“Cover: a recording or performance of a song that was previously recorded by someone else.”
– Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Love them or not, cover songs are an integral part of our musical landscape. Exceptional cover songs are able to stand the test of time and can often be better known than original versions.
“Hurt” by Johnny Cash is one example. Trent Reznor, of the band Nine Inch Nails, wrote the song for their 1994 album, The Downward Spiral. Producer Rick Rubin wanted to restore a stripped down acoustic sound to Cash in his later years and recorded him in his living room singing a catalog that included several modern rock songs. It’s a haunting vocal and one of the best studio performances of Cash’s career.
I prefer Al Green’s version of “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” to the original done by the Bee Gees. There is something about the pacing and instrumentation that frames a beautiful canvas for the soulful Green to sing over. To me, it’s some of the reverend’s best work in a recording studio as he squeezes emotion out of every note. No offense to the Brothers Gibb, but this is the superior version.
I also prefer Elvis Costello’s version of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” to the original slower (almost lullaby) version written and recorded by Nick Lowe. Costello’s version has teeth and still seems relevant in 2017.
One thing I love to do is unearth songs I suspect are original and surprisingly find out are cover versions. I do not want to upset your musical apple cart so just be warned that some of your long-held beliefs are about to be shattered.
“Girls Just Want To Have Fun” was written and recorded by Robert Hazard in 1979. Cyndi Lauper will change a few lyrics (with permission) and make the song a smash hit in 1983. You can find the original version on YouTube. Shocking, I know.
Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Suzie Q” is a cover. It was originally written and recorded by Dale Hawkins in 1957. The original version has that same swampy feel that John Fogerty will duplicate in the late 1960s with a snappy-hand-clap-backing track. For the record, Dale Hawkins is often credited as being thepioneer of swamp rock boogie.
You 40-somethings who danced to Naked Eyes in the 1980s with their hit “Always Something There to Remind Me” should not be surprised to learn it is a cover version. Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote this song in the 1960s. The original recording, by soul singer R.B. Greaves, is something special. Recorded at the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studio and produced by Atlantic Records pioneer Ahmet Ertegun, Greaves took the song to No. 3 on the easy listening charts and No. 27 on the list of Billboard hits in 1970. Greaves hit No. 2 the prior year with “Take a Letter Maria,” a song he authored himself.
But wait, there’s more!
Dolly Parton wrote and recorded the 1974 original version of “I Will Always Love You” covered famously by Whitney Houston in 1992. Elvis Presley and his tough-as-nails, business-savvy manager, Colonel Tom Parker, tried to obtain the song in the 1970s (along with half the publishing rights) but Dolly said no. Parton is quoted in an interview with CMT saying the Whitney Houston version “made her enough money to buy Graceland.” Point, Dolly.
Stevie Wonder gave his song “Superstition” to guitar legend Jeff Beck in 1973. Beck assisted in writing and recorded it first, but Stevie’s version would be released (after some record company negotiations) and become a pillar of the funk/soul movement.
Paul Crutcher is the broadcast specialist and XLR Radio general manager at Lander University. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at@PaulCrutcher.