can a cover song ever be 'better' than the original?

from the youtube comments on Kate Bush's 'Running Up That Hill'*
Placebo version>Kate Bush Version


BC1Dan 1 day ago

Just a random yourtube comment I know, but it got me thinking...

I suppose my opinion is, unless the original of a song is either awful or unintentionally good, in which case it can be rescued, it can't be. It doesn't help that in this case, the Placebo cover is a sub-depeche mode-y dirge.

When I think of good cover versions, I instantly think of 'I will survive', performed by Cake.

But That's not 'better' than the original... 'I Will Survive' is a fantastic song, but also remember it was a written song, not a band song.

I'll explain what I mean. Could you take 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' and do it better than Nirvana?

Tori illustrates here that, no, you can't. Even if you do it differently. Two reasons: firstly, part of the song is the performer, and for me the difference between pop and rock is that rock songs are personal. They're not written to be interpreted, as a song written by a jobbing songwriter is. They are written to be performed by ones own self, and that performance is as much a part of the song as... well it is the song.

Back to Kate Bush, this is just fucking shit:

It's the perfect cover in a way, because it takes the original, strips it back to the pure song underneath, and then shits on top of it. It's like a parody-polka or parody-metal version of the song - they're just playing it the way they always play all of their songs. Cake's I will survive is genius because it doesn't sound either like the original or much like a cake song. Cake are identifiable by their unique something, but it's not a certain genre or way of always playing their songs; they have what I think I have, which is a recognisable sensibility rather than a style.

This is a great cover, but it's not better than the original; it's more just a technically great band playing what was originally sequenced metal live, mainly down to Chris Pennie's brilliant drumming:

Secondly, When you write a song, you implicitly create everything there is possible to do with it. By covering it, you're only reducing the potential of the song. and If you add anything - well it's not the same song then. so it's a lose-lose situation.

What if I admit the incorporation of original elements to the song as still being a cover? Well... See this is quite good, but can you really say it's the same song? they've really only taken the words.

I like the track, but really it's a new song with the old song's lyrics over the top. In arranging one track that;s so stuck in one genre for another, they've basically had to fill in the untranslatable trappings of math core with the equivalent trappings of another genre - by writing it again.

This was my cover of The Berzerker's 'Forever', and I'm very proud of it:

I turned the death metal riff into a walking bass line, and strummed the implied chords on two acoustic guitars and a ukelale over the top. Turned it into a twee-folk song. But it is a derivitive work. It can't be anything more than a shadow of the original, I was just emphasising different aspects that were already there.

Now, remixing is different - by dropping a new drum track all over a song, you're not covering it, you're just bringing the different potentials of the original to the fore, but not passing it off as something different. You're collaborating with the source material, or maybe just cynically turning a song of one genre into a song of another genre, so it can be played in both clubs.
That's why I love remixes, but love songs that incorporate the potential remixes into the original song, which is why Radiator/Guerilla-era Super Furry Animals and Bravecaptain were some of my biggest stylistic influences. I had an idea that no two verses should sound the same, they should sound like different remixes of the same song, which is roughly what i was attempting on love and girl in the kid a top.

See what I've notived I do in these posts, is, I start with an idea, then in ranting about it I'm actually trying to work out what my point is.

I think with this one, I've assumed there's a core difference between the jobbing songwriter and the singer-songwriter or band. Is that really true? Have I assumed one is a drone, the other an artist? I don't think so - 'I Will Survive' is a work of art, whether it was written to be put through a production machine or written as an extension of a performer's personality. Or maybe they're all drones. I don't think so - I believe in art, and even if I'm wrong about other people's work being art, If I believe mine is, then it is. La.

*I always get confused between 'running up that hill' and 'cloudbusting', because the video for cloud busting has got a lot of running up and down hills in it. I can't be the only one...


Grill said...,_Author_of_the_Quixote

That is all!

grilly said...

Borges was a computer scientiest and he didn't know it.

also owner of the best rhyming name ever...