Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.
Eric Taylor is a former Clear Channel DJ who now serves as an elementary school teacher in Salt Lake City, Utah. He’s been writing news pieces for Cover Me since 2015.
Stan Freberg – The Banana Boat Song (Day-O) (Harry Belafonte cover)
The first cover I can remember was Stan Freberg’s “The Banana Boat Song (Day-O).” I realize that some people may not count this as a cover, saying that it’s more of a parody or novelty. However, this Belafonte classic is performed by Freberg being a Jamaican singer who is “too loud” for a beatnik bongo player (Peter Leeds) who, by the way, doesn’t “dig loud noises”. He sings the entire song, in and out of the studio, with multiple interruptions from Leeds. I wore my dad’s record out of this song! The part where Freberg sings about the black tarantula and Leeds responds with, “Oh man, don’t sing about spiders!” still makes me laugh every single time I hear it. This song became even more important in my life when I had the opportunity to do a radio interview with Freberg a few years ago. We talked about this cover for most of the interview and we both laughed our guts out reminiscing about it.
Run-D.M.C. feat. Aerosmith – Walk This Way (Aerosmith cover)
I felt like my teenage years were almost all covers. In fact, I am going to go out on a limb and state that more covers were recorded during my high school years (late ’80s) than any other time in history. Just off the top of my head, I can think of about 30 covers from this time period, and that doesn’t include Chicago covering their own “25 or 6 to 4” (I’m still scratching my head over that one). And while most of these covers had some sort of influence on me, there is one that is miles ahead of the rest: “Walk This Way” by Run-D.M.C. That drumbeat at the start, which segues nicely into a Jam Master Jay scratch, is just freakin’ awesome! (Sorry, sometimes my ’80s lingo comes out.) Then the guitars kick in, followed by the rapid revolving rhymes of Run and D.M.C. Just thinking about it makes me grin. Not only did the song bring a whole new audience to Run-D.M.C. and rap music, it also brought Aerosmith back from the dead. I mean no disrespect to Steven Tyler and the boys, but without this tune, Aerosmith would probably be touring state fairs now. However, due to this song, their next few albums went multi-platinum in the U.S. and around the world. Thirty years later, I still consider this one to be towards the top of the cover heap.
La Ley – Angie (The Rolling Stones cover)
About a year out of high school, I headed down to the South American country of Chile. While I was there, I happened to be listening to the radio and a song came on by a Chilean band called La Ley (The Law). The tune was catchy, but I wasn’t really paying attention to the lyrics. Suddenly I realized that not only were the lyrics in English, but they sounded very familiar. I listened a little closer and heard “with no lovin’ in our souls and no money in our coats.” What is this song?!!!! And then I heard it: “Angie, you can’t say we never tried.” Holy moley! A Chilean band just covered a Stones’ song. And did it well, I might add. I immediately stopped what I was doing and literally ran down the street to the music store to purchase the album. I paid 5,000 pesos or about $15 for the CD, but that cover of “Angie” is worth the price. (The rest of the album is quite good, by the way.)
U2 – Can’t Help Falling In Love (Elvis Presley cover)
Not long after that, a movie starring Nicolas Cage hit theaters called Honeymoon in Vegas. The movie itself was fine, nothing special. The soundtrack, however, captured my attention. Filled with various Elvis covers – ranging from fantastic to simply awful – it is a tribute fit for the King. One of the songs that sticks out from the rest is “Can’t Help Falling in Love” sung by U2’s Bono. The man puts his entire heart and soul into the song. Meanwhile, an Elvis interview that was given right before he headed to Germany with the Army plays in the background. It is strangely haunting, poetic and a just beautiful way to finish off the soundtrack. I find myself listening to the cover more than the original, which is odd considering that I’m a bit of an Elvis purist.
The Corrs – Everybody Hurts (R.E.M. cover)
My fifth cover comes from The Corrs, a family band from Dundalk, Ireland. The band consists of three very talented – and gorgeous – sisters and their equally talented brother. (My sister-in-law thinks he’s equally gorgeous.) They had a few minor hits in the mid-90s, but they never became as big as I feel they should have. In 1999, they released an MTV Unplugged album that featured a few covers including Hendrix’s “Little Wing”, Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” and R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts”. To be honest, I have never been a fan of R.E.M. I would like to blame “Shiny Happy People” for that, but my dislike for them began long before that. The Corrs version of “Everybody Hurts”, though, just struck me in a way that I can’t describe. It was like I was so happy I wanted to cry. Does that even make sense? Anyway, it made me appreciate the song on a different level. I still would rather listen to (and look at) The Corrs more than R.E.M., but I now understand how wonderful R.E.M.’s music can be.
