Top 5 Songs I Didn’t Know Were Covers (by Claire)

Betrayed by the Imbruglia!

 Ahh covers month—it has been a sprawling, really generous definition of a month here at Charm City Jukebox, and I swear for all you covers-haters out there (do you exist? I would find that totally fascinating—leave a comment), we’re almost done.

As covers month comes to a close, it’s time to talk about cover song ignorance. Know thy covers, friends—know who sang the original, so you can win all the trivia nights and avoid being the butt of jokes from your music snob buddies (not us, of course).

Embarrassed at your original vs. cover song knowledge gaps? I’ll get you started. Here are the top five songs that I didn’t know were covers. Leave yours in the comments!

“One More Cup of Coffee” cover by The White Stripes, originally by Bob Dylan

Everyone has a serious “how did I not know this was a cover?” song (I think the top two most common “How did I not know this was a cover?” songs are “I Will Always Love You” and “Son of a Preacher Man.”) While I just feel surprised by the other songs on this list, “One More Cup of Coffee” makes me blush.  Bob Dylan and Jack White have many things in common, but one that sticks out is how often listeners who don’t like them point to their unconventional voices as the reason why. Jack White’s voice is perfect here—this is a great example of why and how his voice works. Bob Dylan’s voice…well, even as a Dylan fan, this is one of those songs where I really understand the dislike.

“Strange Little Girl” by Tori Amos, originally by The Stranglers

Sure, Amos purists, this should be obvious since it’s plucked off of an album of covers.  But Amos covers “Strange Little Girl” with such authority and ownership that it seems impossible that it could be by another artist. It’s a natural fit, and her delivery of this song by The Stranglers sets the tone and creates the title for the rest of the album.

Sidenote: If you love covers (we do, have you noticed?), check out the entire Strange Little Girls album, which has some solid, sometimes strange tracks,  and will make you wonder why we didn’t make a bigger deal about the original “Kim,” Eminem’s ode to uxoricide and domestic violence.

“I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll” by Joan Jett, originally by Alan Merrill

Speaking of authority and ownership, how often do you think people compliment Alan Merrill on his Joan Jett cover when he performs this? Every version since Joan Jett has been a cover of Joan Jett, not Alan Merrill; we all know it. It doesn’t matter how loyal Jett’s version was to the original; this is her song. I can’t find the quote, but I swear I once read that Dusty Springfield ended up preferring Aretha Franklin’s more popular version of “Son of a Preacher Man” than her own. I wonder if Merrill feels the same way.

“Tainted Love” by Soft Cell, originally by Gloria Jones

I’ve definitely heard the Gloria Jones version before, but for some reason always thought it was a Soft Cell original. I prefer the original, not just because it’s a great recording, but because “Tainted Love” may belong on our long ago “Top 5 Songs Classic Rock Radio Has Ruined” lists. A great song, for sure, but it’s predecessor sounds fresher, less exhausted by years whirling around on car radios and in grocery stores.

“Torn” by Natalie Imbruglia, originally by Ednaswap

I think I bought Natalie Imbruglia’s album in middle school based on my unrequited love for this song, which haunted every kind of radio station for about two years straight. The fact that this is actually a cover deserves a sitcom style “Whaaaa?!” sound effect. (Found one!)

Imbruglia’s version is a pretty straightforward cover, except for some obvious pop glossiness.  Is it weird that I feel a little betrayed? What other classic 90’s hits are undercover covers? Other than “Return of the Mack,” which everyone knows is by Patsy Cline.

Album of the Week: Interpreting the Masters Volume 1: A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates (by Claire)

Lets operate under the assumption that one 80s band had to come back twenty years later. It was a necessity, so all the late 80s babies who didn’t remember Reagan could embrace Flashdance necklines and side ponytails and screaming cheeseball lyrics at bars. I wish we’d put it up for a vote. (Now there’s an 80s party—round up your friends, a couple of podiums, and a gavel, and prepare to debate the finer points of Wham! and White Snake. Extra points for costumes, kamikaze shots for all!) If we had, my vote would be on legendary facial hair titans and talented punchlines of pop, Hall & Oates. (Do you hear that world? Now quit playing Journey, and making it possible for a band and a song to tire out twice.)

About a year ago, Joshua and I wrote a post about our Top 5 Worst Love Songs, and Joshua’s list featured the classic “Your Kiss Is On My List.” I groaned and giggled through the rest of the list but when I played that Hall and Oates gem, it stuck. It had that scary song magic, the kind that propels your finger forward to hit play over and over again, that runs the lyrics through your head and pushes them out of your mouth as you walk around the house. Sometimes that song magic is awesome and I manically play “Make It Known” by Foxygen 12 times a day until I know every crevice and cranny of it and can luxuriate in it and announce it to all music loving friends. And sometimes I know all the words to “Va-Va-Voom” by Nicki Minaj and shut up, it happens.

