Sincerest Form of Flattery

The other day while I was tooling around in my car the song “Landslide” came on the radio; however, it wasn’t the original Fleetwood Mac version, but the Dixie Chicks 2002 cover version. As I was listening to it I realized that I might actually like the cover version more than the original (heresy, I know). The way that the Dixie Chicks’ voices harmonized and melded together simply appeals to me slightly more than the more solo effort of Stevie Nicks. I still like the original, but given the choice I would probably listen to the Chicks’ version. Nicks wrote a beautiful song and does an amazing job with it, but I can’t help what I like.

This got me thinking about cover songs in general and other instances where I prefer the newer version of the song to the original. I’m generally a person who doesn’t like change, so I generally tend to favor the first version of a song that I hear; if I hear a song and don’t realize it is a cover I am far more likely to fancy the new version over the original. It works the other way as well – if I hear the original first, I tend to stick with that version over any subsequent versions that come along. What can I say – I’m a creature of habit and I’m mostly loyal to the first iteration that I am exposed to. This happens with movies as well.

However, I do occasionally buck my own trend and like a cover version even after I have already heard and liked the original. Sometimes a cover brings a new or interesting interpretation to a song; by adding their own flair to the song, the cover artist actually takes ownership of the song and makes it their own. They may change up the tempo or alter the arrangement. Sometimes all is takes is a woman singing a song that was traditionally sung by a man (or vice versa) to change your perspective on the lyrics or make you think of a song differently. You may just prefer the voice of the singer doing the cover version. It isn’t an exact science – I like what I like. With that in mind, here are some of my favorite cover songs:

  • Jem – “Maybe I’m Amazed”


Whoa – am I actually saying that I prefer a cover of a Paul McCartney song? Yes I am. The Wings version of this song is actually one of my favorite songs of theirs, but I’ve either heard it too much or can identify more with this song sung by a woman. Sir Paul wrote a beautiful song for his wife Linda, but it takes someone else singing his words to really speak to me. It doesn’t hurt that this song was prominently featured in The O.C., one of my guilty pleasure shows.


  • Gary Jules – “Mad World”


I will be the first to admit that I didn’t understand the movie “Donnie Darko” at all. I legitimately have no idea what was happening. I know it’s a cult classic, but this is one of those times where I don’t know if the movie was just smarter than I am or people just like weird stuff. However, the one thing I did take away from the film was its excellent cover of the Tears for Fears song “Mad World.” This slowed down version is much more poignant and tragic, which I guess is more my style.


  • Dynamite Hack – “Boyz in the Hood”


I think it is the sheer lunacy of a bunch of white boys doing an alt rock cover of a song by the rapper Easy-E that appeals to me because I can’t hear this song without smiling. The original is the more authentic, of course, and gives an insight into a way of life. The latter is just ridiculous. Sometimes I just want my music to be fun.


  • Sonic Youth – “Superstar”


The original The Carpenters version of this song is much more upbeat and not quite so ominous; it’s probably no coincidence that I discovered this Sonic Youth version in the trailer for a horror movie, High Tension. Sonic Youth made this song downright creepy; I’m guessing the lesson here is that I prefer the more unsettling and melancholy versions of pop songs. Perhaps this is something I should talk about with my therapist.


  • Metallica – “Whiskey in the Jar”


You want to piss off a lot of people on St. Patrick’s Day? Tell them how much you love “this Metallica song” when someone plays “Whiskey in the Jar.” That never fails to get people all riled up. The traditional Irish song was made famous first by the Irish folk band The Dubliners, but I much prefer the hard rock edge that Metallica puts on it. They take this song to a whole other level.


  • Tiffany – “I Think We’re Alone Now”


Thanks to the radio always being on in my house growing up, I was well aware (unlike most of my friends) that this song was originally performed by Tommy James & The Shondells. But knowing my musical history didn’t make me any less a child of the 80s so I much prefer the updated version that “mall queen” Tiffany released in 1987.


  • 10,000 Maniacs – “Because the Night”


This is obviously a great song because The Boss himself, Mr. Bruce Springsteen, helped write it. But I have never been much of a Patti Smith fan so her original version of the song didn’t do much for me. I remember being very bored when she was the opening act for R.E.M. when I saw them in concert; I didn’t dig her at all. I am, however, a fan of Natalie Merchant’s voice, so it is no surprise that it is no contest that I prefer the 10,000 Maniacs version to the original.


