As long as music is made, there will be cover versions of songs. It’s an inevitable part of life. Groups/solo artists will want to add some notoriety to their name by covering an already established artists hit song or they will want to pay tribute to an artist/song that they enjoy. Bands will definitely want to get a few easy hits on their cover of Justin Bieber’s ‘Sorry’, while some will want to pay homage to the groups(s) that inspired them to make music for the world. However, before they hit that record button, they should ask themselves this question: Am I making a cover worth listening to? Using two original songs and their covers, I hope to lay out the elements of a cover song that will warrant repeat listens as well the elements of a cover song you’ll be begging to turn off.
The Cars – Drive (Cover by Deftones)
‘Drive’ by The Cars is a synth-pop classic. As soon as the signature, twinkling melody comes in, you’re transported to a place filled with nostalgia and longing. The synthetic instrumental feels alive, vibrant and itching to pull you in. The simple, yet effective lyrics are sung with a certain level of heartbreak and emotion that come from a genuine space that few should have to know. For their cover, Deftones stripped the song down, but still kept the feeling of longing. One of the most important parts of a cover is retaining enough of the original to make it identifiable, while adding enough of your own spin to make it distinct. Chino Moreno’s delicate vocals add another dimension to the song, making the narrator feel more fragile than he ever has before. Instead of synths and keyboards, the band decide to keep it fairly analog, with an acoustic guitar playing the chords while an electric guitar creates ambiance behind it. There are hints of the tremendous and echoing drum hits, as they use what sounds like a drum machine to provide the backing beat throughout. This song is still readily recognized as The Car’s classic, but it is given new life through Deftones’ version. This is everything you could ask for in a cover, as it builds on the elements that make it great in the first place, without taking it too far into left-field. You need to make sure to take artistic liberties to set your version apart, but it’s also essential to tie it into the original by mining some of the gold that’s already there for you.
Drake – Hotline Bling (Cover by Andrew Baena)
Drake had an instant smash on his hands with ‘Hotline Bling’. The instrumental has a colorful steel drum melody, Drake comes through with a great hook that gets stuck in your head quite easily and you can dance your tush off to the instrumental. These are the things that make the song great. Andrew Baena‘s cover of the song does not take these elements into account and suffers terribly for it. It doesn’t use the melody of the song at all, but instead chooses to compensate for it with heavy chugs. This would work, if it even sounded like it followed the same groove as the song most of the time. Often times, it feels like a different track entirely. You could put this on any average djent band’s debut EP and I would think it was just one of their original songs with the ‘Hotline Bling’ lyrics worked in for whatever reason. The vocalist is talented, but the chorus sounds so flat when it isn’t sung to the melody that’s supposed to be surging through the track. It gets a little better during the brief interlude before the last chorus, but the melody that was introduced doesn’t even sound close the original and it quickly dissipates into more chugs. This cover is the textbook definition of a bad cover. It almost completely ignores the source material and goes much too far into left field to even seem like it could be a cover. There didn’t seem to be any respect for what the original brought to the table. This is not typical of every metal cover of a pop song, but this one just doesn’t warrant listening to when it unpleasantly crams its genre down your throat and the original actually has an identity and attractive elements behind it.
Cover songs will continue to be a part of music for as long as music is made. Artists will always inspire other artists and lead them to have a certain reverence for their creative output. When you respect someone’s material, you want to do it justice and apply your own feelings to it. When you’re just making a cover song to see what a song would sound like in a different environment and you don’t pay attention to that songs previous environment, you’re doing it a great injustice. I am by no means stating that there is a definitive way to make a great cover, but I think these are definitely some of the building blocks required. All I can really ask of you is to think before you cover.
[with apologies to Nedroid for ruining his comic for the banner. We definitely don’t fail to see the irony – ed.]