Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.
Raphael Camara was raised in the Philippines and is currently based in Leipzig, Germany. He’s been writing for Cover Me since 2014. Of all his Cover Me pieces, he especially likes his pieces on Aurora covering Bowie and Dani Mari & Second Sky covering Radiohead.
On September 2, 2014, Ray gave the go on my first news article and published it to Cover Me (unbeknownst to him, it was also my birthday). It’s been nothing but great fun working with the crew here and this fall we celebrate our Aluminum Anniversary by asking our team to compile a list of covers they hold dear.
Down below, in no particular order of importance, are my picks. Enjoy!
Hard Sun – Eddie Vedder (Indio cover)
When I was 17 I was fortunate enough to have done a bit of solo backpacking around Europe, which had always been a dream of mine – something I have the 2007 film Into The Wild to thank for, which awoke that insatiable lust for traveling in me.
Point-in-fact, I’m fairly certain I’ve never met someone who wasn’t affected with a case of wanderlust after watching that film; everything about it is beautiful – from the breathtaking cinematography and actors’ performances to the compelling story and incredible soundtrack. Mind you, that last part bears repeating: the soundtrack is absolutely stunning.
Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder is the man behind the music in the film, and there’s not a thing he doesn’t get right. The soundtrack is without a doubt one of my favorite albums, let alone original soundtrack albums, and is something that definitely deserves a listen, for those of you who haven’t yet (though I doubt there are too many of you out there).
While the most popular track by far is “Society,” after some hefty debate (technically that song isn’t a cover but a collaboration with Jerry Hannan) I chose Vedder’s rendition of “Hard Sun” by Indio, which is no less amazing. Just listening to it makes my feet itch for another adventure. More importantly, it’s one of those feel-good songs that, for me at least, never fails in lifting my mood up. If you haven’t heard the soundtrack, go listen to it. In fact, go kill two birds with one stone here and watch the film too.
P.S.: For those curious, here’s the scene in the film where it comes up.
Limit To Your Love – BADBADNOTGOOD (Feist cover)
As a musicology student, I spend a great deal of my time in smoky jazz basements – something that, in the striking city of Leipzig, is definitely more than abundantly available. Having said that, before university, I was nowhere near the enthusiast of the genre I am today – but along with those live sessions grew a strong admiration (tinged with envy for the incredible way those musicians play their instruments) and with the help of several amazing ensembles, I came to appreciate, perhaps even worship, that fantastic world of jazz.
Two contemporary bands in particular helped soften me into the genre, namely GoGo Penguin, whom I met after a concert in Munich, and BADBADNOTGOOD, though I have had neither the pleasure to meet them nor had the opportunity to see live (keyword: yet).
BBNG is far from an unknown name in modern jazz circles and rightfully so: they’re arguably very unique in the way they go about fusing their hip-hop influences and jazz foundations – I’ve certainly had a hard time pushing them into a corner, let alone finding artists that even slightly resemble what they do. And I can’t. Their blend of music is refreshing and intriguing; and try as I might, I can’t look away.
Their version of “Limit To Your Love” is among my favorites of that song. I’m a big fan of Feist and this great tune of theirs is so rarely covered: the James Blake rendition is fantastic, and when I heard that BBNG had also taken on the track, I was more than ecstatic and their version quickly rose in rank as one of my favorite covers – to the point where my roommate is probably so sick of hearing it blast across our tiny apartment. Me on the other hand, will never get enough of it.
Blue Light, Red Light (Someone’s There) – Jack White (Harry Connick Jr. cover)
There’s a scene in the documentary It Might Get Loud in which Jack White plays the piano with his son, covering the country blues tune “Sittin’ on Top of the World”; Jack banging away on the keys, both of them singing and stomping passionately along, before the American musical icon instructs his son to kick the piano chair back “if you really wanna get girls to pay attention.”
That small scene, along with his comments on technology in music, sparked a great admiration for Jack White in me. He’s just such an inspiring and iconic musician – it’s kind of hard not to respect him.
As far as covers go, you’ll find two of his here in this list, the first being his stellar rendition of Harry Connick Jr.’s big band classic “Blue Light, Red Light (Someone’s There).” The Detroit-born musician retains the grandeur of the original while still injecting the tune with his own unmistakable sound, letting loose gritty blues grooves and barrelhouse piano sections, turning “Blue Light, Red Light (Someone’s There)” into an unforgettable and classy cover.
P.S.: Again, for those curious, here is the Jack White piano scene from It Might Get Loud.
Smells Like Teen Spirit – Tori Amos (Nirvana cover)
“Smells like Teen Spirit” is iconic, to say the absolute least. The so-called “anthem of Generation X,” opening track and lead single to Nirvana’s Nevermind (1991), quickly took off and propelled the American band to international fame, leaving behind thousands of angst-y teens howling along in its wake. And when it comes to covering that song, well, one ought to tread carefully – a lot can go wrong when tackling a legendary tune such as “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
Enter Tori Amos. I’m a huge admirer of the way the American songstress weaves her covers – she has perhaps the Midas touch of cover songs. Which isn’t to say “Smells like Teen Spirit” wasn’t gold in the first place; Tori Amos is simply one of those artists who has that ability to transforms anything she tries her hand at into “hers.” And this romantic piano cover of Nirvana’s iconic hit is no different.