  • Eric Clapton – “I Shot the Sheriff”


I happen to subscribe to the “Clapton is God” way of thinking about things, so as much as I enjoy Bob Marley and like his original version of this song, I would much rather listen to ol’ Slowhand do his thing with this tune. Apologies to Marley and the Wailers, but that’s just how things are.


  • Nirvana – “Lake of Fire”

With all due respect to The Meat Puppets, once Kurt Cobain gets ahold of your song, it’s pretty much over. No one is going to remember that it was your song, which is exactly what happened when Nirvana performed the song during their legendary MTV Unplugged appearance. Even though The Meat Puppets came first and Cobain was paying them tribute with his version, most people think of this as a Nirvana song.


  • Johnny Cash – “Hurt”


I liked this song just fine when it was originally done by Nine Inch Nails, but in the hands of the “man in black” the song really takes on a life of its own. Covered toward the end of Cash’s life, his version carries the weight of a man looking back at this life and the mistakes he’s made. It’s tragic and beautiful all at the same time.


Definitely NOT making my list:

  • Whitney Houston – “I Will Always Love You”


I get why people love this song and there is no disputing that Houston has a gorgeous voice and made this song a global phenomenon. But this is and always will be Dolly Parton’s song to me. Because Dolly Parton is awesome.


I’m sure that I missed a bunch – what are your favorite cover songs of all time? Sound off in the comments below.


Jem and the Holograms

When I was a little girl, I was a very big fan of the cartoon Jem and the Holograms. The show, which lasted three seasons, was about a fictional all girl rock band that was fronted by music manager Jerrica Benton. Her alto ego Jem was created with a holographic computer that allowed her to disguise her features and transform herself from mild mannered executive to a rock star. A lot of the episodes focused on Jerrica trying to hide the fact that she was Jem. Think of it as a much more high tech Hannah Montana.

I don’t remember much more about the show other than the theme song (“Truly outrageous!”), that they battled with another band called the Misfits and that Jem had a boyfriend named Rio who had purple hair, which I thought was very cool. Somewhere in my parents’ house my Jem and Rio dolls are probably still floating around. It was a fun show, but obviously there wasn’t much substance behind it because it didn’t make a very lasting impression on me. I actually had to go to Wikipedia to fact check that my memories of the show were correct and that I wasn’t getting it confused with Josie and the Pussycats, which I also loved.

I never would have predicted that Jem and the Holograms was a peek into our future.

As you may have heard by now, the talk of the Coachella music festival this year was a performance of Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg with the hologram of the deceased Tupac Shakur (NSFW).

Now this isn’t the first time that artists have been brought back from beyond the grave to perform. Natalie Cole won a Grammy for her duet with her deceased father on “Unforgettable.” Fred Astaire danced in a Dirt Devil commercial 9 years after his death.

I wasn’t a big fan of it then and I am even less a fan of it now.

While the Tupac hologram was a cool trick and certainly was shocking for an audience that didn’t know it was coming, it is a slippery slope. I liked Tupac a lot. I was sad when he died (we may or may not have poured some beer out on the sidewalk in front of our sorority house in tribute) as he was a talented rapper that was gone far too soon. I assume that Snoop and Dre had the best of intentions for this performance.

But you have to wonder where this all ends. Is it fair that after an artist’s death that they can be “brought back” to do just about anything? This time Tupac’s image was brought back to perform with friends. But what about next time? While Astaire’s widow gave permission for his image to be used in the commercial, his daughter thought it was in poor taste and tarnished his memory. Family members may not always have the best of intentions. I could totally see Courtney Love signing up for a hologram Kurt Cobain, which I’m guessing is pretty much the LAST thing he would have wanted. Shouldn’t we just respect their memory and let them be? There is just something a little distasteful about cashing in on all of this.

Of course, the obvious question is whether there are people who would actually pay to see this live. I’m guessing there are, which I don’t really understand. You aren’t seeing the person who has passed. I would have loved to have seen Cobain or the Beatles perform. But I didn’t. I certainly am not going to plunk down cold hard cash to see a hologram of them. I’d rather listen to the work that they created when they were alive and authorized rather than some circus side show created without their permission. It just all seems so unseemly. Let these poor souls rest in peace.

However, it already looks like this is catching on. Yesterday the group TLC announced that they were going to use technology to bring back deceased member Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez. And this foolishness has the Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston families written all over it. Maybe the East Coast/West Coast rap war will be rekindled if P. Diddy/Puff Daddy/Sean Combs decides we need a hologram Notorious B.I. G. I even read a rumor on-line about Justin Bieber performing with Elvis Presley.

Maybe they can come up with a hologram of these people rolling over in their graves. Truly outrageous indeed.