January 7, 2011

Cover songs: The realization


I tweeted this the other day, but allow me to elaborate: Hooray to Buzzfeed for this very cool post, "15 Songs You Didn't Realize Were Covers." I'm proud to report I realized for 11 of them. In fact…

— In 1998, when "Torn" briefly fooled people into thinking Natalie Imbruglia was someone worth paying attention to, I actually saw Ednaswap in concert (at the still-extant Mercury Lounge). I was bored out of my gourd, although their version of "Torn" (much more spare and slower) was better, and they did a fun cover of the Police's "Next to You." Also, I took home a free pair of Ednaswap wrap-around shades. Rock & roll.

—I find it scandalous that anyone wouldn't know that Otis Redding wrote and originated "Respect," since his version is far and away superior to Aretha's which—brace yourselves—I think is pretty crappy. Just sayin'. I'd rather go with this Aretha…



Meanwhile, who the hell didn't know that Tiffany covered Tommy James and the Shondells? When Tiffany was all over the charts, the radio hate fest continually bemoaned what she had done to the excellent original (perhaps because around the same time, Billy Idol was messing around with TJ's "Mony Mony"). Anyway, for years, the grammarian side of me rankled at the chorus—"holding on to one another's hand"—but it turns out the "'each other' for two things/'one another' for three things" rule has fallen into disfavor among most authorities. So the song is Strunk and White approved.

—I'm sure plenty of people didn't realize that They Might Be Giants' "Istanbul" was a cover, but I'd wager none of those people particularly care. If there's one thing you can say about TMBG, it's that their fans are absurdly well informed. Another great TMBG song that was a cover: "New York City":



The original, by a Canadian band called Cub:



— I recently solicited on my Facebook wall, "Name a great song by a crappy band," and more than one person pegged "Cum on Feel the Noize" by Quiet Riot, which I thought was a valid and interesting choice (I myself offered "Ain't That Unusual" by the Goo Goo Dolls and "Interstate Love Song" by Suck Temple…sorry, that's Stone Temple Pilots). I'm not sure I'd say that Quiet Riot's is better than Slade's original, but it's certainly more friendly to my and most other Americans' ears; Slade was one of those acts that was beyond huge in the U.K. (among the best-selling acts of the '70s, I believe), but couldn't even approach that level of success in the U.S., like Gary Numan and my beloved Jam. There was just something perversely British about them that Quiet Riot managed to overcome with their boneheaded middle-America dirtbagness. However, Slade eventually did score an American hit, in 1984. When's the last time you heard this?



— Oh, boy, "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun"—I love Cyndi Lauper's version, had heard tell of the original by Robert Hazard (best known for this awful, wacky tune) many moons ago, but never heard it till just now. And man, this is some crazy shit. I can't tell if I love it, or if repeated listenings are driving me insane (apparently, this is a barely-released demo). Cyndi definitely kicked it into shape and improved it, not least because she turned it into a perfect '80s feminist anthem. "All of my girls are gonna walk in the sun" becomes "I wanna be the one to walk in the sun": You betcha.

—Never underestimate the power of a good interpreter: It's kind of surprising how many of these instances involve a far superior cover version: "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," "Mickey" (the original, "Kitty," was the subject of a BQT question last year), "Hanging on the Telephone"—God, I love Blondie, and while their original "HOTT" is a little lacking, I also love the Nerves. Try this slice of genius:




—Which four did I not realize were covers? "Mambo No. 5" (not surprising in hindsight), "Don't Turn Around," "Gloria," and "The Crying Game." In other words, the ones that classic-rock/new-wave junkie Noah really doesn't care about. Oh, I do so love music!

— Finally, I'm going to add another entry: "Queen of Hearts," made famous by Juice Newton, originated by Wales's greatest rocker, Dave Edmunds (can't find an embed, though here it is), The versions are eerily similar, both are great…





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