So lets say, like me, you’ve contracted songitis of the Hall & Oates persuasion. Lets say you want to play it from the rooftops, but maybe, just maybe, don’t want to blast the originals again and again like you’re the DJ for a strip mall dollar store. The bird and the bee have a solution for you.

Interpreting the Masters Volume 1: A Tribute to Daryl Hall and John Oates is an album of charming, respectful Hall & Oates covers. They maintain the catchiness but slightly update the originals with a more layered sound and a female vocalist (Inara George). The covers remain fairly true to the originals—there’s no cute trick here, they’re not stripped down or made acoustic, they could slink into any 80s mixtape and get along with their mixtape-mates. But they sound a little fresher, a little better, and a lot less like Hall & Oates proper, which is important when you find yourself playing their songs incessantly.

I’ve been hooked on their cover of “Rich Girl,” which popped up on a playlist last Sunday as I made coffee.

“What is this? I really like it,” my 80s-music-hating boyfriend said.

Success.

Top 5 Worst Covers (by Claire)

Welcome to covers month! Because we are very fast and loose here at Charm City Jukebox about when a month starts!

We’re kicking it off with one of the worst covers experiences: Listening to an artist butcher one of your favorite songs. Here are my top 5 least favorite covers. Agree? Disagree? Have a whole list of terrible covers I need to hear? Leave it in the comments.

“Rhiannon” by Fleetwood Mac, covered by Best Coast

Best Coast’s cover of “Rhiannon” is a little slip of a song, spindly and sexless. The downward spiral starts with the cheerful, plodding piano riff that kicks it off and plays throughout. Bethany Cosantino sings with a thin, singsong voice and turns a previously sultry, complex song into something more fitting for a family-friendly iPad commercial. Imagine kids dressed up in primary colors, flopping on a bright white couch, a blaring screen held tightly to their chest as a perky voice chirps “Would you stay if she promised you heaven/Would you ever win?”

Rhiannon is a bad ass Welsh witch, here to rock your world and maybe steal your soul. Remember this, artists who want to cover this song, and let it guide your choice as to whether or not you should do a cutesy stutter and add an extra “I” to “Dreams unwind/Love’s a state of mind.” (Note to Best Coast: You shouldn’t.)

“I Can’t Make You Love Me,” by Bonnie Raitt, covered by Bon Iver

“I Can’t Make You Love Me” is ten kinds of sad; one listen and I’m suddenly staring at walls in long ago bedrooms, younger and heartbroken and in need of an empathetic soundtrack by Bonnie Raitt.

Raitt’s warm, tightly wound vocals, delivered with such control and exhaustion you want to send her a drink, are replaced here by a grasping, high pitched whine. I never thought I disliked Justin Vernon’s voice, but it’s hard to bear on this track, especially at the beginning of each verse, when he reaches for high notes that are both impossible and unnecessary. Because it’s such a straightforward cover, it’s hard to ignore how wrong Justin Vernon is for this song—a new interpretation, remixed or redesigned, could’ve maybe worked. His voice is high, but usually not this high, and the whole song is really confusing—what is he striving for, since he’s obviously not trying to sound like himself or to emulate Raitt? Did he want to shatter glass? Is this because of Bon Iver’s ongoing feud with Boyz II Men? So many questions.

“Last Kiss,” by Wayne Cochran, covered by Pearl Jam

Try not to cover terrible songs for no tangible reason. Trying to be funny? Go for it. Want to redeem it? Sure. Offering a salute to the kind of beloved guilty pleasure that makes people simultaneously grin and groan? I’ll take it.

Want the world to remember a terrible and fantastically morbid song, the lyrics of which lay out every single detail of a fatal car accident, followed by an exhaustive description of the guy tracking down his girlfriend who was flung by the car and giving her one last kiss before SHE DIES? Shut it down.

I will never forgive Pearl Jam for the six months in middle school that I spent avoiding this song. I WANT THAT TIME BACK EDDIE VEDDER.

“Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell, covered by the Counting Crows and Vanessa Carlton

Do you get the feeling that they had no idea what this song was about? It’s that, or this song was sponsored by Concrete Incorporated LLC and intended to be a catchy anthem for embracing new parking lots. (“Museum entry to check out those trees is just $1.50! It’s a steal! Ooh bop bop bop!”)


“I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll,” made popular by Joan Jett, covered by Britney Spears

Hey, did you know that the Joan Jett version of “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll” is also a cover? Me neither!

