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Friday open thread: covers!

The Concert for Life - The Freddie Mercury Tribute Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage

Happy Friday!

We haven’t talked about music in a while, so let’s talk about music! Specifically, let’s talk about music that’s technically other people’s music - let’s talk about cover songs. I’ve been to about eleventy billion live shows in my life, and as such, have seen about eleventy billion bands do a version of one of their favorite songs or other. Newer bands, particularly, without a massive back catalog to fall back on, will generally be good for one or two covers a set.

These can often be fun, but sometimes they can be cringeworthy, but either way, they’ve given me an appreciation for a well-performed or well-recorded cover version of a song, even a song I didn’t like originally. I don’t necessarily seek them out, but, as anyone who has a sizable music collection does, I have a ton of records with cover songs on them, and so of course I have a bunch of favorites.

I haven’t really done the analysis, but I am 99% sure that the song I own the most versions of is the MC5’s Kick Out The Jams - almost every punk band covers that song at some point in their careers, because it’s easy to pick up and fun to bash out. Of all the covers of that song I have, I think my favorite version is by the Presidents Of The United States Of America - they just blow it out and have a blast with it.

I also love it when a cover takes the original song and changes its tone completely. The first instance of this that I really became aware of is when Sonic Youth did a cover of The Carpenters’ Superstar for a Carpenters tribute record. They took the original, which was a perfectly inoffensive slice of 70’s American cheese, and made it super creepy and ominous (and it’s a great recreation of the original video!):

Also on that record is another stellar cover, Redd Kross doing Yesterday Once More, which is a song I can’t listen to once in a row - every time I hear it, I have to listen to it four or five times because it’s so freaking good. I saw Redd Kross on Wednesday, and I am perpetually glad that we live in a world that has Redd Kross in it, because my goodness they’re fantastic.

But the gold standard, for me, of covers changing context of a song is done by...William Shatner? On his album Has Been, he (and Ben Folds) took the Pulp song Common People, which in its original incarnation positively dripped with sarcastic, sneering contempt for its subject (and is a great song in its own right) and turned that contempt into straight-up anger. It’s so damn good (and unlike most of Shatner’s “songs”, I say that unironically):

The cover song that got me thinking about this topic, though, is kind of a cheat. I mean, it’s a cover, in that a different singer is singing it, but the rest of the band is the band that did it. It’s George Michael’s performance of Queen’s Somebody To Love at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert:

It’s a great song in the first place, and George Michael’s voice, while no Freddie Mercury, fits the song so well, and he just absolutely owns this performance.

I could seriously go on about this for dozens more songs, but enough about me - what are some of your favorite cover songs? I might do “worst cover songs” in a future open thread, too, so keep that in mind.