth time, my middle brother commented specifically on “Save it For Later,” how much he liked it. I said, “Well, it’s pretty much written for guys like you.” His eyes widened. I handed him the record sleeve with the lyrics printed on it, and he burst out laughing. While the title of the song is “Save it For Later,” in the verses it’s written, “Save it fellator.” After that, he made a tape of the album so he could play it in the car when he went on dates (with his fellator).

    My favorite cover tunes…I really love The Civil Wars’ cover of “Billie Jean.” It sacrifices the danceability of the original for pumping up the volume of the melancholy and ache. The Low Anthem does a killer job on “Ghost Woman Blues.” I just recently caught Bon Iver’s cover of “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” accompanied only by a piano. That’s a goosebumper, mostly because his voice really sends me. I had a Staples Singers’ album that had wild covers of “Life During Wartime” and “Slippery People.” Maybe my all-time favorite cover is Shawn Colvin’s version of “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody).” I’d listen to/watch her sing the ingredients to a cereal box, though, so it’s probably not even a fair competition.

  5. January 3, 2012 3:32 pm

    Anna — hooray! Yes, do it! They are fantastic.

    Jeanne — I haven’t heard that one, but I love the concept. I’ll try to track it down.

    Joy — Hee. Actually, the thing I find most egregious in Townshend’s cover of “Save it for Later” is his obliteration of the dirty pause in “just hold my hand while I come…to a decision on it.” And I don’t know any of your covers either, although I have a huge crush on Shawn Colvin. She used to show up at open mike night occasionally at the Iron Horse in Northampton periodically when I lived there (around when her first album came out). And yes, she could sing the ingredients to breakfast cereal and I would applaud loudly.

  6. January 3, 2012 5:25 pm

    Man, I cannot wait to read all of your posts in this meme.

    I have two covers I like a lot and they are both pretty dark. Go figure. The first one is Marilyn Manson’s cover of The Eurythmics Sweet Dreams. The second one is Johnny Cash’s take on Downward Spiral. Normally I don’t give a rat’s ass about videos but in this case, the video is amazing.

  7. Kent permalink
    January 3, 2012 8:18 pm

    So much love for covers (and 80’s music).

    The Lost Fingers are wonderful and I’ll need to find that whole album of covers that they did.

    And the 80’s make me think of one my favorite covers, Aztec Camera’s cover of Jump by Van Halen. He really brings out a note of self-doubt that’s hidden in the arena rock version that VH did (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=COtZZmWKcRI)

    And The Lost Fingers made me think of The Gourds bluegrass cover of Gin and Juice by Snoop Dog (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4hGSR5njZE)

    And that made me think of The Derailers “Bakersfield Sound” cover of Raspberry Beret by Prince (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RbzKQLEQ3Cg)

    And lastly, I’m sure you’ve already found it, but The Coverville podcast is a great source for finding interesting covers (http://coverville.com/)

  8. January 4, 2012 5:25 pm

    I love a good round-up of covers- I have to find some time to actually listen to all of these!

  9. September 24, 2012 6:17 am

    Jelly Switch’s cover of Slayer’s Raining Blood
    Richard Cheese’s Jazz cover of Cypress Hill’s Insane in the Membrane
    Wisecracker’s Ska cover of Metallica’s Master of Puppets
    Andy Rehfeldt’s cover of Megadeth’s Symphony of Destruction
    to name but a few, we actually started a facebook group appreciating/sharing alternative covers

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