I’ve talked about artists covering songs before in this space but mostly in very specific instances. However, I’ve been thinking about what makes cover successful or unsuccessful. I’m sure it comes down to a few things and at the risk of sounding like Simon Cowell back in his American Idol days here are my thoughts and examples.
Obviously, if you are going to cover a song, you should at least equal the talents of the original artist. This is way I’m still upset with Chris Brown and whoever’s bright idea it was to do to Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas” the musical equivalent of what he later did to Rihanna’s face. Why? Why is this necessary? Who was clamoring for Chris to sing anything let alone the national negro Christmas anthem? Everything about this song is awful and unnecessary; from it’s recording to the stupid fucking run his non-singing ass does on “together.” If I could go back in time and inception Chris Brown, I would remove this stupid idea from his stupid head.
DONNY HATHAWAY http://db.tt/4DtwCOn
CHRIS BROWN http://db.tt/HJ0AMm5
There is absolutely no point in covering a song if you are just going to do a lazy rehash of the original. To draw on my inner Simon Cowell, that’s simply karaoke and no one wants to waste their time with that. There are many examples of this done correctly: The Fugees covering Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly” or Luther Vandross covering The Carpenters’ Superstar. Done well, a different artist’s take can provide a completely different interpretation of the original, heighten the effect or shift the genre completely.
“No Ordinary Love”
I love that when Sade sings, “Didn’t I tell you/what I believed/ did somebody say that/ a love like ours won’t last?” it sounds like a gentle reminder from a woman to her lover of the things they’ve been through together, the naysayers and how they’ve survived. Give it to The Deftones and it sounds more like a plea in desperation that would be at home on an early Eminem album next to a song about Kim.
While I like Dolly Parton’s original, Jack White’s vocals and the gloomy instrumentals on The White Stripes version take the song it to completely different plane. When Dolly sings the line, “I’m begging of you please don’t take my man,” she sounds like she’s asking. In Jack White’s hands, you believe the sincere desperation.
Dolly Parton http://db.tt/rdCbgLB
The White Stripes http://db.tt/5HYoDR5
“Stillness is the Move”
I really have nothing to say about this except but to quote Entertainment Weekly, “in (Solange’s) hands, it’s less a Prince-ly harpsichord freakout than a sultry, slow-grind soul jam.”
Dirty Projectors http://db.tt/MWuCfJl
3. If you have nothing to add, for the love of all that is holy, please don’t take the soul away.
I’m looking at you Michael Buble. And no, I will not go through the trouble of adding an accent over your name. I have not and will not forgive you for what you have done to my darling Ms. Simone’s “Feeling Good”. What you did is on par with what Pat Boone did to Little Richard with “Tutti Frutti”. What did you do, borrow his vacuum and suck every last drop of soul and life from the song? The thing about Nina Simone’s version is that she sounds like a woman who knows what it is to feel absolutely miserable, to have hit bottom, and now she’s come out on the other side and to feel good is the ultimate triumph. She sounds like a woman who knows what pain is and when she sings that, “it’s a new dawn/ it’s new day/ it’s a new life for me.” or “Freedom is mine.” You believe it and you understand that there was struggle getting to that new day. It’s earned. Michael on the other hand sounds like he’s feeling good because, I don’t know, his favorite cereal is on sale or something or maybe he’s moving into a new loft because the old one had a leak under the sink. Michael, to quote Eddie King Jr., “YOU. AIN’T. GONE. GET IT. CUZ YOU. AIN’T. GOT IT!!!”
The Goddess, Nina Simone http://db.tt/1otYxFg
That guy who butchered her song
Also, Solange? Please do a covers album.