Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.
Here at Cover Me Q&A, we’ll be taking questions about cover songs and giving as many different answers as we can. This will give us a chance to hold forth on covers we might not otherwise get to talk about, to give Cover Me readers a chance to learn more about individual staffers’ tastes and writing styles, and to provide an opportunity for some back-and-forth, as we’ll be taking requests (learn how to do so at feature’s end).
Today’s question: What’s your favorite cover performed by a child?
Though I can’t claim to have gone back through every single Best Covers Ever list, I suspect that Greyson Chance is the only preteen to ever appear on one of our monthly countdowns. The list in question was Lady Gaga’s, and the song was “Paparazzi.” Sporting an early-Bieber mop of bangs (it was that era), Chance let loose on the then-recent hit at a sixth-grade talent show. He pounds the keys like Billy Joel doing “Angry Young Man” – very young, in this case – and belts like he’s in Giants Stadium rather than the school gymnasium.
Almost as fun as watching him is watching the faces of the girls in the audience (and only the girls; as anyone who’s ever been to a junior high dance knows, they’re all on one side of the gym and the boys are all on the other). They start out with the bored expressions of middle-schoolers everywhere when forced to attend a mandatory school event. Almost as soon as he starts singing, a few start whispering to each other. By the end they explode into applause as Chance leaps up from the piano stool, triumphant. His greatest triumph was still to come: The video has notched 73 million views and counting. Pretty soon he found himself on Ellen DeGeneres’s show getting words of advice from Lady Gaga herself.
I love that Avril Lavigne’s early work is resonating with another generation. An anthem advocating for just being yourself has a good message that I would like to see stick around. If you have ever tried to perform this song at karaoke, you know that it is one of those songs that you go in thinking is fairly simple to sing. Then you get to that first pre-chorus transition and you find yourself really stretching your vocal range.
Eight-year-old Claire Crosby doesn’t have this problem. She nails it without any evidence of a reach. Pair that with the fast-paced word play she has to deal with at the end of each chorus, and we have to be impressed. Her backup band is also well coordinated. There are times where everyone has to be on the same page about when to come in, and they stick together well.
Want to hear more of Claire? I’m also a fan of her flair in this Disney Villain medley.
When the ten-year-old climbs up behind her Yamaha, you’d be forgiven for not expecting all that much from her. Indeed, as she pecks out the opening notes of “Carry On My Wayward Son,” it still sounds like one of those school spring concert recitals filled with bored parents. But then she proceeds to render all six members of Kansas obsolete. Drums, bass, keys, guitar – she covers them all, beat for beat and note for note, with flashing hands and with feet that barely reach the pedals. By the time she gets off her bench and bows, you won’t understand why she’s greeted with what sounds like polite applause. In the audience’s defense, maybe they were just stunned by what she’d put them through.
The girl has a small batch of YouTube covers under the name ameri1122, most of them over ten years old; if you like this, wait until you hear what she does to Rush’s “YYZ”.
Sometimes, when a Q&A prompt appears, it inspires an immediate idea. Sometimes, as with this one, not. Actually, that’s not true—my first thought was to discuss the version of the Clash’s “Career Opportunities” from Sandinista!, sung by the sons of musician Micky Gallagher, but I couldn’t confirm their ages, and wasn’t sure that it would qualify as a cover.
When inspiration isn’t immediate, it’s time for research, and my wife vaguely remembered hearing of a chorus of kids somewhere in New York City that covered rock songs. It only took a minute to find the PS 22 Chorus, which presented a slew of options. I hit upon their cover of
U2’s “With or Without You,” because I like U2 and I like this song.
The chorus consists of fifth graders who attend PS 22 in Graniteville, Staten Island, and was founded by director Gregg Breinberg in 2000. Since then, they’ve won awards, sung with many famous musicians, performed at the Academy Awards, the Newport Folk Festival, the Apollo
Theater, and on tons of TV shows.
As a father of children who performed during their school years, I have to say that kid choruses are generally the most listenable groups at school concerts. Orchestras are usually the worst, then concert bands, and then, probably, jazz bands, but most schools can muster up at least a pleasant sounding chorus. The kids of PS 22, though, are better than that. The fact that it is a large school helps, and there’s an audition process (which probably has gotten more difficult as the chorus’ fame has spread), but I’m guessing that most of the credit goes to Mr. Breinberg’s direction. It’s clear that he empowers the children to be their best and to love what they do.
