In Prince’s recent Lopez Tonight appearance, he once again attacked one of his favorite targets: cover songs. “I don’t mind fans singing the songs, my problem is when the industry covers the music,” Prince told George Lopez. “You see, covering the music means your version doesn’t exist anymore. There’s this thing called the compulsory license law which allows artists to take your music at will. That doesn’t exist in any other art form – there’s only one version of Law & Order, but there are several versions of ‘Kiss’ and ‘Purple Rain.’”
Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
It began as something of a lark. R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck had just purchased a mandolin and was trying to figure out how to play it. Out of those early practice sessions, which Buck recorded just in case, sprung arguably the most recognizable mandolin riff of all time, as well as R.E.M.’s largest commercial success to date. Though earlier singles like “The One I Love” and “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” teased at broadening the Athens, GA group’s fan base beyond its original college rock crowd, “Losing My Religion” made the group a national name via copious exposure on pop/rock radio.
Another Bonnaroo has come and gone and all we have to remember it by are the videos. The advantage of a mandatory camping fest is that people don’t upload their unlistenable five-pixel cell phone videos until after the end, so most of the videos that hit YouTube this weekend were professionally filmed. Lots of covers performed. Here’s a roundup of some of the best. Julia Nune’s medley of songs she hates is a must-see.
I get nostalgic remembering all the turn-of-the-century fuss over a potty-mouthed white rapper corrupting the nation’s youth. With two wars and an economic collapse to deal with these days, such worries seem almost quaint. Eminem began his comeback last year with some hits (“3 a.m,” his show-stealing verse on Lil Wayne’s “Drop the World”) and some misses (his still-parodying-1999 “We Made You” video, most of Relapse), but the world of absurdist violence and middle-school homophobia just wasn’t the same without Marshall Mathers.
Lounge-O-Leers – The Real Slim Shady
The Lounge-O-Leers occupy the same territory as Richard Cheese, bridging the gap between music and comedy. Here the duo recites pensive spoken word over a lounge-hop beat. Bonus points for coming up with so many sound effects to play over the naughty words. [Buy]
Royal Native – Criminal
The band posted a disclaimer with this piano-and-melodica cover: “We would like to point out that all the lyrical content…is Eminem’s not ours – especially the homophobic stuff, which is most of the song.” Helpful. [Buy]
The Script – Lose Yourself
In many people’s minds (read: the media, parents) Eminem stands for violence and misogyny. No doubt he’s done plenty to fuel such perceptions, but this self-empowerment anthem still sounds more honest than all the blabbering about chaining his ex-wife in the basement. [Buy]
Emily Reay – Sing for the Moment
When you cover “Sing for the Moment” you get two songs for the price of one, since the original so heavily samples “Dream On.” Reay wisely avoids attempting that falsetto. [Buy]
Five Good Covers is an occasional series in which we look at a song that has supplied a variety of cross-genre cover versions. One mark of a well-written song is versatility, so we celebrate such songs with five totally different interpretations.
When Leonard Cohen began touring again in 2008, he was upfront about his intentions: he needed money. Instead of just cashing in and getting out though, he crafted three-hour concerts that seemed incapable of anything less than fawning reviews. His double-disc Live in London received similarly ecstatic praise, including every song he performed regularly on the tour save one: Famous Blue Raincoat.
That he left off one of his best-known songs seems surprising, but Cohen has repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction with the lyrics. “I never felt I really sealed that song; I never felt the carpentry was finished,” he said in 1993. “With the poverty of songs I have for each record, I can’t afford to discard one as good as that. It’s one of the better tunes I’ve written, but lyrically it’s too mysterious, too unclear.”
Presumably the hundreds of performers who have covered “Famous Blue Raincoat” since its 1971 debut would disagree with that assessment. Renderings tend to be highly emotive, pain and angst dripping off every turn of phrase. While it’s hard to fault this logical approach to the song, it can get tiring. Here are five cover versions that approach it with a broader palate.