Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.
Jaime Joshi lives in South Florida amidst geckos, 24-hour Cuban coffee and soup-like humidity. She has been writing for Cover Me since 2013; of all her pieces, she is particularly proud of her pieces on Bruce Springsteen and Madonna. (She’s the one on the right.)
Evan Dando – The Ballad of El Goodo (Big Star cover)
At its crux, music is math. And in order to understand music, one must have an understanding of mathematical formulas.
For example, in the case of ’60s girl groups: (Doe-eyed ingénue + shimmying back-up singers) x (bouffants2) x egomaniacal manager = love songs x drama x ∞
Or try this: (John + Christine) x (Stevie + Lindsey) = Fleetwood Mac ≠ (John + Christine) x (Stevie + Lindsey) – Lindsey + Rick Vito – …
You know what? I’m not Alan Turing. I can’t do this. Let’s move on.
Vaguely Messianic-looking indie rocker + soft power pop cover = a cover that stays with you years after the credits have rolled.
The cover is featured in Empire Records. A ’90s ode to music, love, and beautiful little tattooed gum-chewing freaks, this movie is responsible for a fair bit of my sonic awakening and helped chart a course for me to discover all the music I adore today.
Like Big Star.
Dando’s low vocals wrap around the jangly soft guitars and lush harmony. When he croons the lines, “They’ll zip you up and dress you down/Stand you in a row/But you don’t even have to/You can just say no,” it sounds like a forlorn lament. A lesson learned the hard way about himself as a younger man and all the other vaguely-Messianic looking musicians who were set up to perform and set up to fail.
Bruce Springsteen – Don’t Change (INXS cover)
Typically, I stay away when it comes to matters of religion and spirituality. See, it’s a deeply personal issue that every man must… What? I’m sorry. What was that? Bruce Springsteen?
Note the lightning-quick transformation into wild-eyed zealot with all the apostolic zeal of a big-tent Southern Pentacostal Preacher, for Bruce is The LIGHT, The TRUTH, and The WAY who will heal all the madness in your SOUL!
The opening of this cover feels like someone clasping your hand and pulling you along – “Come on! There’s adventure awaiting us!” – as four men and their guitars (hey there, Tom Morello!) are lifted upon high by the warm brass of horns and persistent march of Mighty Max’s drums. And then, a voice echoes out from atop the mountain – the grit and rasp of Springsteen himself as he almost barks out Michael Hutchence’s lyrics about being true to oneself.
Springsteen and the E Street Band juggernaut through this Aussie classic, grabbing the faithful as they punch a hole through heaven to make a joyous noise unto the Lord, the ghost of Michael Hutchence and anyone else in a 20 mile radius.
Hark, the herald Springsteen sing. Glory to this perfect memorial to a fallen icon.
Pedro The Lion – Fade Into You (Mazzy Star cover)
I have a sneaking suspicion that I fell in love with my boyfriend much earlier than I’m willing to admit. The first gift he gave me was an expertly-crafted mix CD and track one was this cover.
We graduated from high school together and he understood that when seeking my affection, a ’90s love song was the key to my heart. Especially one rife with shoegazing adolescent longing.
Bare and stripped down to only the essentials, Pedro The Lion’s cover feels like a secret shared. From the pre-song patter to the sparse acoustic guitar, the song’s intimacy leaves just enough space for two – leaning on one another in the doorway while the band plays on.
This song got tangled up within a canopy of stars and the lingering scent of night-blooming jasmine and I thought maybe, just maybe, I could fall in love again.
Four years later, I still love this cover, we’re still together, and still, I look to him and see the truth.
Hazy Shade of Winter – The Bangles (Simon and Garfunkel cover)
Like everyone, I’ve got goals I would like to accomplish in my life. I want to be a homeowner, I want to travel the world, I want to have children, I want to write a book. With some planning and luck, there’s a pretty solid chance that I can accomplish these things.
Regarding my goal of being Susannah Hoffs? The chance is less than zero.
