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» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Books, Films, Food and Culture » Is there an intrinsic value to an original over a cover song?

   
Author Topic: Is there an intrinsic value to an original over a cover song?
Lyrhawn
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I tend to like the first version of a song that I hear more than subsequent versions, which often leads me to liking covers more than the originals. Occasionally I'll come across an original after a cover that I like more, and often I'll reject covers in favor of the original, but I rarely have some sort of loyalty to the original (I guess unless I happen to especially love the band) just because it's the original. I like whichever version sounds better to me.

Opinion? Originals over covers? Or it makes no difference?

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kmbboots
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Sometimes, if the first person to record a song is either the composer or close to the composer, they may have some unique insight into the song. Otherwise, I think it depends on whether new recordings of the song brings something new or are just imitating the original and the quality of that "something new".
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SteveRogers
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I agree with the above. It depends on the cover. If the artist finds a way to interpret the song in a way which is their own, then I tend to enjoy the cover as well as the original. As for covers over originals? I think this also depends on the artist. I personally prefer the Johnny Cash version of the song "Hurt" over the original Nine Inch Nails version despite the fact I enjoy both artists. I think the Johnny Cash version just shows much more sincere emotion and pain due to its starkness in comparison to the Nine Inch Nails version.
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Dan_Frank
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I agree completely with Steve & Boots. Also with Steve's example (of course I generally can't stand NiN and I love Johnny Cash, so...)

In general there are a lot of instances like this, where a cover adds something new and interesting (and often better!).

I think that if you're talking from a critical standpoint, the original obviously gets credit for creativity and all that... but, heck, especially when it comes to pop, a lot of artists aren't doing their own material anyway, they have someone else writing the song for them. In a sense, they're just doing the very first cover. [Wink]

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SteveRogers
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I think for me it also can depend on the genre of the original compared to the cover. The song "Such Great Heights" when performed by The Postal Service is boring to me because I'm not really a fan of the overall sound of the song itself. However, I adore the cover of the song by the band Confide because I really like the more aggressive sound of the cover. It keeps elements of the original and maintains its catchiness, but the cover interprets it in a way which is so different from the original that some don't recognize it as a cover when they first hear it.
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BlackBlade
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quote:
Originally posted by SteveRogers:
I agree with the above. It depends on the cover. If the artist finds a way to interpret the song in a way which is their own, then I tend to enjoy the cover as well as the original. As for covers over originals? I think this also depends on the artist. I personally prefer the Johnny Cash version of the song "Hurt" over the original Nine Inch Nails version despite the fact I enjoy both artists. I think the Johnny Cash version just shows much more sincere emotion and pain due to its starkness in comparison to the Nine Inch Nails version.

I'll echo this. Listening to the Johnny Cash version it's impossible to not feel the impact of Cash singing words that are clearly true for him. At his stage in life (close to death) to hear him sing that song makes it even more moving.

But to me that's the apex of covering. I love covers, and musically they are often more interesting, see RATM's cover of Bob Dylan's "Maggie's Farm" but the original artist who made the statement is still to be respected for putting those ideas down on paper and performing them.

Covers at their essence are homages to the original anyway. The covering artist was listening to the original and felt inspired by it.

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rivka
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quote:
Originally posted by SteveRogers:
It depends on the cover. If the artist finds a way to interpret the song in a way which is their own, then I tend to enjoy the cover as well as the original.

Agreed. This morning I heard the Dixie Chicks cover of Fleetwood Mac's Landslide on the radio, and I was thinking about exactly this topic. That cover is distinctly different from the original, but I quite like both, in different ways.
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Dan_Frank
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Steve: Yep, that's also fundamentally why I like the Cash version of "Hurt."

Also I generally prefer Michael Jackson covers to originals, as I'm not terribly fond of the 80s pop genre. I can't remember where I heard it, but I once heard a female vocalist do a very raw and haunting version of Nirvana's "Heart Shaped Box" which, while still not amazing, I still preferred over the original. I think this is again a genre issue: 90s grunge isn't really my thing either.

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BlackBlade
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Dan: Have you heard Tori Amos' cover of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit"?

I like it much better.

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Dan_Frank
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I haven't, but I would probably enjoy it. I'll have to put it on the list.
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SteveRogers
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quote:
Originally posted by rivka:
quote:
Originally posted by SteveRogers:
It depends on the cover. If the artist finds a way to interpret the song in a way which is their own, then I tend to enjoy the cover as well as the original.

Agreed. This morning I heard the Dixie Chicks cover of Fleetwood Mac's Landslide on the radio, and I was thinking about exactly this topic. That cover is distinctly different from the original, but I quite like both, in different ways.
I think that song is covered a lot. I saw The Smashing Pumpkins perform live a few years back, and they played a cover of "Landslide." And I actually enjoyed that version more so than any of the other versions I'd heard (including the Fleetwood Mac and Dixie Chicks versions).

