Run for cover

Following, as I often seem to do with this blog, a real life conversation with a friend, I found myself reflecting on my unconfessed love for “covers” and wanting to share my fascination with this art.

I am no stranger to the cover phenomenon, and not only relative to popular music. The concept of cover is at the very basis of the jazz tradition of Bebop (as well as standard singing), as the standards repertoire is nothing but a database of possible covers ready for musicians to recycle and improvise on. It is important to notice that what happens in jazz is a slightly counterintuitive use of the power of the cover. If what defines a cover is to maintain the melody and lyrics unvaried, in jazz is the harmonic structure that survives to the melody, which quickly leaves space for endless streams of improvisation. Gershwin’ s hit “I Got Rhythm” from the musical “An American in Paris” has almost created a sub-genre in itself, as generations of jazz improvisers have challenged themselves to battle through its infamous “Rhythm Changes” harmony.

So what is the point of doing covers in the pop world (or in fact any other world)?

Two seem to be the main targets when borrowing songs: the famous cover and the obscure cover (I don’ t know what would qualify as a middle cover, but just try to follow me).

Some seem to think that the only point of doing covers lays in the fact that the covered song is famous. The original version becomes almost like an inner joke between the audience and the band covering the song where they both know how it is “meant to sound like”. This criteria works particularly well for bands and artists that have only just started gathering audiences and want to introduce themselves gently with well established music.

The other option, which for a while seemed to be the new hip thing to do for jazz singers and musicians, is to dig into the archives of singer songwriters and find those forgotten gems that still have something to say. The idea behind this approach is to bypass the daunting task of “ruining” beloved themes and feeling free to experiment creatively on solid lyrical and melodic content.

Enough theories, here is my top five covers of all time (of frankly the ones I know of that I like best and that I can think of at this moment in the day).

Feel free to comment with your personal top five and don’ t be ashamed.

Last question to all, should I make this into a monthly top 5 covers? 

5) The guilty pleasure cover, Paul Anka on Oasis’ “Wonderwall”.

4) The “Oh yes…” cover, Lake Street Dive on The Jackson 5′ s “I Want You Back”.

3) The creepy cover, Fiona Apple on “Charlie and the Chocolate factory”‘ s “Pure Imagination”.

2) The understated cover, Barb Jungr on Bruce Springsteen’ s “The River”.

1) The self cover, Vince Mendoza on Joni Mitchell’ s “Clouds”/ “Both Sides Now”.


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