I Can’t Make You Love Me/ Nick of Time – Bon Iver (Bonnie Raitt cover)
Anyone who’s heard me play the piano knows this gem is almost always my go-to song to play. “I Can’t Make You Love Me” was one of the first songs I tried learning after I got fed up with playing classical music all the time; the notes are so carved in my muscle memory, I’m not sure I could forget them even if I tried. Whatever piano I come across, it’s a pretty safe bet I’ll be playing that first.
Point-in-fact, four years ago in Paris, in a charming bookstore named Shakespeare and Co. right across from the Notre Dame, I discovered that they had a piano on the second floor. Naturally, I started to play this tune and after the first few bars, I was interrupted by this girl who mentioned she could sing it (and boy, could she sing it). For the next hour or so, we entertained a small group of tourists in that bookstore, playing one tune after the next. Looking back, that was almost definitely the highlight of my backpacking trip in 2013.
Justin Vernon/Bon Iver first covered the Bonnie Raitt tune in 2011, as the B-side to “Calgary,” and almost immediately after hearing it back then, I went to work on learning it. I think it’s fair to say the cover has become a rather permanent staple in my piano repertoire.
Love is Blindness – Jack White (U2 cover)
My parents were (are) huge U2 fans, and as such, growing up, our household was always flooded with tunes of the popular Irish rock band – whether it be from their 1983 album War or their hits from 1991’s Achtung Baby, we would constantly be tapping our feet to the beat of U2.
I don’t quite remember how I first came across Jack White’s rendition, though I suspect, like many others, I first heard it on the trailer to Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby. What I do remember, quite clearly, is me having to write a 2-page English essay on Fitzgerald’s classic novel, with nothing but Jack White’s “Love is Blindness” keeping me company – which made the entire thing that much more bearable. The cover is incredible and energetic, with an emotional build-up that makes the whole thing burst, leaving you craving for multiple listens.
Jack White’s beautiful take of “Love is Blindness” comes from the 2011 tribute AHK-toong BAY-bi Covered, which appears alongside a host other fantastic covers by artists ranging from the likes of Nine Inch Nails and Patti Smith to Depeche Mode and The Killers.
Spazzkid – Something About Us (Daft Punk cover)
If I were to pick out a track that summarized the summer of 2015, Spazzkid’s rendition of “Something About Us” would be a strong candidate. Whether it was listening to it on the road trip home or while chilling by the poolside, this Daft Punk cover had quite its fair share of replays – and with good reason.
The cover is, for me at least, the quintessential feel-good song. With its blissful bass line, dreamlike synths and bouncing bubblegum beats, there are but few situations that cannot be remedied by listening to this great rendition of the Daft Punk classic.
Blackbird – Jon Batiste (The Beatles cover)
As a musician, there are some milestones that make those countless hours of practice and training all worth it in the end. Jon Batiste’s “Blackbird” cover plays a significant role in a milestone of my own: my first (major) success at Ear Training.
I’ve always found training your ear to be one of the most tedious things to practice – try as I might, I could never figure out a piece without having the physical sheet notes in front of me; the idea that a musician could play a music piece flawlessly simply by listening to it a few times was a concept that baffled me completely, and I was entirely convinced I’d never gain that ability.
Enter my first semester at university. One morning (while I was admittedly supposed to be transcribing a different piece for homework), I came across Batiste’s piano cover of “Blackbird” and just for the fun of it, decided to write down the entire thing.
Countless hours and several crumpled up music sheets later, I had managed to get it down. Forget the fact that I didn’t finish the homework that day and would have to find the time to do it on the next – I had just transcribed my first piece by ear, man!
Anyway, much like “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” this rendition of “Blackbird” is a favorite – both to listen and to play. Batiste does a great job transforming the tune beautiful piano rendition. It’s definitely worth a listen.
Note: the ca. 40-second intro was left out of my transcription. I’m not on that level… yet.
Sympathy and the Lion – Glory Days (Bruce Springsteen cover)
By now you’re probably seeing a pattern in what kind of cover songs constitute my “most influential” list: bittersweet piano phrases coupled with breathtaking vocals dominate the list – something which Sympathy and the Lion’s cover of “Glory Days” by Bruce Springsteen perfectly encapsulates.
I’m a pianist, so I’m definitely biased here, but I’ve always found keyboard centered covers to be especially interesting: it’s really fascinating to hear the piano’s ability to mimic entire bands, and even more fascinating to sit back and listen to the ways musicians choose to do so.
Lancaster-based duo Sympathy and the Lion do such a beautiful job with morphing Springsteen’s powerhouse anthem into an elegant piano lament, it’s really hard to leave it off this list. The alt-folk pair once joked that “When I turn 50, I’m gonna stop what I’m doing and start playing Springsteen songs on the piano at the local pub.”
I don’t know about you, but if the covers they throw out are even half as good as this one, I’d definitely love to be there when they start playing.
Will Dailey – Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) (Arcade Fire cover)
Last but certainly not least: Will Dailey’s cover of “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains).” I forget how I was introduced to Arcade Fire, but they certainly held a fairly prominent spot in my music taste growing up – from their critically successful debut Funeral all the way to the essential indie rock album The Suburbs, I was singin’ along to the tunes of the Canadian sextet.
While there are many note-worthy Arcade Fire covers (Peter Gabriel’s take on “My Body is a Cage” is stunning, as is Mr. Little Jeans rendition of “The Suburbs”), Will Dailey’s “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” is by far my favorite down the line. The independent American singer-songwriter strips the playful tune down to a mellow and addictive lament, with gentle guitar and drum lines in lieu of the original upbeat synths and disco vibes. Once you hear this version, it’s definitely hard to go back.