I think cover songs can become over done. In the modern "punk"/"metal" scene, there's an annual compilation album released entitled Punk Goes Pop, and the majority of the covers on it are straight renditions of the original versions (modern so called "punk" bands covering modern "pop" hits). And I find that to be incredibly annoying.

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Dan_Frank
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"Punk goes Pop," eh?

Steve, I have identified the source of the problem with this.

Hint: It's everything.

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SteveRogers
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A few of the covers are guilty pleasures of mine, but the trend is that it's a bad "punk" band playing a bad cover of a bad "pop" song. But they sell incredibly well, and I think they're good examples of covers gone wrong.
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Dan_Frank
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Sure, I have my guilty pop pleasures too (very few punk, though... whiny twentysomething dudes who can't sing are really not my bag)

But yeah. It just sounds like an awful idea. They're trying to build a poorly designed house out of bricks made of cream cheese. It's just not going to work.

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SteveRogers
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It's popular with the kids these days. One of my favorite bands Every Time I Die actually wrote a song about it.

Lyrics:

"Amidst the most barren scene how are we lost?
Lost?
Lost?
You've got to be ******* kidding me
Shut up
Just give me the wheel and I'll drive
You are not yet fit to speak on my behalf
We deserve to be moved by more than force alone
Instead I've been witness to loss
Upon loss
Upon loss
I'm assailed by the thoughtless who sing to their own
Caught in the middle
I'm pinned between the egos and the drones
Skill has been called to arms
******* kids have grown up to let down"

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BlackBlade
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quote:
Originally posted by Dan_Frank:
I haven't, but I would probably enjoy it. I'll have to put it on the list.

It's a quick trip to youtube away. I don't know if it's available for purchase.
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SteveRogers
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"Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Tori Amos
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Dan_Frank
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quote:
Originally posted by SteveRogers:
It's popular with the kids these days.

I don't even think I understood kids these days when I was a kid those days.
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Dan_Frank
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Thanks for the link, guys, I'll check it out when I have a slightly longer chunk of time free at work (or when I get home).
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Raymond Arnold
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I often find that epic songs are unsufficiently epic, and look for more epic versions:

We Will Rock You, by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

O Fortuna, by Therion

(I once had a dream that ended with a climactic event synced to the Therion O Fortuna cover. It was one of the best experiences of my life)

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SteveRogers
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quote:
Originally posted by Dan_Frank:
quote:
Originally posted by SteveRogers:
It's popular with the kids these days.

I don't even think I understood kids these days when I was a kid those days.
I'm right there with ya, brother. I'm only 21, but I don't really understand the fads popular with people my age.
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scifibum
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I'm sure I've mentioned it before, but the cover of "Mad World" that was done for Donnie Darko seems much better than the original. The Tears for Fears version seems like it was produced by people who just don't get it.
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advice for robots
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Thom, Jonny, and Co. doing Carly Simon's "Nobody Does It Better" with the appropriate level of over-the-top that the song needs.
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Dan_Frank
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ScifiBum: Excellent example!
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SteveRogers
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quote:
Originally posted by advice for robots:
Thom, Jonny, and Co. doing Carly Simon's "Nobody Does It Better" with the appropriate level of over-the-top that the song needs.

Do you happen to know how long they've been covering this song? As in, one off thing or something which pops up in their setlist more often?
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BlackBlade
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It's a rare song in their set list from what I can tell. I remember being blown away when I first heard a bootleg mp3 version of it a friend had stored on my computer.
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advice for robots
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Radiohead don't cover many songs as far as I know. I found what seem like a few live versions on Youtube, but I believe they're all from the 90s. I haven't seen it pop up since.
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SteveRogers
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That's kinda what I was curious about. It seemed like covers would be less likely to crop up in their setlist these days than they would've during the 90s.
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advice for robots
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Radiohead are like Chuck Norris. They don't cover other bands. Other bands cover them. [Smile]
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SteveRogers
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Where is the line drawn between bootlegging and pirating out of curiosity?
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Lyrhawn
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I always thought bootlegs were unreleased songs that were spread around underground, whereas pirated songs are from released CDs.
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Orincoro
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quote:
Originally posted by SteveRogers:
That's kinda what I was curious about. It seemed like covers would be less likely to crop up in their setlist these days than they would've during the 90s.

They used to do a few *very* self-aware and ironic covers. "Wonderwall" comes to mind. They don't even get halfway through the song.

Ironically the mix is still better and more live than Oasis ever was.

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BlackBlade
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This man speaks the truth.

I kinda wish they had finished the song.

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Graeme
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Jimi Hendrix's cover of Dylan's "All Along The Watchtower" is far superior to the original, IMO. Of course, I did hear Hendrix's rendition first, and I agree with Lyrhawn that that does make a difference.

I think Joni Mitchell's cover of "Both Sides Now" (as heard in Love Actually) is much better than the original [Wink]

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Lyrhawn
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quote:
Originally posted by Graeme:
Jimi Hendrix's cover of Dylan's "All Along The Watchtower" is far superior to the original, IMO. Of course, I did hear Hendrix's rendition first, and I agree with Lyrhawn that that does make a difference.

