Is It A Cover?

Most covers stay pretty true to the original song. It’s easy to recognize them as covers just by listening.

Some covers, though, are completely unrecognizable from their original songs, like Julia Stone’s cover of “You’re The One That I Want” from Grease and 67 Special’s cover of “Scar” by Missy Higgins:

“You’re The One That I Want”:

“Scar”:

But sometimes figuring out what qualifies as a cover can be harder. What about when a singer plays his song with a different band? Is it simply the same song and not a cover, or is it a totally new composition, or a semi-cover?

Two good examples of this murky cover definition are when Jenny Lewis played a song from her solo album with Rilo Kiley. The vocals were the same, but the music was different, and when Nina from Girl in a Coma played her song “Smart” with Joseph from Deadbeat Darling, turning the song into a duet:

“Rise Up With Fists”:

“Smart”:

There’s a fine line — An artist should make a cover her own, injecting her own fingerprint onto it, but if a cover is so drastically different from the original that it loses/ignores the melody, that’s not satisfying for the listener.

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2 Responses to Is It A Cover?

  1. There’s no secret recipe. Some of the songs below are great because they completely deconstruct the original, stripping it down to its most basic components of chords and lyrics, and build it back up again in a completely different style. For others, the genius of the original song was always present but the presentation was lacking, and when the talents of a different performer are added, the song gains a gravity that it didn’t have in its original form. And some of them, whether by generational ignorance or through the general obscurity of the original artist, simply didn’t receive the exposure they needed for their greatness to be recognized until they were delivered by a more familiar voice. But the finest of these, the ones we love the best, are simply great songs by great artists where the addition of a new twist and a new voice creates something that is greater than the sum of its parts. You can hear and recognize the glory of the original version in every note of the cover, but the listening experience is taken to another level through the talents of the covering artist.

  2. Sinead O’Connor had a world wide number one hit in 1990 with this cover of the Prince track originally performed by The Family in 1985. O’Connor’s version is the definitive version, and after the song became a number hit in the US, Australia, Germany and the UK, Prince even began to perform the song at his live shows.