It always makes me smile at how quickly a song becomes ‘uncool’ as soon as I begin to sing or hum it in front of my children or their friends.
I have lost count of how many times my son has asked ”Mum, how do you know this song?” only for me to respond with a chuckle “this song is older than I am” or “I loved this song when I was your age” or something age-revealingly similar.
This then inevitably triggers a discussion around whether a cover version can ever be better than the original. I have a friend who strongly believes that this is not possible despite some really compelling suggestions from me (I discovered my love of a decent cover version a long time ago).
As a child of the late 80’s early 90s, I grew up in an era where cover versions were probably more popular than they had ever been. It was commonplace to hear the most recent commercial pop ‘robot’ churn out a 60s or 70’s classic in order to appeal to the mums and dads and encourage them to add the 7” to their shopping basket in Woolworths on a Saturday afternoon. Think Kylie’s Locomotion or Big Fun’s (Big who?) Blame it on the Boogie, Pat and Mick’s rendition of Gonzalez disco classic ‘I Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet’ and let’s not mention (or let’s but very briefly) ‘I only Want to be With You’ by singing sensation Sam Fox (just why??)
Although I’m not denying how popular this Hit Factory was, to me personally, it only served as an insight into the originals. As geeky as it may sound, I loved discovering original and indeed alternative versions of songs, and still do.
There was a 90’s Italian dance act called Blackbox who controversially used unauthorised vocals on their massive number one hit ‘Ride on Time’. Off the back of this and possibly maybe one more single, they released an album which included the song ‘Fantasy’. I somehow stumbled across this and was hooked by the tune and lyrics before finding out (probably by my big sister but I can’t quite remember) that it was actually a cover version of an Earth, Wind & Fire track. This led to what could possibly now be described as an infatuation but definitely a fascination with the band and a long term love affair with Disco.
In a similar vein, I discovered Jimmy Cliff by the virtue of UB40’s ‘Many Rivers to Cross’ as well as recognising the joy of Diana Ross (and the Supremes) via Phil Collins (You Can’t Hurry Love). I also founded my obsession with hip-hop and Grandmaster Flash whilst listening to Duran Duran attempting ‘White Lines’ (huge Duran Duran fan but even they have their limits!)
Although I would probably describe the above as examples of the original being the clear winner, back to my original point – I do believe there are occasions where the opposite is true.
Take Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Hazy Shade of Winter’. Don’t get me wrong – they are undoubtedly a talented duo but… The Bangles version in 1987 (I think for a film soundtrack) is edgier, grittier and just simply better (in my humble opinion because let’s face it – this is all simply my opinion).
Anyone who knows me will concur that I am a huge Blondie fan therefore it may be slightly impartial of me to submit their version of ‘The Tide is High’ as another example – but I am because it is!
The Beatles hold the record for the most covered songs of all time, with four out of the top ten being theirs (not including Lennon’s ‘Imagine’). Number one is surprisingly Eleanor Rigby although it’s disputed to be Yesterday by some sources. However, my favourite Beatles cover and indeed another demonstration of my crush on female Rock chicks is Siouxsie and the Banshees’ ‘Dear Prudence’.
This is a topic that will never go away – it makes for great pub conversation and there’s no right or wrong but I am definitely in the camp that believes that good can always come from bad. For every Tragedy there’s some Night Fever.