No, not the shiny shinies that make us love your books, but the musical reworkings kind.
Of course everyone loves different things and I wouldn’t want to rain on anyone’s parade but when it comes to covers the passions run deeper than that, and I wanted to have a look at why some of the covers people rave about leave me utterly cold while others give me fifty shades of gooseflesh.
Starting on what I hope is an uncontroversial note that sets up the rationale for what follows. Take the original of this Phil Spector classic To Know Him is to Love Him.
It would take a very peculiar sensibility not to see that whilst the original song is beautiful and the original rendition is a minor classic, Amy Winehouse’s take on it lifts things to a wholly different level.
Amy had what Maria Callas had. She could bring a depth to a song that no one else, no matter how much more “perfect” their rendition might be, could approach. In short, she found something in the song that went beyond the mere words and notes – something haunting, heartbreaking, something that gave us an insight into the human condition, something that connected.
And that, basically, is the long and the short of the whole thing. Often the versions I find less or least satisfying are the most accomplished, the most beautiful, but when placed alongside their counterpart they simply *lack* something.
I found myself musing this in the context of Disturbed’s much-touted cover of Sound of Silence:
It’s brilliant, beautiful, a musical masterpiece. But it leaves me cold. The original makes me want to climb the railings of a motorway flyover and dive head first into the oncoming traffic.
Or take Hurt.
Sorry, Trent, that’s not hurt, that’s pain so fucking unbearable I want to peel the membranes from my eyeballs and roll them in salt because that would feel like having my skin licked by goosefeathers by comparison.
Yes, Johnny Cash makes us bawl our eyes out. Because he’s Johnny Cash. Because he recorded this and died. Because it’s beautiful and it’s one of the great musical legacies. But they’re comforting tears, reassuring tears, tears streaking from eyeballs that remain well and truly unpeeled. And the problem with the poignancy of cover versions that were the last thing anyone did is there’s always this
and sorry, Johnny, but this has literally everything you could ever want from a cover as well as the added emotional wallop.
In case my point isn’t clear, here is Roberta Flack’s beautiful performance of Killing me Softly.
Isn’t that lovely? Why yes, it’s exquisite.
But Lauryn Hill makes me feel like I just chowed down on battery acid and these are the last streaks of sound I will ever scratch from the universe with my dissolving nails.
Here are just a few more covers that take an original and open it up just enough to slip in some exquisite toxins
And just sometimes, more than one version does the business in very different ways