I think Joni Mitchell's cover of "Both Sides Now" (as heard in Love Actually) is much better than the original [Wink]

The first version of AATW I heard all the way through was from Dave Matthews, who commonly covers it in his concerts. Then I heard the Battlestar Galactica version. Then I heard Hendrix. I like them in inverse order of hearing.
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SteveRogers
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quote:
Originally posted by Lyrhawn:
I always thought bootlegs were unreleased songs that were spread around underground, whereas pirated songs are from released CDs.

But if the songs are the intellectual property of the band, does it matter if they were formally released? Wouldn't the band still hold a copyright to material which is unreleased? I know there are a lot of Radiohead bootlegs floating about with unreleased covers, B-sides, and live songs. But if the band still owns this material, is bootlegging it still pirating?
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Lyrhawn
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So all bootlegging is pirating...but not all pirating is bootlegging?
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SteveRogers
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I'm not sure anymore. That seems to be the understanding.
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aspectre
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"Jimi Hendrix's cover of Dylan's "All Along The Watchtower" is far superior to the original, IMO. Of course, I did hear Hendrix's rendition first, and I agree with Lyrhawn that that does make a difference."

In this particular case, it doesn't. Dylan heard the Hendrix version, and immediately decided that it was far superior. Enough so that all of Dylan's subsequent performances have been based on the Hendrix.

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Jhai
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I love covers. I also love remixes and mashups. I suspect there's a few different impulses going on with all three:

1. Novelty - it's just immediately intriguing to hear something familiar yet different, and it never fails to catch my attention. That's the base reaction: "Oh, hey, that's a cover of a song I like done in a completely different way. Neat!"

2. Improvement - sometimes the original songwriter /singer simply doesn't do justice to the song, but another singer/band/production team comes in and truly improves the overall aesthetic. I'd say this occurs most often with remixes (but certainly not with *most* remixes), and occasionally with straight covers. Hendrix's "All Along The Watchtower" and the Donnie Darko version of Mad World are great examples of this with covers. And I always point to Party Ben's remix of "Internet Killed the Video Star" (which could be argued to be sort of a cover of "Video Killed the Radio Star") as a remix that just takes the original good song and kicks it up a notch into great.

3. Different artistic POV/emphasis - I'd say that Johnny Cash's cover of "Hurt" falls into this category. There's absolutely nothing wrong about the NiN version of the song (if you like that style of music), but Cash approaches the song from a very different perspective, making the song to morph into something completely new, which in turn gives the listener something meaty to mull over. These are the covers which I think you can appreciate perfectly on their own merits, but that are enhanced if you know/appreciate the original as well (because then you can really dig into how each artist approached the song).

Mashups, when they're done well (rather than just playing "catch the reference" a la most of Girl Talk) can also do this. One clever one that caught my eye recently was Born This Way In The U.S.A. (Lady Gaga vs. Bruce Springsteen). Mashups can also "modernize" songs that are great, but difficult to appreciate without context. I've gotten a few friends to start enjoying what The Smiths bring to the table by having them listen to Friday Night in A&E (The Smiths vs. Morning Parade).

Now off to the covers thread to post about some of my favorites!

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Raymond Arnold
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Stephen Colbert's rendition of Friday

Vastly superior to the original along every conceivable axis.

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Aros
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quote:
Originally posted by Raymond Arnold:
Stephen Colbert's rendition of Friday

Vastly superior to the original along every conceivable axis.

I don't know. Colbert just can't seem to imbue the music with the anxious earnestness of youth that Rebecca Black brings to the song.

Kicking in the front seat? Sitting in the back seat? She has to make her mind up . . . which seat can she take? Tell me Raymond . . . which seat?

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Dan_Frank
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quote:
Originally posted by Raymond Arnold:
Stephen Colbert's rendition of Friday

Vastly superior to the original along every conceivable axis.

I really... don't know what to say.
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The Rabbit
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I'd say there is intrinsic value in originality in general and the "original" recording of a song is always going to have an edge in that.

But there is also intrinsic value in excellent execution of an idea and sometimes people are able to take someone else's idea and execute it far better than the creator. Often the person who has an original idea is not the one best suited to execute it. Janis' Joplin's rendition of Kristofferson's song Me and Bobby McGee is a classic example of that. Even Kris Kristofferson agrees that she executed his idea better than he could.

But there is more than that. Performing a piece is more than copying an established idea. It allows a different kind of creativity. In my mind, the thing that separates a truly great idea from one that's just good, is that great ideas inspire other people both to copy them and to expand on them. Almost all songs are inspired in some way or another by other songs so the line between what is original and what copied never completely clear.

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Kwea
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Much better cover of a song I had never heard of, and it has 5 people playing one guitar! [Big Grin]
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Jeff C.
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quote:
Originally posted by Kwea:
Much better cover of a song I had never heard of, and it has 5 people playing one guitar! [Big Grin]

You beat me to it!!! I was going to come in here and post that exact same link. Excellent choice in music, Kwea [Big Grin]
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