Joan Jett delivers this song like a badass rock chick band leader who picks the jukebox song, picks up the guys she wants, and generally runs the show.

Independence! Personal agency! Rock and Roll! There’s a list of words and terms that are totally divorced from the career of circa 2001 Britney Spears, which made this an odd first choice for Spears’ cover song cannon (which includes a very wise I’m-hot-and-rebellious cover of “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”and a screw-all-of-you-and-hey-meet-Kevin-Federline cover of “My Prerogative”).

Punctuated with moans, throaty “owwwws,” and gravely dips mid word—Spears employs all the classic sexy vocal moves.  Still not convinced? (Don’t worry, I’ve never found “owwww”, a sound relegated to sex kitten pop stars and toddlers with boo boos, all that sexy either.) There’s a video for that! It kicks off with close ups of her abs and cleavage while her face is shrouded in shadows, cause I guess all the teen boys love spooky faceless ladies. The she strips a little, does some hand jobby stuff to a microphone, crawls on the floor, and straddles a motorcycle. There are also endless close ups of liquid dripping from a thick wire—like a penis? Like a penis.

Is all of this wrong? Nah, just really over the top. The real problem is that in the pursuit of sexy, Spears delivers a truly terrible, really weak version of this song. I’m not a huge Britney Spears fan, but I’m far from a Britney Spears hater. I think she could’ve done better. At that stage in the midriff baring pop game, it would’ve been cool to see a young Spears kick it Joan Jett style, jump up on that bar in her leather jacket and declare her love of rock and roll in a throaty voice to a spellbound crowd.

Master Class: Covers and Cultures (by E.c. Fish)

The oft-told tale of post-WWII American popular music– and baby, that is rock and roll, among others– is a tale of cultural cross pollination, of white musicians adopting African American forms for a mass (that is, white) audience and creating a new kind of music that conquered the world. Depending on your point of view, it can also be seen as a story of outright theft, of riffs, songs, styles, publishing rights, and record sales as conquered colonies of the majority’s cultural empire. It is also the context for the cultural give and take of the second batch of covers in this master class. Notebooks ready, here we go…

“Karma Chameleon,” by Beat Farmers

For “Covers and Culture,” a cover of Culture Club by The Beat Farmers, an ’80s cowpunk outfit. The self conscious irony and DIY ethos of the postpunk era made it a new golden age of covers– Velvets songs, Monkees songs, old cereal commercial jingles, whatever the hell else you wanted to throw in there– mostly because writing songs was something a lot of these bands couldn’t do themselves. While this wasn’t necessarily true of the Farmers, this is a stellar example of the phenomenon, with the band using the original’s already copped from country harmonica line and drummer Country Dick Montana’s natural status as the anti-Boy George to turn the song into a sort of semiotic jamboree that flatly insists on the ridiculousness of both the original and the whole cultural enterprise.

“Dedicated To The One I Love,” by The Mamas and the Papas

A gorgeous record, and a near perfect example of an old school cover. Back in the age of vinyl long long ago, the record business was geared to the sale of 45s like the one you see in this video. LPs (or, for our younger readers, those big round things in the cardboard jackets with the nice graphics down in your parents’ basement) were tacked together from singles, b-sides, and cover versions. Covers were thus common, accepted, and thick on the ground, an A and R tradition that continued clear into the ’60’s and records like this one. It’s also an example of another cover tradition: a bunch of white people taking a song by a bunch of black people, buying it on the cheap, and throwing class privilege in the form of money and studio technology at it. The resulting record is quite beautiful, meticulously crafted, and very, very white. Also an example of a cover too few people know is a cover. School yourselves, people.

“Sail On, Sailor,” by Ray Charles and The Beach Boys

This is arguably not so much a cover as a live take with a guest vocalist, but with this particular guest vocalist that becomes a distinction without a difference: Ray Charles is going to change the Beach Boys much more than the Beach Boys are going to change Ray Charles. This is a nice reversal of the racial politics of “Dedicated”. As a slim and sane appearing Brian Wilson tells us in the intro, it was Ray’s voice that he heard when he originally wrote this song, making this both a performance closer to the original intent of the song than the recorded version and a solid homage to Ray and the African-American roots of rock and roll. Much nicer than the more common practice of taking a song by a black man (for example, Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen”), changing the lyrics (to something about, oh, I don’t know, water sports), and claiming the result as original work, thus screwing said black man out of his publishing rights and royalties. Sad but true: Before Brian Wilson was God, he was Pat Boone.

