Sweepertee: Cover Me….
Ok, I’ll admit it: I’m a sucker for a great cover.
There’s an art to the really good ones. Can’t be too obvious. Can’t be too snarky (in a hipster “wink-wink-hey-look-at-us-covering-this-cheesy-tune…aren’t-we-cool?” way). But can’t be too earnest, either. Can’t be a dead-on reproduction (that’s just karaoke). To be honest, it is hard to pinpoint what makes a good cover. You just know it when you hear it.
Alot of great songs you don’t even realize are covers. If you don’t know it is, then it really doesn’t count. A few notable examples:
“Blinded by the Light” – Manfred Man (originally done by Springsteen)
“Superman” – REM (The Clique – as noted in the last Sweepertee)
“All Along the Watchtower” – Jimi Hendrix (Dylan)
“I Will Always Love You” – Whitney Houston (Dolly Part0n)
“Hallelujah” – Jeff Buckley (Leonard Cohen)
“Bittersweet Symphony” – The Verve (Rolling Stones)
The past 20 years have produced a slew of good (true) covers. Too many to list them all, but here are a some (all are worth checking out on iTunes):
“Gin and Juice” – The Gourds (Snoop Dog)….while greatly overplayed, it is a fantastic arrangement.
“Lost in the Supermarket” – Afghan Whigs (The Clash)…with an effortless segue into Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” and “Train in Vain” at the end.
“Androgynous” – Crash Test Dummies (The Replacements)…despite the baritone, a very talented band.
“Mrs. Robinson” – The Lemonheads (Simon & Garfunkel)…they actually got anchored down by the success of this song.
“Loser” – Cracker (The Grateful Dead)…brilliant storytelling.
“Getting Better” – Gomez (The Beatles)….Remember the old Panasonic commercials?
“Ring of Fire” – Social Distortion (Johnny Cash)…Fun Fact: June wrote it.
“Sweet Jane” – The Cowboy Junkies (The Velvet Underground)….recorded in one take in a church (thus “The Trinity Sessions”).
“When You Were Mine” – Crooked Fingers (Prince)…note: Crooked Fingers is a fantastic group that will be playing The Evening Muse this Saturday night if anyone wants to join Mrs. Sweeper and myself.
“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” – Cat Power (The Rolling Stone)…minimalism at its best.
“Crazy” – Ray Lamontagne (Gnarls Barkley)….made it his own.
“Mad World” – Gary Jules (Tears for Fears)…better than the original. Just ask Donnie Darko (oh, right, he got crushed by a jet engine).
“The Gambler” – Mike Doughty (Kenny Rogers)…with words we should all live by.
“Suspicious Minds” – Fine Young Cannibals (Elvis)…all about the tempo.
“Ocean Breathes Salty” – Sun Kil Moon (Modest Mouse)….definitely check out the original to understand the cover.
“Under Pressure” – Keller Williams (Queen/David Bowie)…unreal guitar picking.
“Modern Love” – The Last Town Chorus (Bowie)….angelic?
“Easy” – Faith No More (Commodores)…if only because they really, really meant it.
But the best ones (IMHO) are the ones that are a little unexpected and add to the original enough to make it interesting.
Here are a few of my favorites:
(If you don’t know the original song for context, but sure to look it up)
“Beautful” – Clem Snide
– Brooklyn’s Clem Snide takes Christina Aguilera’s lament and puts a nice indie-twist on it. It actually is a very sweet song that sounds more genuine coming from a nerd. I love the fact they even threw in the “don’t look at me” at the beginning.
“Girlfriend in a Coma” – Josh Radin
– A nice acoustic version of The Smith’s classic. This one seems to strip out Morrissey’s irony and makes it more plaintive.
“Pressure Drop” – The Clash
– Joe Strummer took the Toots and Maytal’s reggae gem and added some kick to it. It really is an amazing song considering most of the words are “Is it you? Oh, yeaaaaah…” Also, Nico Thompson loves this tune.
“Train in Vain” – Annie Lennox
– Speaking of The Clash (for the third time)….The Eurythmics’ siren puts her bluesy kiss on one of my all-time favorite songs.
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” – The Bad Plus
– This is a fantastic avant-garde/prog jazz trio who likes to throw a re-imagined cover or two on each album. When the upright bass plays those first few unmistakable bars of this Nirvana song you know immediately what it is. They also do very cool covers of “Radio Cure” (Wilco) and “Tom Sawyer” (Rush). And the drummer is freakin amazing.
“Comfortably Numb” – Scissor Sisters
– Who ever thought someone could turn this into a dance tune? Yes, a bit twee, but still funky.
“Sympathy” – Jane’s Addiction
– Back before Farrell’s botox and Navarro’s abs, Jane’s Addiction was a force of nature. This cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” (for those keeping score at home: my all-time favorite song) somehow makes it dirtier/creepier/eviler (?) than the original. When Navarro breaks in with his anti-blues solo at the 4:20 mark it sounds like Lucifer himself stepped on stage.
“Spit on a Stranger” – Nickel Creek
– The newgrass kids ‘ take on this Pavement ditty, with mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile singing. If nothing else, I give them props for stepping out there.
“Total Eclipse of the Heart” – The Dan Band
– Do these guys deserve a Sweeper Tee of their own. Hell-effing-yes. (note: clip is NSFW)
“Come Sail Away” – Eric Cartman (Styx)
– Yes, Cartman.
And now my top four:
“Baba O’Riley” – Pearl Jam
– Actually, the best version is from their Mansfield show in ’03 (go get it off iTunes). Somehow Vedder adds even more urgency than Daltrey. “Sally take my hand…”
“Hey Ya” – Obadiah Parker
– This song is too good to be dismissed as a hip-pop flash. Parker somehow validates Andre 3000′s lyrics (seriously, have anyone ever actually listened to the lyrics? It’s a pretty damn deep song).
“Hurt” – Johnny Cash
– This frighteningly intense Nine Inch Nails song is one that Johnny Cash should have written. I linked both the original and the Cash version to see how he truly owns it…and makes it a better song. The Cash video was shot just after June Carter Cash died. Song always gives me chills.
(Warning: the NIN live version is kind of disturbing with some NSFW images…though stick it out to the end for the payoff)
And probably the best cover of all time:
“We Can Work it Out” – Steve Wonder
– Who can take a Beatles song and actually make it better? Little Steve can.
So there you have it. Let me know what you think. And, more importantly, post your all-time favorite covers in the comments section. I’m all ears.
And now for a quick word from your sponsor….
The Balsa Gliders collective continues with the latest EP, Photographic Friends, out today on iTunes (also, on Amazon, eMusic and any other digital outlet. Sorry, no vinyl for the hipsters).
And we’re coming to a town near you with a mini-tour this December (at least if you live near Charlotte, Raleigh, or TBD):
- Thursday, December 15 at The Visulite Theater in Charlotte
– Friday, December 16 – TBD
– Saturday, December 17 at The Pour House Music Hall in Raleigh
Hope you can check out the album. Six new indie-pop originals with a little something for everyone. It was recorded this past spring with producer Greg Elkins at Desolation Row Studios in Raleigh.
Our last LP, Danceable in Victor, is available as well. Buy either and the band will try and figure out how to split 73 cents six ways.
And apologies for this unsolicited, extremely self-serving note (especially to work emails), but it’s all about going viral (so feel free to act like a virus).
PS: For those who are thoroughly confused I am the drummer.