Their version of “With or Without You” doesn’t try too hard—just a bunch of kids singing their hearts out accompanied by a piano. But look at their faces—these children are really into it, and some of them are lost in the music. And I love the fact that some of them are doing hand and body motions, but no one is trying to get them to do them the same way. Apparently, the song was recorded after a student in the school died, and maybe that’s why the performance is so touching.
So, when I started this process, I didn’t have a favorite song sung by a child—but now I do.
If you are one of the many who found the original video for MGMT’s 2008 evergreen synth anthem “Kids” to be disturbing and/or horrifying, allow this cover to serve as a reclamation with a million exclamation points(!!!). Watch through the mist of your tears as the fabled PS22 Chorus of Staten Island 5th graders–led by wonderfully exuberant choirmaster and music nerd Gregg Breinberg–avenge and vanquish the vile, carnivorous monsters depicted in the aforementioned
horror movie music video forever and reclaim “Kids” for the kids FOREVER(!!!).
From the play-acted intro to the smile on the face of the king on drums to that one kid who can’t sit down because he’s feeling the song so hard, this cover is as perfect as it gets. The first moment I laid eyes on this thing over a decade ago, it made me cry. And as of 2023, I am still reacting the same way every time I watch it. It is an affirmation of all that is good and is, quite literally, magic(!!!).
Björk has covered the likes of Betty Hutton, Dinah Shore, and, with the Sugarcubes, the Carpenters during her incredible career. But it all started with her cover of Tina Charles’ international disco hit “I Love to Love (But My Baby Loves to Dance),” when she was 11.
Björk Guðmundsdóttir, as she was, performed an acoustic version of the track in 1976 for a school recital in her native Reykjavík, Iceland. Her teachers sent a recording of it to the RÚV radio station, it was then broadcast to the nation, and, next thing, Björk got a recording contract and was putting out an eponymous début album.
Listening to the recording now…yes, it sounds a little like Alvin and the Chipmunks, but it’s also possible to just about appreciate what many people say about it being “pure performance.” It’s the sound of a child who’s totally unaffected, not trying to imitate anyone, and soulful way beyond her years. In fact, it’s hard to find anything embarrassing about it at all! The kid has pipes.
Masked and Anonymous, the 2003 film starring and co-written by Bob Dylan, is a deeply odd movie. It’s so odd that I’m not even going to attempt to describe it in the space I have here – let’s just say that if you want to know who would win in a fight between Bob Dylan and Jeff Bridges, you need to see this film.
One thing that isn’t odd about Masked and Anonymous, however, is the music – as a matter of fact, it’s great. Besides Dylan running through some of his own songs with his superb band, the film also features some quality Bob covers on the soundtrack, including The Magokoro Brothers’ Japanese-language version of “My Back Pages,” Shirley Caesar’s soulful take on “Gotta Serve Somebody,” and Jerry Garcia’s brooding version of “Señor (Tales of Yankee Power).”
The most memorable cover, however, is performed by 10-year-old Tinashe Kachingwe, who has the daunting task of singing “The Times They Are A-Changin'” in front of Dylan. In his review of the film for the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert called Kachingwe’s performance of the song “a master class,” continuing, “If I had been asked to serve as consultant on this picture, my advice would have amounted to three words: more Tinashe Kachingwe.” The world would see more of Tinashe Kachingwe: going by her first name, she would go on to have a successful singing career that continues to this day.
The Sundays were somewhat overlooked in their day, and overlooked since, so I’m glad to find any Sundays covers out there. If the singer has an eight o’clock bedtime and spelling homework, that’s fine. Especially if it’s Jasmine Thorpe doing the singing: her voice leaps out with force and clarity, just like Sunday’s singer Harriet Wheeler. Jasmine has covered The Sundays more than once, and it suits her, but I suspect her father/guitarist picked this material–Jasmine appears somewhat less excited by their take than he does. She probably wanted to move on to cover the artists of her day, like Katy Perry (which, to her dad’s credit, they did get around to doing).
If you have a question you’d like us to answer, leave it in the comments, or e-mail it to covermefeature01(at)gmail(dot)com.