for August 8, 2003
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for today's rant...
[Inscrutable Links: John Peel Says "Hi". FM106.3 Staff List. FM106.3's 1988 playlist.]
Cover Your Ears
by Stiffy Biceptz
When Free Parking started touring the gym and tanning salon circuit back in 1990, much of the paying crowd night after night would tell us we sucked. When we asked as to why we sucked, they always had the same answer. We were a lousy cover band. We finally realized that if we were to become as big as we believed we could be we would have to start writing our own songs.
Motivated by that chorus of hatred, Jacko Nautilus and I wrote such Hub City classics as "DWI Love U" and "Low Tar Love Affair", as well as "Two Testes Tango" and our ultimate love ballad, "Milk" (which was remixed into 52 versions, of which the "Heavy Cream Mix" made the biggest splash). We never played another bands' music again.
Young happening performers are often tempted to cover another artists' songs. By covering an older respected artist, the youngsters convince themselves they can add something to the old tune, and that by doing so, they will be seen as having made it, and gain the respect of music community by paying homage to their heroes and their musical influences.
In most cases however, the resulting cover sucks, the new performer looks stupid, and everyone involved is generally embarrassed. This includes the original artist, who's disgust is only mitigated slightly by the royalty payments and the fact that a new generation might decide to investigate their original version, discover it was great, and thereby revive the elder artists' career.
The latest examples of which are that horrid Uncle Kracker cover of that awful song from long ago, and the Counting Crows version of "Big Yellow Taxi". Britney's cover of "Satisfaction" should be illegal. On the alternative front, there have in the last couple of years been pointless covers of the Smiths "How Soon Is Now", Crowded House's "Don't Dream Its Over", the La's " There She Goes", and the Sunday's "Here's Where the Story Ends". I beg everyone reading this to seek out the originals if you aren't familiar with them.
Here are some notable exceptions but they are few and far between.
The most famous of our time must be Run DMC's version of "Walk This Way". It was absolutely revolutionary and did more for integration in one song than thirty years of busing did-in thirty years.
Another favorite is the Chili Peppers cover of "Higher Ground", in this case going in the reverse direction, from "funk to rock". I heard that Stevie Wonder loved it.
Pinfield used to play Anthrax's take on PE's "Bring the Noize" at the Melody. It features Chuck D rapping over the hyper charged thrash of guitars and is much better than the original. It's the only thing Anthrax ever did worth listening to.
Cake's version of "I Will Survive" is fun and Limp Bizkit's "Faith" originally by George Michael is riot.
Finally, I love everything by Dread Zeppelin, and of course Weird Al can do no wrong. His original tunes are also excellent.
These examples help to illuminate "Stiffy's Rules For Covering Another's Song".
1. Make sure you've demonstrated you can write and perform your own songs before you lift someone else's.
2. Don't just copy the old version. You've got to add something new. Taking a tune from one genre and performing it in another is a good start. Rap to rock. Rock to disco. Pop to thrash. Serious to goofy. By doing this you really make it a new tune.
3. Don't do it very often.
4. Credit the original artists. Make sure the check has cleared before you start.
5. Don't ever cover a Free Parking Tune.
©2003 Stiffy Biceptz
All material ©2001-2014 Sean Carolan, except as noted.
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