Same lyrics, unique creations
I’m writing a series about things I love…
I love listening to music. My musical tastes vary widely and I listen to a bunch of random things, but across all the genres of music, I’ve got a soft spot for cover songs that reimagine and transform older songs.
Some people view cover songs in a negative way. I think in general, covers are perceived as less creative than writing and recording an original song, but I love a good cover. It’s the perfect metaphor for the creative process – artists taking similar inspirations or materials and producing radically different results. Sometimes good and sometimes… not. But always interesting.
Varied meanings. In 1993, two groups performed covers of Elvis’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” — UB40 released a pop version that landed at the top of the charts across the world. And U2 started performing a live version as part of their Zoo TV tour. Listen to all three versions — Elvis, UB40 and U2 — and while they all have the same words, they are all very different songs each with it’s own tone and interpretation. You can actually understand the lyrics in Tori Amos’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” cover. A recent Publix commercial featured a slow, contemplative cover of “Safety Dance.” The ability of artists to take the same basic raw materials and create something unique is both fun and impressive.
It’s a puzzle. You’re in a store or a restaurant, and a slightly familiar song is playing. Maybe you recognize part of the melody or the chorus, but you just can’t quite place it. I recently heard a cover of a New Order song in a store and it took me a second to place it. I knew all the words, but the song was obviously different. This was much harder before the smartphone, but it’s still fun to hear a song in the wild and try to figure out where you’ve heard it before.
Uncovering the history. I enjoy discovering the history of a song. Often, songs are covered many times and you may not be familiar with the original. I knew that the Pet Shop Boys “Always on your Mind” was a cover of Willie Nelson’s “Always on your Mind,” but had forgotten that the original was recorded by Elvis and released shortly after his separation from his wife. Many people don’t know that Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” was originally written and released by Dolly Parton in 1974. But actually, Whitney’s cover retains some aspects from a seperate 1975 cover by Linda Ronstadt. Knowing the history of a song can add context and change how you appreciate the various versions of the songs.
Cover songs are so much more that just singing an existing song… and I’m not ashamed to admit that I love a good cover song.
Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, researcher, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. Follow Bob on Instagram.