Luna – Sweet Child o’ Mine (Guns ‘n Roses cover)
Also in 1999, Sheryl Crow was all over the radio doing a cover of GnR’s “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” Meanwhile, there was another cover that same year that far surpassed Ms. Crow’s. It comes from the band Luna’s album, The Days of Our Nights. Described by Rolling Stone as “the best band you’ve never heard of,” Luna is led by former Galaxie 500 singer/guitarist Dean Wareham. If I had to describe Luna’s sound, I would call it “dream music.” And their cover of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” is something right out the most pleasant dream. It is probably my all-time favorite cover because of its etherealness. It’s so much slower than the original – and the Crow cover – and you almost have to keep reminding yourself that it’s not a Luna original song.
Tom Jones feat. Barenaked Ladies – Little Green Bag (George Baker Selection cover)
Apparently 1999 had a lot of great covers because my next one comes from that year, as well. Tom Jones recorded an album of duet covers called Reload. Each song is performed with a different artist. For example, Mr. Jones teams up with The Pretenders to cover Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life”. (And I have to say, nobody, but NOBODY, can sing the line “You know I’ve had it in the ear before” better than Tom Jones!) However, the song that led me to purchase this disc to begin with was Tom’s duet with Canada’s own Barenaked Ladies: “Little Green Bag”. Originally recorded by the George Baker Selection thirty years earlier – and being featured in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs – the song is an underrated classic. Then you add Tom and BNL’s Steve Page swapping vocals and it’s just pure magic.
Trick Pony – Big River (Johnny Cash cover)
This next one is a little out of my comfort zone because I have never considered myself a new country music fan. (When I say “new country”, I mean anything after 1975.) And then I became part of a country radio morning show. During this time, a band out of Nashville called Trick Pony made a stop at our station to promote their self-titled debut album, as well as their new single, “Pour Me.” Lead singer/guitarist/harmonicist Heidi Newfield was just so dang cute that it was hard not to like them. They performed a few songs and answered all of our stupid questions. Then Heidi told the story about how they wanted to record Johnny Cash’s “Big River” for the album. As they were about ready to record, in walks Mr. Cash himself, along with his buddy, Waylon Jennings. “If you’re going to record my song,” Johnny said, “we would like to help.” Cash even starts the song by paraphrasing his famous tag: “Hello, we’re Trick Pony”. (On a related topic, Heidi eventually went off on her own and recorded a country hit called “Johnny & June”.)
Johnny Cash – Hurt (Nine Inch Nails cover)
And since we’re on the topic of Johnny Cash, I have to add “Hurt” to the list. I admit, this one is probably a little too predictable and obvious. I think we all know the story about Trent Reznor’s love for this cover. I think we all know that Cash and his wife, June Carter, filmed the video not long before they died within four months of each other. Those are all decent reasons to love this cover. However, there’s a different reason behind my choice.
Last summer I took a once-in-a-lifetime trip across the country with my 79-year-old father to visit the roots or rock & roll, blues and country music. We hit nine states, but spent most of our time in Tennessee. My mom passed away a couple of years ago and I just felt like I needed to get my dad out of his quiet and mostly empty house. Plus, it gave me a chance to be with him. One of the places we visited was the Cash museum in Nashville. At the end of the tour, they had this video playing on a loop next to the chair that was used in the video. My dad, who had heard of neither Nine Inch Nails nor Cash’s cover, wept openly while watching it, right there in the museum. It was heartbreaking to watch, but it was something that I will never forget.
William Shatner – Common People (Pulp cover)
Okay, so now that I have depressed you, I figure I better go out on a high note. What I am about to write will cause some ire with some people, but it needs to be said: William Shatner shouldn’t sing. And to be fair, he doesn’t really “sing” in the traditional sense. He just acts his way through the songs. Some of his songs are awful – I’m thinking of “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” here – but his cover of Pulp’s “Common People” is all kinds of awesome. In fact, I’m going to say that Shatner’s version is 1,000 times better than the original. (And the original is amazing!) Shatner talks his way through the story of a rich girl meeting a common guy. As the tension builds in the song, suddenly Joe Jackson comes in singing a lot of the same lyrics that Shatner is saying. It works on every single level. It’s upbeat, fun, hip, happening and makes you happy that we don’t live in an age where we have to rewind cassette tapes any more. Because once you hear it, you want to put it on repeat and play it until you drive your family nuts. (Well, maybe that’s just me.)
So there you go. Ten covers that mean something to me. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go listen to some of these songs.