Firstly, she was one of Prince’s muses. You can’t just be one of Prince’s muses. I’m sure there was a very intensive vetting process and some sort of celestial arrangement similar to how they pick the Dalai Lama.
Secondly, I’m almost relatively certain that all laws – both natural and man-made – preclude one from being someone else.
It’s the greatest tragedy of my life… but I’ll always have the music. In particular, the Bangles’ cover of “Hazy Shade of Winter.”
The Bangles’ ethereal voices shiver and shimmy amidst the driving, snarling guitars and the whomp-whomp-whomp of Debbi Peterson’s drums. This harder edge comes courtesy of virtuoso producer Rick Rubin – a maven known for creating guitarwork that sounds like an army of tyrannosaurus rex gnashing on trucks.
The Bangles march across this cover, conquering it like a legion of White Walkers marauding past the Wall. Winter is not coming. It is here and there is nothing hazy about it.
Brian Fallon – Atlantic City (Bruce Springsteen cover)
All go unto one place. All are of Springsteen and to Springsteen we return again.
You thought I was kidding about that whole Bruce thing, huh?
Nope! The born-again Born To Run runs deep in the rivers of my veins, and I’m here to convert the cynics and bring them into the fold.
“Atlantic City” is my favorite Springsteen song – an elegiac tragedy of hope and how it truly is the best and the worst of all things. How it can sustain and shatter – sometimes simultaneously.
Fallon’s version is a little twangier than the original and a little more raw. In his capable hands, the song spumes from the soul of a man who knows a little something about loss, defeat and maintaining a sense of promise despite it all.
This is to be expected from a musician who was hand-picked by Springsteen himself to serve as his understudy.
Everything dies, baby that’s a fact. Maybe everything that dies someday comes back, and in this cover, Fallon gives Atlantic City life everlasting.
Devil Town – Tony Lucca (Daniel Johnston cover)
To be a teenager growing up in a small town is to have every molecule of your being permeated by ennui. It’s too small, too oppressive, and you can’t wait to leave.
A mainstay of much beloved television series Friday Night Lights, “Devil Town” by Tony Lucca captures and crystallizes this feeling, giving it a palpable sense of depth.
The lyrics are simple and repetitive – I was born in a devil town/Didn’t know it was a devil town/Oh lord, it really brings me down…All my friends are vampires/I didn’t know they were vampires/It turns out I’m a vampire myself.
But damned if they don’t echo life in a small town – same shit, different day.
And yet, the song refuses to be mired into a false sense of complacency. The soft brush of cymbals and warm guitars elevates the maudlin lyrics and bolsters them with a sense of optimism. The singer is well aware of his circumstances but that doesn’t mean he can’t escape. After all, when you have clear eyes and a full heart, you can’t lose.
Pride and Joy – John Mayer, Gary Clarke Jr., Doyle Bramhall and Jimmie Vaughan (Stevie Ray Vaughan cover)
The law of vibration states that everything – every molecule that exists – vibrates. Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Pride and Joy” might pulse in the key of E, but within the bars of this blues classic pulses the heart of the universe.
This cover comes to us from Vaughan’s posthumous Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction and features bandmate Doyle Bramhall II, modern guitar heroes Gary Clark Jr and John Mayer – the latter being a superfan who has Vaughan’s initials indelibly inked on his upper arm – and his beloved older brother Jimmie.
The guitars howl, sob, and moan, as if mourning the loss of their father, and the pianos bring a little honky-tonk to the mix. For Mayer, Bramhall and Vaughan, the song is well-worn territory. Their fingers know the grooves on the fretboard as well as they know the bodies of their lovers, but Gary Clark Jr. really opens the song up and takes it for a walk. He ain’t here for business, he’s here for fun.
The result is a six-string symphony that would have made Stevie Ray proud and joyous.
The Glory of Love – New Found Glory (Peter Cetera cover)
When I was 19, I was indestructible. I fractured my ankle at a concert once and kept going. I would spend entire sweltering Florida summer days at music festivals.