“Norwegian Wood,” by Cornershop

Unless you’re a Punjabi speaker, this comes dangerously close to the cover as novelty record, but it actually represents another turn of the cultural screw twisted by Ray Charles above. Cornershop takes George Harrison’s imperialist hipster rip on Indian music (grafted rather superfluously  onto a Lennon song) as an excuse to wrap the whole thing up and ship it to the subcontinent. Plus, as my favorite seven year old music critic aptly pointed out, the sitar is much prettier on this one.

“Tears Began To Fall,” by The Persuasions*

More cultural reclamation. Frank Zappa was heavily influenced by doo-wop, and the Persuasions take that influences right back to the originating genre. One doesn’t even miss Flo and Eddie until after the two minute mark, when, like most middling doo-wop, this gets a little repetitious before (gulp) adding some instruments. Doo-wop fail.

(*Most videos of this song were recently taken off of YouTube. If you find a good video link, send it to Charmcityjukebox@gmail.com and we’ll post it here. Thanks!)

Can’t get enough covers know-how from Professor E.c. Fish? Come back next week for the final Master Class, and check out last week’s lesson

Master Class: Covers in Context (by E.c. Fish)

With no little thanks to the tens of thousands of cover bands that strive to make it sound like the record in the motel lounges and sports bars of this great nation of ours every Thursday through Saturday, the whole concept of the cover version has a somewhat dodgy reputation, carrying with it a taint of unoriginality and mercenary intent. This is a shame, because every cover (yes, even the “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’ ”  Who Cares and the Who Gives a Shits will use to close their second set this weekend at the Lonely Salesman lounge out in Nowheresville) represents a recontextualizing of a song into… something else, even if it’s just something a little off (hey, you try singing like Steve Perry four shows a week). In the best examples, it can be much more than that, to wit:

“Bizarre Love Triangle,” by Frente!

An undercover cover, so completely recontextualized that for a long while in the ’90’s I was familiar with both this and the New Order original without realizing they were the same song. They are, and it’s a rather beautiful one, a point made nicely in the stripped down Frente! (love that superfluous punctuation) take. You can no longer dance to it, I give it a 98.

“Oops! I Did It Again,” by Richard Thompson

Another dance floor evac and rescue job, and musical proof positive that there is nothing whatsoever in this world that is completely beyond redemption. Hear also: John Wesley Harding’s “Like A Prayer,” for which I could find no link that didn’t cost money or hurt.

“Creep,” by Carrie Manolakos

An amazing live take on the Radiohead original, both musically and interpretively. Manolakos’ minimal arrangement reduces the song to its essentials, while her vocal interpretation neatly flays Thom Yorke’s original, stripping it of any hint of hip ironic distance to reveal the stone cold painful motherfucker beneath. She means this, and it’s crushing her soul while you watch.

“Any Major Dude Will Tell You,” by Joe Jackson

A cover nailed through sheer force of personality. Jackson’s interpretation is a straight up if necessarily stripped down take on the hyperproduced Steely Dan studio original. Jackson’s persona (a guy you’d meet at the pub for a couple of pints), however, is a much better messenger for the wise compassion of the lyrics than singer/songwriter Donald Fagen’s (a hipster you’d meet at a lounge bar for some vodkas and maybe some hard drugs).

“Wonderwall,” by Straight No Chaser

More a capella as the ultimate strip-down, presented in lieu of an even sparer guitar and  fiddle cover I saw some buskers do down by the river in Iowa City right about the time the Oasis record came out. As in “Creep”, removing the song from the hipster Englishmen who originated it gives it a genuine kick upwards in the sincerity department.

Looking for more Covers in Context? Stop by next week for Lesson 2 by E.c. Fish

Listen to Covers

Do you follow us on Twitter (ahem @chrmcityjukebox ahem)? Since we started tweeting, I’ve found a treasure trove of covers from music blogs and music magazines and music types, and I can’t. stop. listening. to. them. What is it about a solid cover that’s so magical? Our first post on Charm City Jukebox was about our Top 5 covers and we had enough leftovers to warrant a Leftover List and a Reader Request. We posted 23 covers that week and I think we could have doubled that, easily.

So if, like us, you can’t get enough covers, here are a few more to tide you over. And if you have more can’t miss covers, leave them in the comments, pretty please (we could use a few more. Seriously)

New Covers:

“Corrina Corrina,” Cover by Beck (via Pitchfork)

“God Only Knows,” Cover by The Flaming Lips (via Paste Magazine)

“Ophelia,” Cover by Bon Iver (via PrettyMuchAmazing.com)

Reader Recommendations:

“Walking with a Ghost,” Cover by The White Stripes  (originally by Tegan and Sara)

“Take Care,” Cover by Florence and the Machine  (originally by Drake)

Top 5 Covers (by Claire and Joshua)

Claire’s Top 5 Covers

Song: Go Straight to Hell

Cover by: Lily Allen

Originally by: The Clash

Lily Allen’s lullaby-sweet vocals and borderline-cheery background music, paired with these classic Clash lyrics, makes an already haunting song doubly so and gives “Go Straight to Hell” some dichotomous whimsy.

