I honestly thought I knew everything about pop culture. When I posted my thoughts on Forecastle 2015, I was quickly reminded that I might need to put more emphasis on the checking of facts. Apparently, Sturgill Simpson didn’t write “The Promise.” The band When in Rome first performed “The Promise”. I’m clinging to “the facts are optional” mantra and hoping to redeem myself with this celebration of the cover song.
Cover songs can break your heart and forever change the way you hear a song. Cover songs can also give you a deeper interpretation of the song. I’m not here to debate whether Whitney or Dolly sang “I Will Always Love You” better. It also seems like a waste of time to praise Johnny Cash’s “Hurt.” We can all agree that it is perfect and should be the theme songs for WebMD.
Covers are their best when they are unexpected, contradictory or enhance the meaning of the song. School is back in session, so I don’t have a lot of time to research if there are more or less cover songs today because of online music streaming. I can, without research, say that it is easier to get your hands on whatever cover song you fancy. You can even watch Kanye West not sing the high parts to “Bohemian Rhapsody” here. It is a renaissance of cover songs. A Cover Songaissance, if you will.
Covers That Skew
Beyonce’s song “XO” is one of her less intimidating songs. There is minimal “grindability” to the song. “XO” is basically about a woman who sees her man in a crowd and she loves him like XO. Whatever that means. When John Mayer covers “XO,” there is something there that works opposite of what Beyonce sings about. Mayer’s rendition alters the original understanding of the song. Beyonce knows that she will get her man. When John Mayer sings, he is asking if he can love you like “XO.” Whatever that means.
Covers That Enhance
Having only known the Sturgill Simpson cover of “The Promise,” I set out to watch the original version, from the band When in Rome. I wish there was a warning that preceded the video. The video is footage of a rotating camera that captures longhaired men, turtlenecks, lots of over acting near doorways and mock turtlenecks. There is lots of 1987 greatness. If you don’t have time to watch the whole video, I hope that you at the very least can watch the overacting at the 3:11 minute mark. I get irked when people assume that the newer version is always better, but in this case, that assumption applies. Simpson’s version enhances the emotions written in the lyrics. When in Rome wrote the lyrics, Sturgill Simpson made you cry when you listened to it on a bad day.
Covers That Are Unexpected
For as long as people are on this blessed earth, people will continue to play covers of “Free Bird.” But, The Granddad, The Big Papi, The El Hefe of all cover songs is when you don’t see the cover song coming. Unlike babies, cover songs are best when they are unexpected. Ryan Adams is the master of the cover song. He established his dominance with a cover of Oasis’ “Wonderwall.” Currently, he is attempting to create a whole cover a Taylor Swift’s 1989. The goal is to reshape the album to mimic The Smiths musical style. The best part of all it is that Adams envisions the album to sound “like it could have been in True Detective in a driving scene or smthng.” I can just see Taylor Swift now, strumming indifferently in the creepy bar Colin Farrell frequents.
Friends, please don’t let anyone look down upon cover songs. They are lovely. Poke around on Spotify or Youtube and find those variations of some your favorites. If anyone ever gives you a hard time about enjoying them, just tell them “at least it’s not karaoke.”