Everyone will give a cover song a chance. You could be in Nordstroms and the piano player that was simply background music will suddenly draw you in like a fly to a high-wattage lamp when you start to recognize he's not playing Beethoven, but Fleetwood Mac. Suddenly you catch yourself humming "Landslide" all the way to H&M.
Even at their worst and most disgraceful, people will give a cover song a chance. The worst band in the world could cover a Beatles song and we'd still stick around to watch it like a slow-motion car crash. At their most average or mediocre, a cover song could be listenable to the small niche it's aimed at (like when bad punk bands do covers) and have somewhat of a life-span. At their best though, when they're brilliant, cover songs can make you look at the original song though as through through a prism; bending and distorting, exposing and magnifying. A good cover song should make the listener reflect on the original, maybe even fall in love with it a little more. The first time you hear a great cover song, it can be like the first time you watched The Sixth Sense - you can't listen the original the same way you had before you learned this new secret. In covering a song, an artist is making the original transcendent because the song now has a new audience and context.
Some more famous artists do obscure cover songs and, in so doing, introduce people to new songs they'd never heard before; like hearing a friend tell a story about someone you've never met but who now you're dying to.
I'm not talking about simply singing a song in a way that's nearly identical to the original, that's just karaoke, or as millions of American like to call it, American Idol. That takes the gift of a voice, but not the exercise of talent. Talent sees a song as story to be re-told, not as shoes to fill.
It's with that introduction that I begin a series of posts on my favorite cover songs. I found 11 on my computer so I may do all 11, I may do less; I may group them together, I may do them individually. Maybe you've heard all of them, maybe you've heard some of them, or maybe you haven't heard any of them. Whatever the course, and whatever the case, I hope they shed new light on familiar paths or introduce you to some new friends.
Lastly, I hope you'll stick with me through them because I'll tie them all together at the end.
These are in no particular order at all.
First up, Obadiah Parker's cover of Outkast's "Hey Ya!".
Kim sent this to me when we were just friends. I think that's when I knew there was something special about her. We speak the same language.
When "Hey Ya" came out in 2003 you could not escape the song. It was on the radio every time you got in the car, on TV every time MTV decided to play a video, and in every restaurant, bar, or dance club that had music. The fact that it's effortlessly catchy and had a great video ensured that we were haunted by the melody or captivated by the green and white, retro-themed video. On top of that, one of the lyrics became a catch-phrase; "Shake it like a polaroid picture".
While America was busy shaking their polaroids like crazed fans at an Ed Sullivan taping, we didn't bother to look at the picture that Andre 3000 was telling us to shake. On the surface, "Hey Ya" is a fun song - I challenge you to not tap your foot or hum when listening to it - but deep down it's a meloncholy reflection of our culture's view of love and relationships. The song is like the clown who's crying on the inside.
Enter Obadiah Parker. It took a big, bearded, birkenstock-wearing dude with a guitar to strip the song of it it's glitz and get to the heart of the matter. The cover itself is really good, but what he did by splicing video of him playing the song together with the original video was genius.