At the age of 33, things are a little different – I sleep the wrong way and end up out of commission for the next two days – but at 19, I was impervious.
It was around that age that I discovered New Found Glory – a South Florida pop-punk quintet with a penchant for pogo-ing onstage and pop culture. Their debut album was named after a quote featured in The Outsiders and soon after, they released not one but two albums featuring pop-punk covers of soundtrack classics.
My favorite of which is Peter Cetera’s “Glory of Love” – a soft-rock standout from the Karate Kid II soundtrack.
Sunburned, sweaty and sticky in a sea of like-minded revelers, I remember first hearing this song live at the Warped Tour. Hundreds of voices sing-shouting the lyrics and bouncing up and down.
These boys gave the song a much needed jolt. Fast and loud with driving guitars, smash and bang cymbals and nasal adolescent vocals, the song got the Mia Wallace treatment with a shot of adrenaline straight to the heart.
In the live version, New Found Glory go the extra step to make this song their own by altering the lyrics ever so slightly – “I am the man who will fight for your honor/I’ll be the hero that you’re dreaming of/Gonna live forever/Knowing together/That we did it all/New Found Glory of love!”
Does it make sense? Not strictly speaking but when you’ve got a legion of giddy fans bouncing along, the only thing that matters is to heed the words of Cobra Kai sensei John Kreese – strike hard, strike first, no mercy!
And New Found Glory does.
Left of the Dial – Gaslight Anthem (The Replacements cover)
Self-destructive, riotous and riotously funny, the Replacements are a band I never thought I’d get to see live. Punk in drublic and drunk in public, their on and off-stage shenanigans had me believing that the band would simply explode before I got a chance to see them.
Oh, ye of little faith.
In 2014 under the blistering Central Texas sun, I watched this rowdy group of misfits smash through tracks like “Bastards of Young,” “Can’t Hardly Wait,” “Kiss Me On The Bus,” a truly gorgeous snippet of The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” and their eternal classic – “Left of the Dial.”
And watching from the wings were Gaslight Anthem – four musicians from Central Jersey who seemed just as thrilled as the rest of us to be part of this moment.
Lead singer Brian Fallon has stated numerous times that without The Replacements, there would be no Gaslight Anthem, and their cover of this standard seems to be an exercise in reverence.
Fallon’s scratchy voice and warm strings are as sweet as a Georgia breeze, and he plays with the lyrics a little with the last words sounding like a promise – “If I don’t see you again for a long, long while/I’ll try to find you left of the dial.”
The Gaslight Anthem take this song and make it their own – a promise to brothers-in-arms who are also criss-crossing the country, playing make-up and wearing guitar.
Bruno Mars – Valerie (Amy Winehouse/The Zutons cover)
Every love story features tension and mine is no different. I’m not talking the Sid and Nancy holding hands on the way to hell kind of chaos or even the constant bickering of Beatrice and Benedict. I’m talking about having two fundamentally different viewpoints on the two things that matter the most – food and music.
Whose donuts are better – Dunkin or Krispy Kreme? (I’d love to hear your thoughts on which you’d prefer and why it’s Krispy Kreme.)
Which Amy Winehouse cover of The Zutons’ “Valerie” is superior – the brassy one or the loungey one?
The Zutons may have written it, but let’s be honest – this is Amy’s song through and through.
Luckily, a peace accord has been negotiated by Bruno Mars.
His performance at the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards is a slick number straight out of the fifties.
Backed by a big band, Mars slides and shuffles in a sharkskin suit as he memorializes another immense talent who left the earth too soon. Mars drops in a little doo-wop and a couple of dance moves that would make Danny Zuko stop and take a second glance before ending the tribute with a sweet shout-out as he encourages the audience in a singalong – “Say Amy, oh Amy/ I love you darling, I love you darling/ Say Amy, whoa Amy, we’ll miss you baby.”
We might always disagree on which cover is better – brassy or loungey – but neither of us can deny that both Amy Winehouse and Bruno Mars are phenomenally talented performers and our lives are better for having them around.