Friday, August 20, 2010

Under the Covers

Last.fm is playing from a friend's computer the other day when the strains of a familiar melody ooze from the speakers.

But, something is different.

The Jewel version of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" is another example of an artist putting their own spin on a song that inspires them. Whether their cover version is any good is a whole other story and anyone who saw Celine Dion trying to belt out AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long" will know what we're talking about.

Cover songs can help take a career to new level as was the case with The Beatles and their 1963 version of "Twist and Shout", originally recorded by the Isley Brothers three years earlier. The Fab Four recorded their version in a single take for their debut album – and the world changed. John Lennon's lead vocal sounds as raw and urgent as a live concert, a gritty departure from the techno-driven, computerised sounds of today.

So what makes a great cover song? Is it a seamless, letter-perfect rendition of the original? How far it can be twisted from the original while still maintaining the song’s essence? Or is about putting that unmistakable personal stamp on it?

Just for a little Friday fun, let's reflect on what might be considered as the TSB "Top 5 Cover Songs" of all time. "Crossroads" by late sixties power trio Cream merits consideration after it was first recorded by blues legend Robert Johnson in 1936. Aretha Franklin hit "Respect" out of the park in 1967, taking the Otis Redding original and turning it into a girl power anthem. Manfred Mann Earth Band lifted "Blinded by the Light" to new heights after the Bruce Springsteen original failed to chart. And let's not forget the way Billy Idol was able to energize "Mony Mony" with a rebel yell; a far cry from the bubblegum original performed by Tommy James and the Shondells in 1968.

Other numbers that warranted consideration were Metallica's version of bob Seger's "Turn the Page", the Elvis rendition of "Hound Dog" as well as Cheap Trick taking a page from Elvis with "Don't Be Cruel".

So after much thought, reflection and the odd semi-heated debate, here are the official, TSB Top 5 Cover Songs of all time:

#5. "American Woman" - LENNY KRAVITZ



Canadian rockers The Guess Who, featuring the songwriting team of Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings soared to the top of the charts in 1970, before Lenny Kravitz reworked it with some of his magic in 1998.


#4. "Hurt" - JOHNNY CASH



Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails wrote it, but "The Man in Black" made it his own with heartfelt sincerity and meaning.


#3. "You Really Got Me" - VAN HALEN



The Kinks helped accelerate the "British Invasion" of 1964, but Eddie Van Halen cranked it up with this blistering version in the late seventies and changed guitar rock guitar forever. Van Halen also took a number of other originals to the mean streets such as Roy Orbison's "Pretty Woman" and Linda Ronstadt's, "You're No Good".


#2. "Me and Bobby McGee" - JANIS JOPLIN



Kristofferson wrote it, but Joplin turned it into a classic and became a legend in the process.

And finally ... the most coveted position on this countdown, goes to the cover version of a song that inspired the entire genre known as Hop Hop with an assist from Aerosmith.

#1. "Walk This Way" - RUN-DMC



"The thing about hip-hop is that it's from the underground, ideas from the underbelly, from people who have mostly been locked out, who have not been recognized"
RUSSELL SIMMONS


Originally posted March 19, 2010


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