When I was a teenager and I started actively listen to a lot of music and exploring my tastes, one thing I would always be adamant about was how cover songs were the worst. I think I was mostly trying to show everybody how vast and impressive my musical knowledge was and what a better way would there be than dismissing a song someone likes "because the original is so much better"?
Sorry Jeff Buckley, Leonard Cohen was so much better!
How did Nirvana dare singing "The man who saved the world", what an insult to Bowie??
What? How can't you know that "Sing for the moment" is from Aerosmith, not Eminem 🙄
Fortunately I grew up and got a little less dumb. I realized that making a cover of a song is an amazing
exercise of creativity and sure enough I developed
a weird obsession a wild interest in cover songs (take
that teenage me). I love to see how some artists are able to take a song and transform it completely using their own
universe to make something entirely new. The history of covered songs are also sometimes completely fascinating: How
many times have I realized that this song I've been listening for years is actually a cover of an obscure band which
never reached success?
That's how on June 2018 I created my "Cool Covers" playlist on Spotify, I compile in it the covers that I like and I usually try to learn a thing or two about this History of music. The playlist contains well known covers, some more obscure ones, some songs which subtly sample parts of others and sometimes original songs that I thought were covers.
In this page I'll try to write a little bit about my favorite ones, or the ones I find the more interesting. I'm not sure how long I'll manage to keep it updated but we'll see!
All along the watchtower is a song written and recorded in 1967 by Bob Dylan when he was spending 18 months recovering from a motorcycle accident. The song has been covered numerous times and the most memorable of these covers is probably the one by the Jimi Hendrix Experience in 68.
This is a simple 3 verses song narrating a very brief slice of life. A joker and a thief are discussing as they approach a castle of some kind. The first two verses relate the desperation of the joker who can't tell what is right in life and how the thief answers him with as much confusion but more hope: The life indeed is a joke but their fate is to get something better. In the last verse while our two characters are approaching the watchtower princes are looking at them coming, women and servants are getting busy... Something is coming.
While Dylan's version is very straightforward with a simple guitar and an harmonica break between the second and third verse, Hendrix version is much more explicit. The guitar breaks and the increasingly excited drums take a more violent take on the unexplained event which is coming. The quick short beats of the drums illustrate a battle or a revolution of some kind.
Barbara Keith's version is closer to Hendrix's one because it borrows more to the codes of the psychedelic rock from the 60s than to the folk songs of Dylan. I love how the very regular and calm drums of the first two verses illustrate the peaceful walk of our characters heading towards the castle, one can almost picture them on horses calmly walking to an agitated destiny. At the beginning of the third verse the tension grows in a psychedelic explosion worth of the best 60s songs and picturing the agitation in the castle.
In the third verse the lyrics says "Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl" and a guitar with a wahwah pedal mimics this growl, this is the kind of usage of this pedal which I really like. After this cool third verse a beautiful guitar solo reminds the end of the Hendrix version and the song could have ended right there leaving us with a beautiful rock cover of a classical folk song... But Barbara Keith decided to repeat the third verse again. Was it necessary for the song? No. But that let us appreciate her charming voice for a bit longer and we can't blame her for that.
When an American punk band from the 90s make a cover of an eccentric Belgian punk from the 70s the result is dumb, messy and a ton of fun!
Clearly The Presidents never took a lesson of French but they completely understood the energy of the song, the classical shuffle riff they aggressively added makes a cover a wonderful mix of retro rock&roll and 90s punk bands like the Offsring and NoFX, a masterpiece.
Baby Huey and his band took one of the best songs ever written and turned it into a majestic piece of instrumental music. They used the same kind of flute which makes the solo of the original song so joyful and exciting and gave it its place in the whole song.
The introduction really translate the melancholic side of the song until the brass section enters in a psychedelic explosion which sends you directly back to the 60's (or what I imagine the 60's to be).
California Dreamin' is one of the songs with the most occurrences in my playlist but I think this version is by far my favorite.
Some of the first albums I discovered on Spotify were the compilations "Dub side of the moon" and "Dubber side of the moon" by the reggae collective Easy Star All-Stars.
As you would have never guessed from the title, this is a tribute to Pink Floyd's Dark side of the moon. The collective pushed the tribute as far as publishing the instructions to synchronize the album with the movie Wizard of Oz from 1939 like Pink Floyd's fan have been doing with the original album.
In this album I especially enjoy Brain Damage, which is I dare to say, at least as good as the original song with its echoed voices and its rhythm section which makes you happily bounce your shoulders.