As most of you well know, cover songs are tricky beasts. A bad cover can permanently derail a career (see Madonna's version of "American Pie" or a recurring nightmare I have called "Puff Daddy, Come with Me.")
But sometimes what begins as a fanboy/fangirl trifle can sometimes evolve into a moment of career-defining genius. I expect there will be many such inspired moments this Saturday at Reflections when Myles Deck and the Fuzz cover The Fat Stupids, Sleepless Nights cover Myles Deck and the Fuzz, Bad Motels cover Sleepless Nights, No Flyers Please cover the Bad Motels and The Fat Stupids cover No Flyers Please. Got that? Good. (FYI: Proceeds go to buy a new $Rockin4 Dollar$ drumkit.)
In light of this show, and keeping in mind that it's super easy to rag on shitty covers and harder to praise the good ones, here is a completely indulgent and highly subjective list of my favorite cover songs of all time.
The Slits - I Heard It Through the Grapevine
(Original artist: The Temptations)
Leave it to a bunch of cheeky-as-hell British girls to take a dad-soul favorite and turn it into a slightly queer, reggae-tinged, mostly crazy paean to heartbreak, or something. I heard it through the bassline, indeed.
Madness - You Just Keep Me Hangin' On
(Original artist: The Supremes)
Here's a secret: I think Madness are just okay, and I actually think this song (on its own) is sort of terrible. But somehow the combination of Madness + the most boring Supremes song = magic gravy. It's very strange. I attribute it to the power of those staccato horns—-an aural punch to the face.
Type O Negative - Summer Dreams
(Original artist: Seals and Croft)
Yeah yeah, I know, you threw out/gave away your copy of Bloody Kisses, like, eight years ago. Me too. But I didn't really mean it, and the truth is there's never a time when I'm not in the mood to listen to Peter Steele's sonorous voice turn this sleepy bit of '70s cheese into the sludgiest of dirges. This is the kind of cover that might have begun as a joke but the riffs are as heavy as clots of earth being shoveled on your future grave. Ohhh how'd you like that? GOTH POETRY.
Fleetwood Mac - Farmer's Daughter
(Original artist: The Beach Boys)
This version takes the jammy good-times feel of the original and stretches it out until it sounds even more like a daydream—-fuzzy, stoned, deeply wistful. My friend Karen tipped me off on this. Thanks Karen, you're the shit!
Nina Simone - Revolution
(Original artist: The Beatles)
Nina Simone added rich new dimensions to every song she covered and “Revolution” is just one of the best. She lived and breathed the politics that the Beatles were trying to write about. Add her no-nonsense, unsentimental delivery, a rollicking beat and an amazing cluster of count-offs and “oh yeah!” choruses from her backup singers and you have a song that should have done for Simone what "Cocaine" did for Eric Clapton.
I'm sure you have a plethora of favorites that I haven't even hinted at. Please share in the comments section. Discuss.