Recently, I’ve been obsessing over covers of popular songs. There is something special about the ability to take an original and transform it into a totally different song.
These days, people seem to only surround themselves with music that is authentic and original, as if the only way for it to be good enough is if it’s written and sung by the musicians they honour and glorify.
I admit that in the past, during my high school days, I viewed covers as cheap or half-assed versions of original tunes. I would begin listening to a cover and my mind would immediately start comparing the two, searching for every detail of the song that the covering artist chose to change.
However, I’ve come to appreciate that cover versions are not supposed to be exact copies of the source song — that’s the element that makes them so distinctive. In reality, covers that are identical to the originals are the ones I generally dislike the most.
Since then, my experiences with covers have been eye-opening and inspirational. I can think of dozens of times when I’ve immersed myself so deeply in covers that I almost forget what the original song sounds like.
Whether we recognize it or not, covers can be found nearly everywhere within the music world. We all know The Beatles’ 1963 hit Twist and Shout, but that famous song is actually a cover of the original, which was released by R&B group The Top Notes two years earlier.
Listening to each version of Twist in Shout one after the other is quite an unusual experience. Normally, I would be singing along, but in the Top Notes version, the background acoustics are so much heavier that I get lost in the rhythm, and the familiar lyrics that I typically know seem to escape me.
The strange part is that the cover topped the charts — not the original.
In the ‘90s, Whitney Houston did a rendition of I Will Always Love You — a song released by country star Dolly Parton in 1974. It was my sister who first brought the original into my life. She was listening to a medley called Forever Country, a collaboration of country artists performing a mash-up of three country classics, and one of them was I Will Always Love You. My sister showed me the song and immediately began searching Google to see who the original belonged to.
Houston’s version, which was recorded for the soundtrack to the 1992 film The Bodyguard, was so popular that it received 16 awards in the years following its release, including two Grammys.
Parton and Houston have both gained fame, but in this case, Houston’s cover is certainly the more well-known.
When my love of covers took flight, it began with listening to the classics. I assumed that covers were something of the past; an old-fashioned trend. But today, more than ever, platforms are created solely for artists doing covers.
Three words — Spotify Singles: Covers. It’s a playlist curated by Spotify that includes a collection of over 200 song covers from famous artists with each done as a studio session giving them an acoustic tone. It’s a paradise for fans of music covers like me.
As I browsed through the list, I felt like I was getting to know the artist personally through their song choices. I’ve always been a fan of Ed Sheeran, who I would describe as raw and relatable. He’s the kind of guy who can go on stage with just a guitar and his voice and still put on a show to remember.
On the Spotify Singles: Covers list, he does a rendition of Britney Spears’ 1998 hit …Baby One More Time. It was almost impossible for me to imagine Sheeran singing this song, as I’d always saw this Spears song as pop, a fun and danceable genre — the complete opposite of Sheeran’s style.
As I popped in my earbuds and played the cover version, I could instantly tell that this song was not the same — it was better. Sheeran’s delivery was fully acoustic and far more soulful. He made this song into something that was both serious and pleasing to listen to, rather than just fun pop hit because of its upbeat tune.
It’s intriguing to think that the song has the same beat, lyrics and message, but they still ended up extremely different.
Spotify Singles: Covers is not the only medium that offers artists a home for their covers. BBC Radio 1 does a segment called Live Lounge, where artists come in and perform covers live on British radio.
I have a couple of favourites from these sessions, but one of the first ones I heard was Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness,” which Miley Cyrus covered. Cyrus and Rey have a similar quality to their voices, with each of them having a distinct deepness to it. Although Rey’s music tends to be nostalgic and mystical, Cyrus changed the ambience by making it into goodbye song versus the original’s a sombre reliving of a memory.
I think covers are an aspect of music that will be around forever as musicians will always love songs other than their own, and performing covers are a flattering tribute to show gratitude for the ones they admire.