' What the fuck did they do to that song? ' is usually the phrase that pops into my head when watching the 'Glee' kids attempts to recreate some of the best music ever written. It is also the phrase that pops into my head when every pop-rock band on youtube attempts to recreate any rock anthem they think they can pull off. Then, there's the bands who contributed to the 'Punk Goes Crunk' album who just make you laugh at the thought of emo kids in tights taking the piss out of RnB, Rap and Hip Hop.
I come across bitchy but I'm getting to the point. The point of this post is to celebrate the artists who managed to not only successfully showcase the talent of their idols by paying tribute to their music, but enhance it by translating the lyrics and the music into other genres and other styles. A good tribute can be moving, a good tribute can outdo the original version and a good tribute has the power to move us listeners just as much.
Louie Louie - Richard Berry (1957)
This song has left a mark in music history generally, and not simply in that of one specific genre. Originally released in 1957 by doo-wop artists Richard Berry, the rock standard bore no resemblance to the song most of us know as Louie Louie. It has been re-released by artists such as Black Flag,Joan Jett, The Beach Boys, The Stooges, Zappa, The White Stripes and The Clash to name a few. The song has been ruined by some and perfected by others but the only thing we know for sure is that however much the lyrics may have changed as it passed from one artist to another, Louie Louie's rhythm is one we all recognise and love.
It was the American band 'The Kingsmen' who were the first to record a version of 'Louie Louie' and it was released in 1963. The band took Berry's smooth, easy going ballad and turned it into a more up tempo romp complete with backround chatter, roaring guitar strums and adapted lyrics. From them, it fell into the hands of 'Paul Revere & the Raiders' and between then and now, 'Louie Louie' has become the 2nd most recorded song, after 'Yesterday' by The Beatles.
In my opinion, Toots & Maytals,The Kinks and Motorhead are those who paid tribute to the song in the best possible way by presenting it in their own styles, with their own ideas and unique twists whilst keeping the true essence of the song alive.
Hallelujah - Leonard Cohen (1984)
Originally written and sung by the great Leonard Cohen, 'Hallelujah' is a song that I believe has been paid tribute to in the most beautiful ways. Leonard Cohen released it in 1984 on his LP 'Various Positions' which also featured a fellow masterpiece 'Dance me to the end of time.' What people don't understand about Cohen is that he was a poet. His lyrics are not just good, they are breath taking and heart felt which is why although this song was not perfected vocally by him and although the emotions he felt were not translated into the verses he sung, it had the potential to be magical when sung by the right voice. This magic was found in the voices of several artists: John Cale, Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright and K.D Lang. The song is still paid tribute to by big names in the music world but in my opinion, the song can be left alone now as it has been perfected.
'Love is not a victory march, it's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah'
Fever - Little Willie John (1956)
Madonna, Jessica Bunny, Elvis and The Doors; what do they all have in common? FEVER.
The song, orginally written by Eddie Cooley and John Davenport in 1956 and recorded by Little Willie John. The confusion over who sang the song originally proves that Johns version of the song did not make the mark that others did and thus he is sadly forgotten. The first to release a cover of the song was Peggy Lee who also added lyrics to the song which she claimed no credit for. It became Lee's signature song and was nominated for 'Record of the Year' in 1958 for her interpretation of it. After her, numerous artists from various music genres experimented with the song. Elvis Presley released it in 1960 and Madonna brought it back in 1992 on her 'Erotica' album.
The L.A psychobilly band, The Cramps, released their rendition of 'Fever' in 1980 as their 3rd single. Personally, although in my opinion, the likes of The Kingsmen, James Brown and Eva Cassidy did the best job in re creating the song, The Cramps surprisingly captured the essence of the original song yet still portrayed what they are known for: rockabilly, spook and ever changing tempos.
It has been recorded by so many musicians that it is impossible to know all the versions in order to say which is best but in my opinion, the Kingsmen who are notorious for their killer covers, have done Little WIllie John proud by completely showing off the sexy rhythm and sweaty lyrics.
INSANE COVERS OF INSANE SONGS:
- Die, Die my Darling ( The Misfits ) - Metallica
The song originally composed by Glen Danzig and released by irreplaceable horror punk band ' The misfits' as their sixth single in 1984. Metallica recorded and released their version of the song for their 'Garage Inc.' album of 1998. From one great group of musicians to another, this song which has been called 'boring' on several accounts was brought back to life and in my opinion, its a tune. Metallica stayed true to the vibe of the song and made no attempt to change it showing respect for the song and its composer.
-Rocket Man ( Elton John ) - Kate Bush , The Nixons
I found it really hard to chose one cover to present so I decided I'd present two.
Before I talk covers, I would like to say that this song was written by both Elton John and Bernie Taupin in 1972. Elton John may have done an outstanding job performing it, but it's obvious that Taupin hasn't been getting the credit he deserves for writing this masterpiece. It was a combined effort but the lyrics were based on his visions and his thoughts and without him we wouldn't have it. so thank you Bernie Taupin.
Kate Bush was the first to re create the song in 1991. Her reggae inflected version of the song is outstanding and her voice combined with Taupins lyrics produced something magical. Bush's version is probably the most memorable one up till date, regardless of the numerous musicians who have tried to put their touch on the piece.
The Nixons, an American grunge band of the 90's really did something with the song in my opinion. They recorded and released it in 1999 on their 'Scrapbook' EP. Before hearing their version of 'Rocketman' I never imagined that they would be able to do it justice but they surprised me, as they have on other occasions with other tracks. Adding the harsh guitar intro and heavy drums to the original music honestly did make it something good and I commend t hem on their effort. I, for one, can still hear the passion in the lyrics.
- Blitzkrieg Bop ( Ramones ) - Rob Zombie
This isn't just a song, this is a cult. It was written by Dee Dee and Tommy Ramone and released on the bands debut album 'Ramones' in 1976 in the USA. The song was covered (and is probably still being covered) by bands all over the globe. Stand out performances for me are the versions by German punk band Die Toten Hossen, Screeching Weasel and the Hanson Brothers.
Regardless of how much I love this guy, and regardless of the fact that everything he does is great whether it's film or music, I believe that the best version of this song was done by Rob Zombie. The song was released on his 1993 album 'Past, Present and Future' and also featured on the tribute to the Ramones 'We're a Happy Family.' What I love about his re creation of 'Blitzkrieg Bop' is that from the intro, you know it's Rob Zombie and the way the instruments are played is so characteristic of his music, but you can't miss the familiar chipper rhythm of the song as performed by the Ramones. He stayed true to himself and his style whilst paying his respects to the Ramones and I love the result. I listen to this more than I listen to the original and I think that if you find a version of a song that relates to you more than the original, you have discovered the beauty of cover songs.
There are so many other songs I would like to discuss but I think the ones I chose are songs that will never ever die. My advice to any bands looking to be cover bands:
Look up to bands like 'Me First and the Gimme Gimmes' who have taken on some of the biggest songs of all times and have adapted them to fit their own style.
The band is known for its up tempo SKA influenced style and album after album, you find fresh, original versions of songs that have made a mark in music history.
Don't try to be the band you admire. Be Innovative.