Song: I Go To Sleep

Cover by: Sia

Originally by: The Kinks

Sia will haunt your f**king dreams. I know it’s a different song, but can we talk about the end of Six Feet Under? Come on. This is also a song made for covers: Look up versions by The Pretenders, Peggy Lee, and a very young Cher.

Song: Magnet

Cover by: Yo La Tengo

Originally by: NRBQ

I listened to this song at least a thousand times when I was eighteen years old. It was one of those classic “Oh, you wrote this for me” moments you have with music in early college, where heightened emotions and self obsession are at their peak. My father and an old boss of mine would call it blasphemy, but I like this version way more than the original, which has a grating level of upbeat NRBQness.

Song: I’m On Fire

Cover by: Bats for Lashes

Originally by: Bruce Springsteen

Also, haunting, because this is apparently Claire’s haunted covers collection. Boo.

Song: Needles and Pins

Cover by: The Ramones

Originally by: Jack Nitzsche and Sonny Bono

This was originally recorded by Jackie DeShannon, which is a great version. It’s another song made for covers: Look up the Cher version (I know, Cher again, who knew super young Cher was so awesome?) and the Tom Petty/ Stevie Nicks cover, which is lovely.

Honorable Mentions:

  • “Raspberry Beret,” cover by Warren Zevon and The Hindu Love Gods
  • “Naive,” cover by Lily Allen
  • “Hard to Handle,” cover by Toots and the Maytals

Josh’s Top 5 Covers

Song: I Will Survive

Covered by: Cake

Originally by: Gloria Gaynor

This song encapsulates everything Cake is about: emotionally subdued vocals, fat-ass bass riff, and funky guitar. They take the original version, a glitzy, disco’d-out dance number by Gloria Gaynor, and strip it down the bare necessities: punchy drums and a thumping bass line. They then add John McCrea’s staple singing and quite possibly the best one-note guitar solo ever recorded. Plus he swears! And there’s a vibraslap! And a mid-song count-off! It doesn’t get much better than this.

Song: Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight

Covered by: The Isley Brothers

Originally by: James Taylor

The original version is done by James Taylor. This version can convince anyone to drop their pants and get it on. Being able to do that with a song written by James Taylor? Priceless.

Song: Take Me to the River

Covered by: Talking Heads

Originally by: Al Green and Mabon “Teenie” Hodges

This version nails the song in a way Al Green never conceived. It’s harrowing in a way only David Byrne’s vocals can convey and the backup singers only further that goal. The sparse instrumentals are the kicker in this version: the majority of the song is one drum riff and one repeated bass line. I don’t know how Byrne decided to do the song this way, but it’s another version where the desperation of the lyrics is shown off better in the cover than the original.

Song: I Know I’m Losing You

Covered by: Rod Stewart

Originally by: The Temptations

I’m gonna go out on a limb here. I think this is a better version than the original…which is done by the Temptations. I know that sounds blasphemous, but this version wins on every level. The guitar work is funky, the drumming is amazing, and Stewart’s raspy vocals appeal the song’s message in a way the smooth sounds of the Temptations never could. It’s all together more desperate and wanton than the Temptations ever had the capacity to be.

Song: Hallelujah

Covered by: Jeff Buckley

Originally by: Leonard Cohen

The original was haunting and vaguely spiritual. This version is all sex, dripping with lonely reverb-laden guitar notes, plucked individually and rarely strummed, and filled to the brim with regret and shame. It’s like sleeping with your ex-girlfriend and then seeing her the next day in another man’s arms, laughing coyly and casually playing with his hair. It’s the kind of broken-hearted that makes you want to drink scotch all night listening to Charlie Rich and smoking profusely in the dark. This song is not for the faint of heart.

Honorable Mentions:

  • “The Guitar Man,” cover by Cake: A great version of a great song, with the ever present Cake “YA!”.
  • “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” cover by Toots & the Maytals: So much better with a Jamaican accent. Isn’t everything?
  • “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These,” cover by Marilyn Manson: Put this song on in the dark at three in the morning. It’s actually scary.
  • “Hurt,” cover by Johnny Cash: A cover so good that the original writer, Trent Reznor, said that the song was Cash’s from then on.