Have you ever heard a song that sounded so familiar you knew you’d heard it before, but it was now somehow different?
Yeah, it was probably a cover.
In the 1960’s, laws against taking a song and changing it to fit your style was common practice. Chuck Berry and many more artists saw their classic tunes suddenly transformed into Pop Tunes performed by artists that just couldn’t meet the standards of the originals. And, to make matters worse, there were no laws against doing it! So, the original artist found himself listening to someone else performing their work, and reaping huge profits, without sharing a dime with the originals.
Doesn’t quite seem right, does it?
Recently, there have been accusations of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” taking from an older Marvin Gaye song. And, Katy Perry’s “Roar” has been accused of stealing from Sara Bareilles’ song “Brave.” Is this intentional “stealing”, or is it accidental copying by over zealous record producers? You be the judge.
Now, I’m not including times when performers are actually honoring the original performers. Tribute shows, such as the Beatles 50th Anniversary special, are immune from legal action. If they weren’t, both Katy Perry’s version of “Yesterday” and Imagine Dragons rendition of “Revolution” would be cause for the performers to be incarcerated for pre-meditated butchery. These were unfortunate in that in their attempt to honor, they demonstrated weaknesses of their own.
Still, there have been some worthy covers over the years. Let’s look at some of them!
“The House of the Rising Sun” had originally been recorded in 1934, and had been covered many times by artists such as Roy Acuff, Woody Guthrie, Nina Simone, The Animals, and several others (including sadly, Dolly Parton). Still, this version by the one hit wonder band, Frijid Pink, brings about a power to the song not demonstrated by others.
Frijid Pink “House Of The Rising Sun”
Since I brought up the Beatles earlier, let’s talk about them a minute. Many have attempted Beatles tunes. In fact, Roberta Flack and others have even devoted full albums to their music. None have ever done well on the charts as the Beatles are somewhat “untouchable” in the way they put it all together. One man succeeded for many years in bridging this gap as he did the songs his way, instead of trying to duplicate. His roaring acoustic guitar and rough vocal deliveries paved the way for success. The man, Richie Havens.
Richie Havens “Here Comes The Sun”
Marvin Gaye’s history is far and wide. His ability to transform a song into a story that engulfed your senses and intensify your emotions is legendary. Still, two performers have done songs by him and been very successful. The first would be successful in whatever she tried. Her voice is signature and her career one of the longest in music. Here’s Gladys Knight & The Pips.
Gladys Knight & The Pips “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”
Another artist completely surprised the listeners of the 80’s. Orange and red hair, clothing combinations that snubbed the designers of the day, and a voice that sounded more like a New York nasal tone than a singing voice stunned the radio audiences of the day with this Marvin Gaye hit. Here’s Cyndi Lauper.
Cyndi Lauper “What’s Going On”
Now, for our last selection. The question is, “Who’s the real original?” Seems like David Crosby (of Crosby, Stills & Nash) had this boat in Florida. One weekend, Paul Kantner of the Jefferson Airplane came by for a visit. While there, Kantner, Crosby and Stephen Stills sat down and wrote the song “Wooden Ships.” It was done by both groups on albums that came out at almost the same time. So, who actually recorded it first? We’ll leave that one for the lawyers to figure out. Here’s the CSN version.
Crosby, Stills & Nash “Wooden Ships”
So, until you hear your favorite song done by someone who needs to keep their hands off of it, enjoy the music!
About the Author:
Having grown up during the 50′s & 60′s, Rich Rumple was a personal witness to the confusion of the times. His love of music drew him into the conflicts of the day as he protested many of the atrocities in civil rights and an overseas war. Ironically, military service, during the final days of the Vietnam Conflict, ended a music career in a successful band. However, his love of music held true as he later chose a career as a radio announcer over law school. Here, along with being able to play the music he cherished, he interviewed many top music acts. This allowed him to gain much knowledge of the recording industry and the psyche of music artists in rock, jazz and R&B. Later, his love of performing transformed him into a career in stand-up comedy. Twenty years later, his love for music continues.
Quote: “Being born in 1954, Rock ‘N Roll and I have grown up together. I wouldn’t have had it any other way!”
2 thoughts on “Cover Songs, Uncovered”
I vote for Crosby. Nothing against Jefferson, but I will almost always vote for Crosby. This is so true, Richard. Sometimes I wonder if anyone can come up with their own stuff anymore. But then there are the ones who get it right and make a masterpiece out of a masterpiece. Very rare, but it does sometimes happen. Janis Joplin: Me & Bobby McGee, and Jeff Buckley: Hallelujah are a couple of my favorites.
Oh – and Jimi Hendrix – Along the Watchtower